Thoughts on the Ahmadinejad Letter

by Roger Alford

By any measure the letter from President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is significant. It is the first direct contact between the leaders of Iran and the United States since the Iranian Revolution. Over twenty-fives years of silence. And then comes this most unusual letter. There are several things that struck me as remarkable about the letter.

First, Ahmadinejad’s renouncement of liberalism and democracy is striking. “Liberalism and Western style democracy have not been able to help realize the ideals of humanity. Today these two concepts have failed. Those with insight can already hear the sounds of the shattering and fall of the ideology and thoughts of the liberal democratic systems.” Ahmadinejad is defiantly resisting calls for democracy in the Middle East, arguing that there is a better way. While Bush speaks of the global march of democracy, Ahmadinejad speaks of the global march of theocracy.

Second, Ahmadinejad’s repudiation of terrorism is utterly disingenous. “September Eleven was a horrendous incident. The killing of innocents is deplorable and appalling in any part of the world.” How ironic. According to the State Department 2005 Country Report on Terrorism, “Iran remained the most active state sponsor of terrorism…. President Ahmadinejad praised Palestinian terrorist operations, and Iran provided Lebanese Hizballah and Palestinian terrorist groups … with extensive funding, training, and weapons.” The Ahmadinejad pronouncement could be seized upon by the West to secure a commitment by Iran to formally renounce terrorism. More likely, it can be used in the future to expose the utter hypocrisy of the Iranian government on terrorism.

Third, the timing and tone of the letter provide a critical clue to Ahmadinejad’s motives. Why now? And why so conciliatory? The answer: Ahmadinejad needs something right now from the West. What does he need? Acquiescence. Thus far, Europe and the United States are trying to remain a united front in their stance against Iranian nuclear development. The conciliatory tone of the letter will appeal to those who argue for appeasement and negotiation. In short, the letter may have the desired effect of creating a wedge between the United States and Europe on how to respond to the threat Iran poses.

Fourth, his appeal to global populism is unmistakable. The poor, the downtrodden, the exploited, the disgusted are all central themes in his letter. “I live among the people and am in constant contact with them.” He argues that history will judge Ahmadinejad favorably compared to Bush. “The people will scrutinize our presidencies… Did we defend the rights of the underprivileged…. Did we bring the world peace and security…. Were we on the side of the people or the occupiers and oppressors?” Ahmadinejad is reaching out to the disaffected in Latin America, Africa, and the Middle East. He is appealing to leaders such as Morales and Chavez to argue that we have a common enemy. Ahmadinejad suggests there is a better way than the American way that oppresses and occupies and lies. Ahmadinejad confidently contends that his commitment to universal values is superior to that of President Bush.

Fifth, the letter reads as an authentic, unsophisticated, unscripted letter from Ahmadinejad. It is so unusual that it undeniably is his own work. As such the letter provides an extremely useful vehicle to understand this leader. In order to engage the enemy we must understand him. The confident rambling, fatherly, theological letter leaves little doubt of his superiority complex. He really does believe Allah is on his side. He is confident Allah is directing his path. Previously he has said he feels a divine glow surround him when he speaks. We should take deadly serious his belief that he is on a divine mission of religious messianism. This is perhaps the most frightening aspect of the entire letter.

3 Responses

  1. I agree with your entire analysis, Prof. Alford, especially with your impression that the most important

    aspect of the letter is that it reveals the messianic nature of Ahmadinejad. Unfortunately — and I presume you will share the same concern — this problem isn’t exclusive to Iran’s leader. President Bush has also mentioned on several occasions that he’s on a divine mission, saying that God speaks through him, or 5.11.2006
    at 3:57 am EST randomopinion

  2. Our President is the most brave president in the world…

    who let to himself 2 talk with the president of the US like this?


    don’t 2 think he can’t???

    don’t u want 2 join us???

  3. I found this related article about Ahmadinejad and Iran’s foreign policy. I think it complements well with your article.

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