Friday, September 24, 2010

Ahmadinejad, 9/11, and "Distrust of Others"

As world leaders gather in New York these days, they all get a chance (some get more than just one) to charm, impress, and make their cause in front of the international public.

Ahmadinejad certainly made the headlines yesterday, stealing the limelight away from many other "notable" speakers on the first day of the UN General Assembly. His 9/11 conspiracy comments - which, supposedly, prompted that major walkout everyone keeps talking about - should not have come as a surprise, though. Just as the spokesman for the U.S. mission to the UN put it: Ahmadinejad's statement was full of "vile conspiracy theories and anti-Semitic slurs," just as it was predictable.

As a part of my undergrad thesis a couple of years ago, I had analyzed all of Ahmadinejad's UNGA statements and other international appearances, as well as a substantial number of interviews he had held with Western media. Looking at his yesterday's speech, it is obvious that there hasn't been much of a change: his word choice, framing and tone, as well as the major subjects he focused on, all fall into the usual pattern of his presidential rhetoric style. 

Using the Leaders' Personality Trait Analysis framework, I had found that "distrust of others" is a very salient personality trait for Ahmadinejad, strongly affecting his worldview and approach to policy-making and, as such, being reflected in his public statements. I guess I could expand that argument today, to bring in the element of public diplomacy, too, especially considering the forum: UNGA.

Photo courtesy of Al Jazeera.

"Distrust of others" usually suggests a high level of doubt, suspicion, and uneasiness about the environment and the other actors in it. It is usually well demonstrated through a frequent use of words and statements that refer to injustice, conspiracy, malevolence and misuse of power by others, high perception of threat, as well as "war"-related language: attack, invasion, occupation, weapons, etc.

On the side, I had also looked at his most frequent references to other states/international actors: his "salient others" in the international sphere. Quite predictably, the U.S./"The West", Israel/Zionist Regime, Palestine, and Iraq had topped the list (April 2009).

In these terms, the content of this year's statement was similar (if not mostly identical) to the ones the President of the Islamic Republic had given before. It seems, though, he and his aides spent many hours trying to come up with something original for the 65th UNGA Session - something that would have "an effect"; something that would grab headlines; something along the lines of questioning the Holocaust or the legal and moral grounds for establishing the state of Israel (by the way: since we are looking at statements and wording here, there is a need to point out that he never actually said the Holocaust did NOT happen - he said there's need for more research; the same is true of the "Israel-and-map" comment, which is gravely distorted up to this day...).

Cartoon from Capitalism Magazine.

The 9/11 epiphany was not a bad choice, in that sense. Not only did he manage to insult the U.S., "reveal the hypocrisy of 'The West'", which functions solely to protect the interests of the "Zionist Regime"... but he also expressed his solidarity - indirectly - with all Muslims who have suffered in the course of the "War On Terror" that followed the attacks.

Conspiracy? - Check
Misuse of power? - Check
Need for justice? - Check
Attack? - Check
Occupation? - Check
... ... ...
Need for defense? - Check

Implications? A very aggressive, outspoken, and security-obsessed president. He can, and will take tough decisions if need be (and if circumstances let him), in case he feels Iran is seriously threatened. His tone and approach to foreign policy? Confrontational (not that this is news...).

And yesterday... perhaps he was just trying to make a point? Perhaps something along the lines of what the Emir of Qatar was talking about..?
"We believe that even as the phenomenon of terrorism exists, it should not be treated by waging wars. This treatment has not achieved security, peace or prosperity."

But again, Ahmadinejad and the team got the framing wrong, losing not just credibility, but also serious audience. Thus, after the half-hour-long harangue, he was calling - yet again - for a substantial UN reform, inviting the international public to a conference on terrorism he plans to host next year, and proposing to proclaim 2011 a year of disarmament: "Nuclear Energy for All, Nuclear Weapons for None." 

Iran's foreign policy priorities and insecurity lie at the heart of this all. Of course. But it was also, clearly, an attempt of public diplomacy, targeting primarily those very few (in the half-empty Assembly hall?!) who could, potentially, sympathize with and support Iran's stance. Even if not in public. The issue is, however, that when it comes to public diplomacy, Ahmadinejad forgets that he is not Khatami, and every time he speaks, he manages (successfully!) to kill whatever little credibility he has, especially in front of the increasingly "hostile" Western public...


- Iranian-Americans seem to be making good friends with the Neo-Cons. The question is - what happens after Iran gets bombed?

- Saakashvili descended into his own, usual diatribe... 48 minutes!! (see video here). And he hasn't been wasting his time - he also paid a visit and bonded with FoxNews. "Feels like home."!?!?

- Azerbaijan's Heydar Aliyev used his time wisely, going - at length - into the Nagorno Karabkh issue. It's clear where his priorities lie. Well done on PD!

- Abdullah Gul of Turkey was very upset with Israel, again. He welcomed the recent UN HRC Report stating that Israel's attack on the Gaza flotilla in May was illegal, and called for a formal apology. He also bashed Israel's nukes.

- And Obama, who tried to set a more positive tone, reiterated that the "door remains open to diplomacy should Iran choose to walk through it." He also appealed for more support and determination for the latest round of the Middle East Peace Talks... and emphasized America's "achievements" in "international peace and security" so far.

- While the Israeli delegation was absent. All day.

P.S. - Almost forgot! A slice of RT propaganda, for dessert:


UPDATE [10:05 am, 09/24/10]: A priceless piece from Iranian PressTV, "analyzing President's suggestion to set up a fact-finding mission by the UN, to investigate [9/11]." Enjoy!

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