Monday, April 13, 2009

Der Spiegel Talks To Ahmadinejad

The German magazine Der Spiegel has consistently had some of the most insightful and well written coverage of Iran and the Middle East.While an occasional bit of leftist snark inserts itself from time to time the pros at Der Spiegel mostly make the vast majority of American journos look like the rank amateurs they are.

A few days ago, they interviewed Iran's President Ahmadinejad for the second time. While all of it is well worth the read, I've excerpted some of the most interesting bits of this in-depth interview that I think give a real insight into Ahmadinejad's mindset - along with my comments:


SPIEGEL: The new US president, Barack Obama, directed a video address to the Iranian nation three weeks ago, during the Iranian New Year festival. Did you watch the speech?

Ahmadinejad: Yes. Great things are happening in the United States. I believe that the Americans are in the process of initiating important developments.

SPIEGEL: How did you feel about the speech?

Ahmadinejad: Ambivalent. Some passages were new, while some repeated well-known positions. I thought it striking that Obama attached such high value to the Iranian civilization, our history and culture. It is also positive that he stresses mutual respect and honest interactions with one another as the basis of cooperation. In one segment of his speech, he says that a nation's standing in the world does not depend solely on weapons and military strength, which is precisely what we told the previous American administration. George W. Bush's big mistake was that he wanted to solve all problems militarily. The days are gone when a country can issue orders to other peoples. Today, mankind needs culture, ideas and logic.

SPIEGEL: What does that mean?

Ahmadinejad: We feel that Obama must now follow his words with actions.

Translation..we'll see how far Obama can be pushed and what he's prepared to give us.That's how negotiations are conducted in the bazaar in Iran, and we'll wait until there's a concrete offer before we counter.


SPIEGEL: The new US president, who has called your aggressive anti-Israeli remarks "disgusting," has nevertheless spoken of a new beginning in relations with Iran and extended his hand to you.

Ahmadinejad: I haven't understood Obama's comments quite that way. I pay attention to what he says today. But that is precisely where I see a lack of something decisive. What leads you to talk about a new beginning? Have there been any changes in American policy? We welcome changes, but they have yet to occur.

SPIEGEL: You are constantly making demands. But the truth is: Your policies, Iran's disastrous relations with the United States, are a burden on the global community and a threat to world peace. Where is your contribution to the easing of tensions?

Ahmadinejad: I have already explained this to you. We support talks on the basis of fairness and respect. That has always been our position. We are waiting for Obama to announce his plans, so that we can analyze them.

SPIEGEL: And that's all?

Ahmadinejad: We have to wait and see what Obama wants to do.

SPIEGEL: The world sees this differently, and we do too. Iran must act. Iran must now show good will.

Ahmadinejad: Where is this world you are talking about? What do we have to do? You are aware that we are not the ones who severed relations with America. America cut off relations with us. What do you expect from Iran now?

SPIEGEL: Concrete steps, or at least a gesture on your part.

Ahmadinejad: I have already answered that question. Washington cut off relations.

This is interesting because it represents a consistent theme Ahmadinejad reiterates several times in the interview about the way Iran sees itself - not as an aggressor, but as a victim. Notice it's 'Washington cut off relations' with no mention of Iran's invading an American embassy and taking diplomats as hostages, not to mention Iran's assaults on Americans worldwide via Hezbollah and other proxies like Iraq's Shiite militias. Hitler and the Nazis had exactly the same mindset - that they were victims of plots and aggression by others.

Ahmadinejad: We have been under pressure for the past 30 years, unfairly and without fault on our part. We have done nothing…

SPIEGEL: …according to you. The Americans see things quite a bit differently. The 444-day hostage crisis during which 50 US citizens were held from late 1979 until early 1981 in the US Embassy in Tehran is still a collective American trauma today.

Ahmadinejad: But think of the things that were done to Iranians! We were attacked by Iraq. Eight years of war. America and some European countries supported this aggression. We were even attacked with chemical weapons and your country, among others, aided and abetted those attacks. We did not inflict an injustice on anyone. We did not attack anyone, nor did we occupy other countries. We have no military presence in Europe and America. But troops from Europe and America are stationed along our borders..

Again, the old Nazi cry of einkesselung, 'encirclement', and the portrayal of Iran as an innocent victim of foreign plots. In reality, the minor aid given to Saddam Hussein (at least by the US) was more than counterbalanced by US supplies to Iran as part of the hostage agreement.And it was Iran who committed an aggression against the US by invading our embassy - something that a different president than Jimmy Carter might very well have considered an act of war, let alone most other countries.

It was Iran who sponsored the terrorist outrages like the homicide bombing by Hezbollah against the Marine barracks in Beirut, the kidnapping and death by torture of US diplomat Colonel Bill Buckley,the Hamas bombings in Israel and the blowing up of the Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires.

It was Iran who committed atrocities against its Kurdish and Ba'hai populations, and Iran who deliberately targeted US troops in Iraq and supplied arms and IEDs to our enemies there. And as for occupying other countries, how would Ahmadinejad describe what's gone on in Lebanon?


SPIEGEL: But you are not even giving the new administration a chance. Your attitude is characterized by mistrust.

Ahmadinejad: We speak very respectfully of Barack Obama. But we are realists. We want to see real changes. In this connection, we are also interested in helping correct a faulty policy in Afghanistan.

SPIEGEL: What do you propose to do?

Ahmadinejad: Look, more than $250 billion (€190 billion) has been spent on the military campaign in Afghanistan to date. With a population of 30 million, that comes to more than $8,000 a person, or close to $42,000 for an average family of five. Factories and roads could have been built, universities established and fields cultivated for the Afghan people. If that had happened, would there have been any room left for terrorists? One has to address the root of the problem, not proceed against its branches. The solution for Afghanistan is not military, but humanitarian. It is to the West's advantage to listen to us, and if it does not, we wash our hands of the matter. We are merely observers. We deeply regret the loss of human life, no matter whose lives are lost. This is just as applicable to Afghan civilians as it is to the military forces that have intervened.

SPIEGEL: That doesn't sound at all like you have any interest in helping the Americans and NATO fight the Taliban. Obama is placing more emphasis on civilian reconstruction, but he also believes that radicals who seek to stand in the way of this reconstruction must be dealt with militarily.

Ahmadinejad: I am telling you now that Obama's new policy is wrong. The Americans are not familiar with the region, and the perceptions of the NATO commanders are mistaken. I am telling you this as a trained teacher: This is wrong.

Fascinating. The interviewer doesn't mention it, but Iran is doing pretty much the same thing in Afghanistan that they were doing in Iraq - helping our enemies. Just ask General Petraeus.

What Ahmadinejad is signalling to the Obama Administration is that just as President Bush needed to come to terms with the Mullahs in order to stabilize Iraq so we could leave, President Obama is going to have to come to terms with them on Afghanistan.

I also feel that I need to pont out that Ahmadinejad's experience as a 'trained teacher' mostly consisted of working as a Baseji militia ( Iran's SA ) instructer during the Iran/Iraq War, training little kids as young as twelve years old to hang Khomenei's plastic `keys to paradise' around their necks and act as human minesweepers and cannon fodder against Iraqi tanks. It takes a special class of human being to do something like that in the first place, let alone refer to himself as a 'trained teacher'


SPIEGEL: If the American troops withdraw from Iraq, the security situation there will presumably deteriorate dramatically. Will you fill the power vacuum in neighboring Iraq, where your fellow Shiites make up two-thirds of the population? Do you advocate the establishment of a theocracy, an Islamic Republic of Iraq?

Ahmadinejad: We believe that the Iraqi people are capable of providing for their own security. The Iraqi people have a civilization that goes back more than 1,000 years. We will support whatever the Iraqis decide to do and which form of government they choose. A sovereign, united and strong Iraq is beneficial for everyone. We would welcome that. {You'll notice he doesn't directly answer the question }

SPIEGEL: American intelligence services have concluded that Tehran plays an entirely different role in Iraq. The CIA claims that Iran is stirring up resistance to US troops through the Shiite militias.

Ahmadinejad: We pay no attention to the reports of American intelligence services. The Americans occupied Iraq and are responsible for its security. In the past, they sought to divert attention away from their own failures by holding us responsible for the unrest. They must correct their own mistakes. Things have improved for the Americans since they recognized this and began to respect the Iraqi people. Our relations with Baghdad are very close. We fully support the Iraqi government. As always, our policies are completely transparent. {Again, Ahmadinejad avoids a direct answer...for obvious reasons}


SPIEGEL: Mr. President, that is not true. You oppose the world's most important nations in one of the central international conflicts. Iran is strongly suspected of building a nuclear bomb under the guise of civilian research. Only recently, US President Obama warned of this very real danger during his visit to Europe. There are four UN resolutions calling upon Iran to stop its uranium enrichment activities. Why do you not finally comply with this demand?

Ahmadinejad: What do you mean by that?

SPIEGEL: Mr. President, we mean that the world is waiting for a sign from you, that we are waiting for a sign. Why do you not at least temporarily suspend uranium enrichment, thereby laying the groundwork for the commencement of serious negotiations?

Ahmadinejad: These discussions are outdated. The time for that is over. The 118 members of the Non-Aligned Movement support us unanimously, as do the 57 member states of the Organization of the Islamic Conference. If we eliminate duplication between the two groups, we have 125 countries that are on our side. If a few countries are opposed to us, you certainly cannot claim that this is the entire world.

{Translation: we are going to pursue nuclear weapons no matter what, and any negotiations that occur between Iran and the West will have to accept that as a given. We have contempt for any Western attempts to the contrary, because they come out of weakness, not strength. What's more, we see Iran as the leader of the new Islamic Caliphate, and the sign you're waiting for will be when we successfully test a nuclear weapon and then come out witha whole new set of demands.}


SPIEGEL: You have become one of the most powerful political players in the region because you have become a champion of the Palestinian cause.

Ahmadinejad: We are defending more than the basic rights of oppressed Palestinians. Our proposal for resolving the Middle East conflict is that the Palestinians should be allowed to decide their own future in a free referendum. Do you think it right that some European countries and the United States support the occupying regime and the unnatural Zionist state, but condemn Iran, merely because we are defending the rights of the Palestinian people?

SPIEGEL: You are talking about Israel, a member of the United Nations that has been recognized worldwide for many decades. What would you do if a majority of the Palestinians voted for a two-state solution, that is, if they recognized Israel's right to exist?

Ahmadinejad: If that were what they decided, everyone would have to accept this decision…

SPIEGEL: …and you too would have to recognize Israel, a country that you have said, in the past, you would like to "wipe off the map." Please tell us exactly what you said and what you meant by it.

Ahmadinejad: Let me put it this way, facetiously: Why did the Germans cause so much trouble back then, allowing these problems to arise in the first place? The Zionist regime is the result of World War II. What does any of this have to do with the Palestinian people? Or with the Middle East region? I believe that we must get to the root of the problem. If one doesn't consider the causes, there can be no solution.

{You will notice that Ahmadinejad didn't answer the question directly and definitely did NOT dispute the interviewer's quoting him as wanting to wipe Israel off the map. I hope Juan Cole and his fellow useful idiots who claim to understand Farsi noticed it. You'll also notice that he totally rejects the idea that Jews should be allowed to live in the Middle East at all..and of course the fact that they're there is somebody else committing a conspiracy against Muslims}

SPIEGEL: Does getting to the root of the problem mean wiping out Israel?

Ahmadinejad: It means claiming the rights of the Palestinian people. I believe that this is to everyone's benefit, to that of America, Europe and Germany. But didn't we want to discuss Germany and German-Iranian relations?

SPIEGEL: That's what we are talking about. The fact that you deny Israel's right to exist is of critical importance when it comes to German-Iranian relations.

Ahmadinejad: Do you believe that the German people support the Zionist regime? Do you believe that a referendum could be held in Germany on this question? If you did allow such a referendum to take place, you would discover that the German people hate the Zionist regime.

SPIEGEL: We are confident that this is not the case.

{Chew on this one for a minute. Ahmadinejad is almost directly telling the interviewer "give us the Jews and we'll leave you in peace"}

Ahmadinejad: I do not believe that the European countries would have been as indulgent if only one-hundredth of the crimes that the Zionist regime has committed in Gaza had happened somewhere in Europe. Why on earth do the European governments support this regime? I have already tried to explain this to you once before…

SPIEGEL: …when we argued about your denial of the Holocaust three years ago. After the interview, we sent you a film by SPIEGEL TV about the extermination of the Jews in the Third Reich. Did you receive the DVD about the Holocaust, and did you watch it?

Ahmadinejad: Yes, I did receive the DVD. But I did not want to respond to you on this question. I believe that the controversy over the Holocaust is not an issue for the German people. The problem is more deep-seated than that. By the way, thank you once again for coming.

{For those of you who want to see what the interviwer from Der Spiegal was willing to do that American talking head Mike Wallace was not, the substance of that disagreement is here.

You'll notice Ahmadinejad acknowledges receiving the DVD, but not watching it...and then quickly drops the subject, after labeling the historical fact of the Holocaust a 'controversy'}

For an interesting comparison, I suggest you read some of William L. Shirer's interviews with Adolf Hitler and other top Nazis.

All in all, a fascinating exchange that reveals a lot more than the subject of the interview intended. Kudos to Der Spiegel for challenging Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in this fashion, and for a superb interview.

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