Good news! On Thursday, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran, who recently called for Israel to be wiped off the map, moderated his position. In a spirit of statesmanlike compromise, he now wants Israel wiped off the map of the Middle East and wiped on to the map of Europe.
"Some European countries insist on saying that Hitler killed millions of innocent Jews in furnaces," Ahmadinejad told Iranian TV viewers. "Although we don't accept this claim, if we suppose it is true," he added sportingly, "if European countries claim that they have killed Jews in World War II, why don't they provide the Zionist regime with a piece of Europe? Germany and Austria can provide the regime with two or three provinces for this regime to establish itself, and the issue will be resolved. You offer part of Europe, and we will support it."
Big of you. It's the perfect solution to the "Middle East peace process": out of sight, out of mind. And given that Ahmadinejad's out of his mind, we're already halfway there.
So let's see: We have a Holocaust denier who wants to relocate an entire nation to another continent, and he happens to be head of the world's newest nuclear state. (They're not 100 percent fully-fledged operational, but happily for them they can drag out the pseudo-negotiations with the European Union until they are. And Washington certainly won't do anything, because after all if we're not 100 percent certain they've got WMD which we won't be until there's a big smoking crater live on CNN one afternoon it would be just another Bushitlerburton lie to get us into another war for oil, right?)
So how does the United States react? Well, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said that the comments of Ahmadinejad "further underscore our concerns about the regime."
Really? But wait, the world's superpower wasn't done yet. The State Department moved to a two-adjective alert and described Ahmadinejad's remarks as "appalling" and "reprehensible." "They certainly don't inspire hope among any of us in the international community that the government of Iran is prepared to engage as a responsible member of that community," said spokesman Adam Ereli.
You don't say. Ahmadinejad was speaking in the holy city of Mecca, head office of the "religion of peace," during a meeting of the Organization of the Islamic Conference. There were fiftysomething other heads of government in town. How many do you think took their Iranian colleague to task?
Well, what's new? But, that being so, it would be heartening if the rest of the world could muster a serious response to the guy. How one pines for a plain-spoken tell-it-like-it-is fellow like, say, former U.N. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali? As he memorably said of Iran, "It's a totalitarian regime." Oh, no, wait. He said that about the United States. On Iran, he's as impeccably circumspect and discreet as the State Department.
"Diplomatic" language is one of the last holdovers of the pre-democratic age. It belongs to a time when international relations were conducted exclusively between a handful of eminent representatives of European dynasties. Today it's all out in the open President Ahmaddasanatta proposed his not-quite-final solution for Israel on TV. McLellan and Ereli likewise gave their response on TV. So the language of international relations is no longer merely the private code of diplomats but part of the public discourse and, if the government of the United States learns anything from the last four years, it surely ought to be that there's a price to be paid for not waging the war as effectively in the psychological arenas as in the military one. What does it mean when one party can talk repeatedly about the liquidation of an entire nation and the other party responds that this further "underscores our concerns," as if he'd been listening to an EU trade representative propose increasing some tariff by half a percent?
Well, it emboldens the bully. It gives him an advantage, like the punk who swears and sprawls over half the seats in the subway car while the other riders try not to catch his eye. The political thugs certainly understand the power of psychological intimidation. Look at Saddam Hussein in court, so confident in his sneering dismissal of judge and witnesses that he's generating big pro-Baathist demonstrations in Tikrit. I was struck by his complaint that the real terrorism was that he hadn't been given a change in underpants in three days. I hope that's true. It requires enormous strength of will on the part of free societies to bring blustering cocksure thugs down to size, even after we've overthrown them and kicked them out of the presidential palace. In Iran, President Ahmaddamytree figures that half the world likes his Jew proposals and the rest isn't prepared to do more than offer a few objections phrased in the usual thin diplo-pabulum.
We assume, as Neville Chamberlain, Lord Halifax and other civilized men did 70 years ago, that these chaps may be a little excitable, but come on, old boy, they can't possibly mean it, can they? Wrong. They mean it but they can't quite do it yet. Like Hitler, when they can do it, they will or at the very least the weedy diplo-speak tells them they can force the world into big concessions on the fear that they can.
Look at the broader picture. The State Department's Ereli noted that President Ahmageddon's comments appear "to be a consistent pattern of rhetoric that is both hostile and out of touch with values that the rest of us in the international community live by."
Is that even true? That the Iranian president is "out of touch" with the "values" of the "international community?" The Hudson Institute's lively "Eye On The U.N." Web site had an interesting photograph of how the "international community" marked Nov. 29 the annual "International Day Of Solidarity With The Palestinian People." Kofi Annan and other bigwigs sat on a platform with a map flanked by the "Palestinian" and U.N. flags. The map showed Palestine but no Israel. The U.N., in other words, has done cartographically what Iran wants to do in more incendiary fashion: It's wiped Israel off the map.
There has always been a slightly post-modern quality to sovereignty in the transnational age: We pretend the Syrian foreign minister is no different from the New Zealand foreign minister, and in so doing we vastly inflate the status of the former at the expense of the latter. But with Ahmadinejad we're going way beyond that. If a genocidal fantasist is acceptable in polite society, we'll soon find ourselves dealing with a genocidal realist.