At first glance, I pretty much agreed with Peggy Noonan's comments in the WSJ regarding Iranian President Ahmadinejad's invitation to speak at Columbia University in New York. After all, she makes some really good points:
But this has been our history: to let all speak and to fear no one. That's a good history to continue. The Council on Foreign Relations was right to invite him to speak last year--that is the council's job, to hear, listen and parse--and Columbia University was well within its rights to let him speak this year. Though, in what is now apparently Columbia tradition, the stage was once again stormed, but this time verbally, and by a university president whose aggression seemed sharpened by fear.And I have to admit, I really didn't care much about Ahmadinejad's visit until I read her article. I thought I agreed. But after reading her article, something started nagging at me. Then it hit me: Despite some of these points, I have a problem with Noonan's main argument: She compares Ahmadinejad's Columbia speech with Khrushchev's UN speech, without going into the reasons why Columbia wanted him to speak at their campus in the first place. Despite the fact these are two completely different venues, she's missing a crucial element behind Columbia's invitation - motive.
There were two revealing moments in Ahmadinejad's appearance. The first is that in his litany of complaint against the United States he seemed not to remember the taking and abuse of American diplomatic hostages in 1979. An odd thing to forget since he is said to have been part of that operation. The second was the moment when he seemed to assert that his nation does not have homosexuals. This won derisive laughter, and might have been a learning moment for him; dictators don't face derisive from crowds back home.
We know that Columbia has a political agenda that has opposed the leadership in our country since, oh, about the day The Goracle conceded the election. They have kicked military recruiters off the campus, and attempted to put the smack-down on the school's ROTC program as well. There is a huge anti-military presence there. So, in a sense, Columbia was continuing the problem Noonan points out with American political debates. By inviting Mr. Ahmadinejad, Columbia provided a safe audience (at least in terms of hostility towards American foreign policy). The laughs at the "we don't have any homos in our country" statement was inconsequential, and is actually what one would expect from a liberal school. It may have been a wake up call (of sorts) to the Iranian leader, but it was inconsequential as proof that Columbia had provided a true forum for debate.
Moreover, Noonan misses the point all together when it comes to the way universities have become a more focused tool aimed at subverting the nation's President and foreign political agenda. Can you imagine asking Khrushchev to come speak on the eve of the Cuban Missile Crisis to explain "his view"? Or what about inviting Ho Chi Minh to Georgetown while troops were dying in Vietnam? No way that would have flown. But now, we're expected to believe the argument that having this tyrant speak as we are considering sanctions (keeping in mind that we don't even engage in official diplomacy with Iran, whereas the Soviet Union had an embassy, ambassador and everything) is somehow the sign of a healthy democracy? I don't buy it.
The bottom line is that Columbia was not looking for honest intellectual dialogue. They only wanted to make President Bush look bad for pursuing sanctions (and possibly war) against Iran. It's safe ground for them - a win/win - many Americans are weary of war and they are capitalizing on that to make a point. Never mind that Iran is directly behind the murders of American troops in Iraq, and had publicly called for the destruction of Israel.
People like Ahmadinejad just don't deserve a forum in the US in a time of war.