Interpreting Ahmadinejad

Question: Does Ahmadinejad really believe everything he says?

Hooman Majd:    He’s a politician and he understands his audience whether he’s talking to a domestic audience, whether he’s talking to an Arab audience or whether he’s talking to a Muslim audience, in Africa, or even in the American audience.  Anybody who watches him carefully and watches the interviews he gives on American television will see a kind of difference between his tone, his rhetoric and when he gives his speech in Tehran to a group of revolutionary guards for example and Hassiv people.  He understand politics very well and he understands that he’s immensely popular in the Arab world, for example, so his position on Israel is an interesting one, I mean, I don’t think he believes that Israel is a lovely country that he would want to be friends with, of course, he doesn’t.  Does he believe that Israel should not exist?  Of course he believes that Israel should not exist.  Does he believe that it should be physically demolished by nuclear weapons?  No, he absolutely does not and would he go along with an Iranian decision at some point at the highest levels and I mean, the supreme leader and a group of clerics who really, ultimately, at the end of the day control Iranian foreign policy to recognize Israel as part of a Palestinian-Israel settlement?  Yes, he would along with that. 

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Question: Why did he start blogging?

Hooman Majd:    He took to the Internet pretty early, yes.  And I don’t know, he’s not that much of a blogger, I mean, he does blog on his website and… but if you look at the dates, sometimes the 3 months will go by and he hasn’t written anything but yeah, he is curious about that phenomenon, he was well aware of the internet.  One of the questions they asked him right before he was elected last time and I was in Iran during the campaign and there was this idea and the reformists were putting it at the side that he’s a hard lying conservative who’s going to ban the internet, who’s going to, you know, all that kind.  He said, “Why would I ban my kids are on the internet all day long, I can’t get them off.  My phone line is occupied,” ‘cause in Iran most people at the time are still using dial-up and that’s changed but even in 2005, people… he is curious and fascinated by the internet.

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Question: What is the biggest misconception about Ahmadinejad?

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Hooman Majd: By large the policies of Iran don’t, you know, certainly when it comes to foreign policy don’t change that much between presidents as they don’t even in America.  The foreign policy tactics change, strategy changes but the foreign policy of America doesn’t suddenly change when President Obama takes over for someone radically different like George Bush.  There’s still interests that the United States has that any president recognizes or in the national interest of the United States, same is true for Iran.  The misconceptions, I think, are that Iran is leadership and particularly someone like Ahmadinejad who uses belligerent language and uses the kind of language that Americans squirm when they hear such as, you know, whether it’s… Israel, I mean, it was mistranslated but when… what was translated as is Israel will be wiped off the map or should be wiped off the map, things like that, I mean, the misconception is that first, he doesn’t have the power to do anything about wiping Israel off the map or attacking another country or on system, there are checks and balances in Iran like there are in every country, it’s not a pure dictatorship in the way that we think, we think of Iran as a dictatorship and here’s this guy, Ahmadinejad and it’s easy to consider him the leader of Iran because he’s the most visible and he’s the president and he’s got his finger on the button.  They don’t have nuke right now but maybe if they do, he could just press that button, he’s a little crazy, he talks about the Messiah coming, all of that stuff is unrealistic.  First of all, Iran doesn’t… first of all, the presidency doesn’t control the armed forces, unlike in America, he’s not the commander-in-chief and there’s so many checks and balances for him to do anything, for any president in Iran to do anything that would have effect the United States, would effect our national security.

The writer disabuses us of a few misconceptions surrounding a shrewd president with strong support in the Arab world.

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