So now the controversy has shifted to whether Columbia president Lee Bollinger’s combative introduction/attack on Ahmadinejad went beyond the bounds of courtesy. It probably did, but I don’t think that is the major point. The campaign against Ahmadinejad, which I have no doubt on some level is being managed by the White House was to limit any possible propaganda victories by his visit to New York City by demonizing him, to make him into a tyrant without few equals in the recent history of governmental villainy, and to turn him into the sort of devil that can only be cast out by a concerted American military exorcism.
His appearance at Columbia has been treated as a debate over free speech, and so it is, but does anyone think that Bollinger would have introduced Ahmadinejad so roughly if had not been for the myriad of voices calling for his excommunication from civilized humanity? Liberals, as too often is the case these days, are far too eager to give away half the store; defend liberal principles as formal rules, while trying to placate their conservative critics that they have the requisite “moral clarity” as the phrase goes, to divide the world with broad Manichean distinctions between good guys and bad guys.
This is not about Ahmadinejad and his authoritarian rule, or his denial of the Holocaust, his obsfuscatory rhetoric about Israel, or his homophobia, all of which is richly deserving of excoriation. It is about an administration considering going to war against Iran, and was no doubt heartened to see that it remains easy to roll the American people into denouncing potential military opponents as evil incarnate.
Liberals did not exactly distinguish themselves in the run up to the invasion of Iraq, with their divided minds, reservations, and tortured and tender consciences. (I too was guilty.) The conservative war machine in this country remains utterly ruthless, without a glint of doubt or introspection, and ready to destroy anyone, anytime, who stands in their way. If in comes to that, let's hope liberals do better in the run up to the next war.