Ahmadinejad Pwned by Bollinger

Ezra Klein believes that the viral impact of the Ahmadinejad forum at Columbia could be far more devastating than years of isolation and vilification by the U.S. government:

He’s not being feared. He’s being laughed at. Imagine how the Iranian people feel seeing these clips (and they’re seeing them). Imagine how the rest of the Iranian government feels being made to look so foolish — and all for this jester’s dreams of personal aggrandizement.

Quite so.

Indeed, my initial reaction at watching the exchange last night was that it was almost cruel to invite someone to campus and subject him to this sort of abuse at the hands of his host. Given that confrontation was the pre-announced intent of the event — with even the gist of the questions provided in advance — it was kosher. Still, it’s almost tough to watch. It was the classic battle of wits with an unarmed man.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Triumph says:

    my initial reaction at watching the exchange last night was that it was almost cruel to invite someone to campus and subject him to this sort of abuse at the hands of his host.

    Its great to hear that you and Ahmadinejad are on the same page.

  2. James Joyner says:

    They call me “Mr. Empathy.”

  3. Michael says:

    So, when do we get an apology from everyone who said that allowing him to speak at Columbia was supporting a terrorist and hurting America?

  4. James Joyner says:

    So, when do we get an apology from everyone who said that allowing him to speak at Columbia was supporting a terrorist and hurting America?

    I wouldn’t hold my breath.

  5. Michael says:

    I wouldn’t hold my breath.

    But surely these non-partisan, highly intelligent, patriotic protectors of our great nation are capable of admitting to their mistaken predictions?

    I mean, it’s not like they were just political hacks and shills who we shouldn’t blindly trust the next time they start making unsubstantiated claims, are they?

  6. Tano says:

    I guess I really have to do the politcally correct thing and lace my comments with insults about this guy.


    I didn’t find him to be a madman or any of the other terms that one is seemingly obliged to repeat. I saw an intellectually nimble politician playing a rather inscrutable game.

    His response to the rude and insulting introduction was dignified and strong. When defending his Holocaust-questioning, he tapped directly into the core values of the academic audience and marshalled them for his defense. Obfuscation, obviously – and not very convincing, but deft nonetheless. He made a passing remark about how “it happened”, but it wasnt direct enough to address the concerns of the questioner – then he immediatly tied it in with the plight of the Palestinians. I got the sense that he was implicitly offering a compromise – “I’ll explicitly say that it happened, if you admit that the Palestinians should not have been asked to pay the price for it”.

    On the Nuke issue, he brought together several strong arguments (in the Columbia event and in interviews – esp. on Charlie Rose) why Iran felt that nukes were useless for any country to have, and how they were against Iranian principles. And yet he never made any committment to a way forward to prove conclusively to those concerned, that Iran wan not in fact pursing them. This is the type of strategic ambiguity that the Israelis used for many years, until it became unsustainable. Struck me again as a skillful use of rhetoric to take the edge of criticism while leaving options open.

    A lot of his work is made easier by the compuslion that many seem to have to hyperbole. Anyone with the slightest knowledge of Iran and its government knows perfectly well that he is not a “dictator” – in fact his office is far less powerful than the American presidency – even domestically. Although the Guardian Council must approve candidates, undermining the notion that Iran is a democracy, he was elected by the people in an 80% turnout election, against the most powerful and well-known politician of the last few decades.

    The only real gaffe in these events were the “no gays” comment, but that was a function of the very specific audience he spoke to, or perhaps a bit more generally, of the quickly evolving sentiments on the issue in this country. I am old enough to remember a time in this country where such a remark would not have elicited laughter. It is, after all, the position of the American religious right that homosexuality is a choice – i.e that there are no real gay people, just sinners who engage in homosexual acts, by choice.

    He is a deeply conservative religous man who fundamentally rejects what he sees as a zionist invasion of the middle east from Europe, and who wishes to strengthen and expand his nations influence in the region in which it exists. That would put him outside my idea of an acceptable politician even if I were an Iranian. As an American, he also is outside of the general Western conception of basic political values. But I dont get the impression that he is a “madman”, and a rational analysis of his perspective would serve us much better, when it comes to effectivly opposing him on the global stage, than the ridiculous name-calling level of discourse that seems to be the only acceptable path in this poltiical climate.

  7. SDM says:

    Particularly annoying is this J-Pod classic, in which he says that, despite earlier protestations that Bollinger was coddling evil, now the problem is that Bollinger is rude.

  8. Steve Plunk says:


    I spoke against his being allowed to be a part of the Columbia program. The issue was one of recognizing such an irrational and irresponsible leader in a way that would provide legitimacy. We are all paying attention to the matter of no homosexuals in Iran but there are many others portions of the event that can be used in the manner I feared. Taken as a whole I would still argue against his invitation. Therefore no apology will be necessary since it is still a reasonable position.

    The position that you are others are taking is also reasonable. Sometimes it’s just a difference of opinions. Regardless I feel both sides in this particular debate wanted what is best for our country.

  9. Wayne says:

    Remember who controls almost all the media in Iran. Ahmadinejad will take the video and audio of this event and Michael Moore them to suite his own purposes. He will take the positive parts and use them to show how great his arguments are and how even the infidels acknowledge his wisdom.

    He will then take the negative parts and spin it that the infidels are disrespectful to its guest and generally act in animalistic ways.

    Remember others in the world do not have the same perspective as many Americans do and often have different social taboos.

  10. bob in fl says:

    Good analysis, Tano.

    Bollinger was rude. Having said that, Miss Manners would point out I am also since calling someone rude is rude. So be it.

    I don’t see any good reason for the political flack over letting him speak. Now that it is over, what harm is done? None that I see. Of course I can’t see where any good came out of it either, even for him back home. Much ado about nothing.

  11. anjin-san says:

    Much ado about nothing

    The right can either talk about nothing, or they can talk about Bush’s record. Guess what they are going with…

  12. slickdpdx says:

    If the middle east was populated by Ezra Klein readers, I suppose that might be true.

  13. Yeah, and if Iran doesn’t stop their nuclear program now, Mr. Bollinger and Mr. Klein can taunt Mr. Ahmadinejad again! On YouTube! Oh, the embarrassment!

    I didn’t really care one way or another whether Mr. Ahmadinejad spoke at Columbia since it’s all just a sideshow anyway. The BSD crowd clapped, Mr. Bollinger got to polish his “stern” credentials by putting Mr. Ahmadinejad on double secret probation, and folks who think like Mr. Ledeen are no doubt still saying, “faster please.” Did our esteemed friends on the left who think this was a good idea not realize what a clown, albeit a dangerous clown, Mr. Ahmadenijad was until they heard it from the august lips of Mr. Bollinger?

    Get serious. XM. Whatever.

  14. Matt CC08 says:

    James, as a Columbia senior and someone who was watching a live feed of the event from campus, you summed up exactly what most of us on campus are thinking. Bollinger just demolished Ahmadinejad before he even got a chance to speak, and while it may have been rude to do so, he completely delegitimatized the Iranian president’s extremist views.

    What’s so scary about Ahmadinejad (at least to me) is that he is such a smart man and practiced public speaker, and he can mask his opinions behind confusing rhetoric and indisputable facts, which he subtly twists to support his point. Thank god that Bollinger framed the debate at the outset the way he did, or else the audience would not have been as ready to analyze and criticize Ahmadinejad’s words and see him for the fool that he is.

  15. MMA says:

    Let’s not forget how Ahmadinejad got elected. He was behind in the polls and a light turnout was expected, then G.W. Bush endorsed him the same way Osama endorsed Bush; he said the Iranian elections were not real elections but a joke and he cast aspersions on Ahmadinejad’s candidacy. Bingo – people got pissed and went out in mass to vote against the moderate for the fundamentalist Bush was knocking. Thus ended a moderate push in Iranian politics. The pressure of moderation is building once again in Iran so I guess it is time to bomb them back to fundamentalisim again

  16. Chris says:

    Yes, Mr. Bollinger was rude, and sometimes being rude is entirely appropriate. An individual who heads a government which executes homosexuals and political dissidents and who denies that the Holocaust occured deserves to be condemned. In fact, Mr. Bollinger had a moral imperative to publicly condemn Mr. Ahmadinejad.

    The principles of academic freedom and freedom of speech have NEVER encompassed the notion that all ideas are equally valid or that all beliefs must be embraced; rather, freedom of speech and free academic discourse support the notion that all ideas should be heard. Mr. Ahamdinejad was given an opportunity to be heard and to speak his absurd and pathetic beliefs, and quite appropriately, he was forced to defend his (undefensible) ideas. Also, Mr. Bollinger as the head of Columbia University quite appropriately introduced Mr. Ahamdinejad by strongly stating that his invitation was not an endorsement by the university and that his ideas were in fact anathema to the core values of the Columbia University community. With freedom comes responsibility, and in the case of freedom of speech there comes the responsibility of others to exercise their freedom of speech to condemn bad ideas, which is exactly what Mr. Bollinger did.

    What I find far more offensive than the absurd and pathetic beliefs of Mr. Ahmadinejad are the cultural relativists who think Mr. Bollinger was wrong to take a stand against Mr. Ahmadinejad and his repressive political regime. Such individuals are truly morally bankrupt.