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He came.....he spoke! Now the fallout

Well, the Iranian President made it to Columbia University to speak. There are sound-bytes available on the radio and TV. The press and internet has also reported the event at Columbia.

The Washington Post reports the President's talk at the university as follows:

"Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was greeted with student protests and withering public criticism during a visit to Columbia University Monday in which he defended his government's human rights record, denounced Israel and rejected U.S. efforts to restrict Iran's nuclear program.

Speaking to students and faculty at Columbia a day ahead of his scheduled address to the United Nations General Assembly, the hard-line Iranian president also asserted that his people, including women, "enjoy the highest levels of freedom," and he claimed that homosexuality does not exist in his country.

Before his speech, he came under unusually harsh criticism from Columbia University President Lee Bollinger, who condemned what he said was the Ahmadinejad government's expanding crackdown on dissent, its persecution of the B'hai religious minority and homosexuals, its support for the destruction of Israel and its pursuit of a "proxy war" against U.S. forces in Iraq.

"Mr. President, you exhibit all the signs of a petty and cruel dictator," Bollinger told Ahmadinejad from a podium across the stage. He said that the Iranian's denial of the Holocaust might fool "the illiterate and ignorant," but that "when you come to a place like this, it makes you quite simply ridiculous." Ahmadinejad's denial of the Holocaust suggested he was either "brazenly provocative or astonishingly uneducated," Bollinger said.

The university president's caustic comments were met with cheers and sustained applause from the roughly 700 people in the audience, most of them students.

Ahmadinejad called the introductory speech insulting and said Bollinger was misinformed. But he went on to repeat his assertions that the Holocaust should be researched "from different perspectives," and he denounced the punishment in Europe of "a number of academics" who were "questioning certain aspects of it." He also said Palestinians should not be "paying the price for an event they had nothing to do with."

It's interesting to speculate whether the University President would have been so brazen - and insulting? - to another head of State in his introductory remarks.

Meanwhile, Juan Cole [ a professor of modern Middle Eastern and South Asian history at the University of Michigan and the author of "Napoleon's Egypt: Invading the Middle East."] writing in Salon says:

".....the U.S. State Department denounced Ahmadinejad as himself little more than a terrorist. Critics have also cited his statements about the Holocaust or his hopes that the Israeli state will collapse. He has been depicted as a Hitler figure intent on killing Israeli Jews, even though he is not commander in chief of the Iranian armed forces, has never invaded any other country, denies he is an anti-Semite, has never called for any Israeli civilians to be killed, and allows Iran's 20,000 Jews to have representation in Parliament.

There is, in fact, remarkably little substance to the debates now raging in the United States about Ahmadinejad. His quirky personality, penchant for outrageous one-liners, and combative populism are hardly serious concerns for foreign policy. Taking potshots at a bantam cock of a populist like Ahmadinejad is actually a way of expressing another, deeper anxiety: fear of Iran's rising position as a regional power and its challenge to the American and Israeli status quo. The real reason his visit is controversial is that the American right has decided the United States needs to go to war against Iran. Ahmadinejad is therefore being configured as an enemy head of state.

The neoconservatives are even claiming that the United States has been at war with Iran since 1979. As Glenn Greenwald points out, this assertion is absurd. In the '80s, the Reagan administration sold substantial numbers of arms to Iran. Some of those beating the war drums most loudly now, like think-tank rat Michael Ledeen, were middlemen in the Reagan administration's unconstitutional weapons sales to Tehran. The sales would have been a form of treason if in fact the United States had been at war with Iran at that time, so Ledeen is apparently accusing himself of treason.

But the right has decided it is at war with Iran, so a routine visit by Iran's ceremonial president to the U.N. General Assembly has generated sparks. The foremost cheerleader for such a view in Congress is Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., who recently pressed Gen. David Petraeus on the desirability of bombing Iran in order to forestall weapons smuggling into Iraq from that country (thus cleverly using one war of choice to foment another).

American hawks are beating the war drums loudly because they are increasingly frustrated with the course of events. They are unsatisfied with the lack of enthusiasm among the Europeans and at the United Nations for impeding Tehran's nuclear energy research program. While the Bush administration insists that the program aims at producing a bomb, the Iranian state maintains that it is for peaceful energy purposes. Washington wants tighter sanctions on Iran at the United Nations but is unlikely to get them in the short term because of Russian and Chinese reluctance. The Bush administration may attempt to create a "coalition of the willing" of Iran boycotters outside the U.N. framework."

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