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What If Bush Debated Ahmadinejad?

By Ivan Eland
September 7, 2006

Editor's Note: In this guest essay, the Independent Institute's Ivan Eland speculates how the debate between George W. Bush and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad might have played out, if the debate had not been summarily rejected by the White House:

The outspoken President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran has challenged President Bush to debate U.S.-Iran relations. Bush has dismissed the offer and declined.

Debate is not good–faith negotiation between the opposing parties, but it is better than nothing. And it might not be as one–sided as most Americans think. We could certainly fantasize about how such a debate might play out.

President Bush, of course, would begin by accusing Iran of support for the “Islamo-fascist” group Hezbollah, which is attacking Israel. Ahmadinejad might respond that the President should quit using the term “fascism” in a Goebbels–like attempt to associate every U.S. rival, no matter how small, with the massively rich and well–armed Nazis of World War II.

After all, “fascism” merely means the government intertwining itself with business, with a little ultra–nationalism thrown in. Ahmadinejad might also note that Hezbollah, al-Qaeda, and most other radical Islamic organizations don’t even control governments (Hamas in Palestine being the exception), and that all are pushing mainly Sunni or Shi’ite Islamic agendas, rather than fierce nationalism per se.

Ahmadinejad might then ask Bush why the United States, all the way across the world from Iran, is more threatened by a relatively poor country garnering nuclear weapons than are the nations of Europe, closer in proximity to Iran.

Bush would have to answer that the United States is the world’s only superpower and that it has to be worried by every adverse development anywhere in the world, or its allies might decide that they need to obtain nuclear weapons or bigger armed forces to defend themselves—thus challenging U.S. supremacy.

Bush might then ask Ahmadinejad why Iran has decided to defy the United Nations, which has ordered Iran to stop enriching uranium. The Iranian president might answer that the United States regularly defies the U.N. when things do not go its way.

Furthermore, Ahmadinejad would likely ask whether Iran should follow the United Nations or the Nuclear Non–Proliferation Treaty, of which Iran is a signatory. The treaty allows Iran to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes.

Ahmadinejad might demand that, after the U.S. intelligence fiasco on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, the United States produce compelling and conclusive evidence—which a new International Atomic Energy Agency report does not provide—that Iran is enriching uranium at high enough levels to make nuclear bombs.

Then the Iranian president might ask Bush how he thinks countries out of favor with the United States will have any incentive to refrain from pursuing nuclear weapons, when these armaments seem to be the only deterrent to a U.S. attack. After all, one need only compare U.S. actions toward a non–nuclear Iraq under Saddam Hussein, with those vis-à-vis a nuclear North Korea.

Ahmadinejad might then ask Bush why, if Iran would offer to end its nuclear program, he will not guarantee that he won’t attack the Persian state. Bush would have to reply that the United States needs to reserve the right to attack any enemy of its Israeli ally.

The Iranian leader might wonder aloud why the United States is so slavish in its support for Israel—noting that it reaps little in return for all the billions in military and economic aid donated, except blowback anti–U.S. terrorism. He might add that Israel is now a wealthy country with 200 or more nuclear weapons, and should be able to defend itself adequately without being on the U.S. dole.

To close, Bush might ask Iran why it continues to support such terrorism. Ahmadinejad would reply that the United States should be less concerned than it is about Iran’s support for Islamic groups, because the groups supported don’t focus their attacks on the United States.

In closing, Ahmadinejad might ask Bush whether he thinks the U.S. government is living up to its primary responsibility of ensuring the security of its citizens against the greatest threat they face—attacks from al-Qaeda—rather than getting sidetracked by fretting about poor countries, such as Saddam’s Iraq, Iran, and North Korea, getting nuclear weapons.

The Iranian president might point out that, unlike al-Qaeda, all of these countries have “home addresses,” and ultimately could be deterred from imposing nuclear attacks on the United States by the retaliatory threat of massive incineration by the world’s most potent nuclear arsenal. Bush would then probably lamely reply in cliché that a superpower has global interests and that you can’t deter crazy foreign leaders whose customs and ways of doing things don’t resemble those of the U.S. government.

In conclusion, the foregoing mock debate in no way suggests that the authoritarian, theocratic regime in Iran is superior to the American republic. But even autocratic states sometimes have legitimate security concerns. And even admirable republics sometimes can swerve off the path of common sense in foreign policy.


Ivan Eland is a Senior Fellow at The Independent Institute, Director of the Institute’s Center on Peace & Liberty, and author of the books The Empire Has No Clothes, and Putting “Defense” Back into U.S. Defense Policy.


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