Archive for the ‘Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’ Category

Obama on Iran: Bush-Cheney Lite Sounds Great

May 27, 2008

Ben Smith’s got an item about how Barack Obama is backtracking on his pledge to meet with Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadenijad. You can watch that here.

It was one of the most memorable moments of last summer’s campaign, one that many thought would torpedo Obama’s chances.

Here’s what Smith quotes Obama as saying now: “‘There’s no reason why we would necessarily meet with Ahmadinejad before we know that he was actually in power,’ ” he said. ” ‘He’s not the most powerful person in Iran.’ ”

Smith rightly points out that Obama stood by his answer well into the primary season, calling it “an effective point of contrast with Hillary in the primary.”

Having spent much time up in New Hampshire last summer, I remember Obama taking it even further.

Last July, I drove up to Concord’s Eagle Square to see Congressman Paul Hodes endorse Obama. Here at, I observed “there’s no question that Obama’s willingness to meet with the despots of Iran, Syria, Cuba, North Korea and Venezuela is electrifying the progressive grassroots, particularly in New Hampshire.”

Reporting for The New York Sun, I noticed that Obama not only stood by his pledge, he upped the ante on it. His direct quote, using the word dictator, reinforces the fact that he was specifically referring to Ahmadinejad.

“It is no longer sufficient to trot out the old formulas, the old tired phrases. If we want fundamental change, then we can’t be afraid to talk to our enemies. I’m not afraid of losing the p.r. war to dictators,” Mr. Obama said to prolonged applause. “I’m happy to look them in the eye and say what needs to be said… I don’t want a continuation of Bush-Cheney. I don’t want Bush-Cheney lite, I want a fundamental change.”

In presidential politics, it’s long been commonplace for candidates to move leftward to win Democratic primaries and caucuses and then tack to the center to win general elections. But it’s not exactly a new kind of politics. It’s the same kind of politics we’ve always had.

The Bush-Israel Contretemps

May 16, 2008

The blogosphere and prominent Democrats are going crazy in the aftermath of President Bush’s remarks to the Israeli Knesset.

The meme here is that Bush was trying to make political points in Israel by likening Democrats to the appeasers of the Hitler Era. I have a few comments.

1. At this point in his lame duck presidency Bush poisons everything he touches. Notwithstanding the merits or lack thereof of his comments, his brand is so low, the president only hurts the cause he was purportedly helping — support for Israel. At this point, Bush should be winding things down and preparing to ride off into the sunset, not making comments easily construed as political attacks.

2. Having said that, an argument can be made that Bush was saying exactly what he believes. After all, a common refrain from Bush’s critics he is that he is too resistant to negotiations to solve problems and too quick to select the military option. But within the context of that critique, it would be wrong to somehow suggest at the same time that Bush doesn’t truly believe what he is saying. I thought that’s a big reason people don’t like him.

3. Observing the vitriol of Keith Olbermann last night, a heavy-handed performance which prompted me to change the channel, I couldn’t help but wonder where Olbermann’s anger was at the actual acts of terrorism that emanate from Hamas-controlled Gaza and into Israel, which, it should be remembered, withdrew from the coastal plain unilaterally in 2005.

4. Finally, why is it completely verboten to discuss the possibly existential threats Israel faces today from Iran? We can quarrel over the extent of danger posed by Iran and the true intentions of the Iranian regime. But there are certain facts on the record. Ahmadinejad has, after all, vowed “to wipe Israel off the map.” It is probably true that the position of Iran’s presidency does not hold exclusive authority in that country, and debates do exist about Iran’s progress at constructing a nuclear weapon. On the merits, too, it’s never a good idea for a sitting U.S. president to launch a political attack, particularly in a foreign land. At the same time, it suggests something pernicious about our culture when a ham-handed political attack from a president on his way out engenders more anger than a maniac’s promise to destroy another sovereign, democratic state.

Dartmouth Democratic Debate: Hillary Clinton and Iran

September 27, 2007

I thought Hillary Clinton did a terrific job standing up to Tim Russert and the other presidential candidates on the issue of Iran. She gave a clear, declarative answer as to why she supported Joseph Lieberman’s resolution calling the Islamic Revolutionary Guard in Iran a terrorist group. This showed great courage coming as it did after as Mike Gravel tried to set it up with the Lieberman conspiracy talk. Given the climate on the Left these days, I’m frankly amazed that she would so calmly tick off the factors that make the Revolutionary Guard a terrorist group.

At the same time, once again, I am entirely unimpressed with Obama’s style and “substance.” His answers are halting and haughty at the same time. It’s almost infuriating.

I don’t agree with Chris Dodd on much of this, but his performance is solid as usual. I felt, as did Joe Biden, that Russert is giving the Delaware senator short shrift.

Columbia and Germany’s Development of Atomic Weapons

September 24, 2007

Lee Bollinger, Columbia’s president, did a fantastic job of challenging Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on campus today.

Having said that, there’s quite a story to be told about what Columbia did when another tyrannical nation, Germany, appeared to be going after atomic weapons.

Back in the summer of 1939, Germany, like Iran today, wasn’t officially at war. Yet for an émigré-physicist at Columbia, Leo Szilard, the possibility that Germany might attempt to purchase uranium in the Belgian Congo was disturbing enough to take action. Szilard, it is recorded in Walter Isaacson’s “Einstein: His Life and Universe,” tracked down the great scientist in Princeton, New Jersey, and warned him of the dangers a fission weapon could pose. Szilard, Einstein and another scientist decided to send a letter to the Roosevelt Administration in the name of Einstein, who was famous enough to be taken seriously by the president. Both Szilard and another Columbia physicist, Enrico Fermi, were studying the power of splitting the atom at that time.

“Some recent work by E. Fermi and L. Szilard, which has been communicated to me in a manuscript, leads me to expect that the element uranium may be turned into a new and important source of energy in the immediate future,” Einstein wrote. “The new phenomena would also lead to the construction of bombs, and it is conceivable – though much less certain – that extremely powerful bombs of a new type may thus be constructed. A single bomb of this type, carried by boat and exploded in a port, might very well destroy the whole port together with some of the surrounding territory.” Einstein concluded the letter with an ominous reference to Germany’s ceasing “the sale of uranium from the Czechoslovakian mines which she has taken over” and copying “American work on uranium.”

Eventually, the letter in conjunction with Szilard’s militating and the help of Alexander Sachs, an informal adviser to the president, prompted Roosevelt to set up the program that became the Manhattan Project, so named, in part, for atomic research taking place at Columbia. Roosevelt arranged for the transfer of $6,000 to support research at the university at that time. While the university appears inclined to provide a p.r. platform to a nation attempting to race ahead in its quest for atomic energy nowadays, it nonetheless recognizes work of Fermi. In a November 2001 story in “The Columbia News,” the university announced a conference recognizing the contributions of Fermi, who was affiliated with the school from 1939 to 1942, to the Manhattan Project. “Enrico Fermi shaped the destiny of physics from the Manhattan Project through the present times,” said Tsung-Dao Lee, University Professor at Columbia.

The Columbia News story, citing, Professor David Freedberg, Director of the Italian Academy, trumpeted Columbia’s status as “the appropriate setting for the signature American event of a year devoted to recalling the life and work of one of the greatest physicists of the 20th century, who directed the experiment that initiated the world’s first controlled and self-sustaining nuclear reaction.” Fermi’s eagerness to speed his experiments forward prompted him to commandeer members of Columbia’s football team to pack heavy uranium into cans and then bring it into his lab, according to Mr. Freedberg in an accompanying podcast. Said Mr. Freedberg in the news story: “Had Fermi and another Columbian, the Hungarian physicist Leo Szilard not persevered in their collaboration here, the world’s first controlled nuclear chain reaction would not have been developed by 1942, and the Manhattan Project would not have built the first atomic bombs by 1945.” And, Mr. Freedberg might have added, the history of the world might be tragically different today.