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The war in Iran we might need

Several weeks ago the President of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was invited to Columbia University to speak to a lucky few students and faculty given the unique opportunity to participate in one of the most controversial diplomatic events of our time. While at Columbia he was lambasted by their President, who referred to him as a petty dictator and harshly criticized Ahmadinejad’s record on free speech and civil rights. Some praised the action, breathing a collective sigh of relief that at least somebody today has the courage and character to tell a dictator how despicable and horrendous their actions and policies are. Others were deeply shocked and dismayed that the leader of a nation could be talked down to in such a demeaning way.

This latter group is a principled one, to say the least, who advocate wholeheartedly avoiding the drumbeat of war that grows louder each day. They wish to take on face value what Ahmadinejad says, worrying that to question his sincerity would be only to add fuel to the fire. They listen to his speeches and his comments, hear the words of a peace-loving man, and sleep each night content that Iran is no threat so long as such an eloquent leader is in charge. They hold out hope that diplomacy will always succeed, and argue that an Iranian nuclear weapon is hardly worth going to war over. Principled they may be, but unwilling to accept the hard truths of our world is what

they are.

President Ahmadinejad has been in office for two years, catapulted there by an uncommon charisma and an equally uncommon gift for oratory. Coupled with these things is a calculating political sense, an ability to manipulate events in Ahmadinejad’s favor. No doubt when he accepted the invitation to Columbia he realized no matter what happened it would only benefit him. If he were to be lambasted it would be a public relations victory in Iran, and it would be an opportunity to speak to the American people and show everybody that he is just such a nice guy. The sad thing about his plan is both parts seem to have worked, at least on some. Oratory seems able to accomplish anything, including wiping away the heinous crimes Ahmadinejad and his government have committed.

Crackdowns in Iran have reached a new high. Thousands are routinely arrested for “grave crimes” against society, crimes such as wearing Western clothing or listening to Western music. For women, too-tight clothing is an invitation for police beatings. Even dancing at weddings with non-family members runs the risk of police intervention. Peaceful protesting, what nearly all consider to be a natural right in this country, is met with harsh force and arrests. Recently, five Iranian Americans visiting the country were imprisoned for no reason, and before that 12 British sailors were captured at gunpoint in international waters and forced to make humiliating confessions. Perhaps most disturbing of all is the attitude many have towards the increasingly convincing evidence that Iran is complicit in attacks on American soldiers in Iraq. At one point, if a nation conspired to murder American soldiers and citizens it would have been considered an act of war, but today these facts are dismissed far too easily.

Ahmadinejad himself routinely refers to the Holocaust, one of the most gruesome events in human history, as a fable meant to elicit sympathy for the Jewish people. He refers to Israel as a nation to be “wiped off the map.” Following his visit to Columbia University, Ahmadinejad met to strengthen his ties with the equally cruel, and rabidly anti-American, Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez. And upon his return to Iran, Ahmadinejad denounced the West once more and refused to negotiate any further on his nation’s nuclear ambitions.

Ahmadinejad is no fool, and knows if he can divide the West and pretend to care for diplomacy long enough, he can buy the time he needs to build his nuclear arsenal. We must therefore enter into any diplomatic initiative armed with incredulity and supplied with finite patience. We must demand Iran do more than talk; they must cease their nuclear program until it can be verified that weapons will never be produced. They must end their assistance to Hezbollah and to the insurgents in Iraq, and withdraw their military and intelligence officers, there to conduct attacks on Americans, as well. Until these conditions are met – conditions that are supported by our European allies – preparations for war must continue. We cannot, must not, allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon and become the preeminent regional power. Negotiations should continue for now in the hopes of achieving a peaceful solution, but we must be realistic and accept that a war with Iran may well be inevitable.

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