Columbia University president Lee Bollinger blasted Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad yesterday, accusing him of exhibiting "all the signs of a petty and cruel dictator." I have to wonder if Bollinger is actually familiar with the definition of the word or with Iranian politics in general, since 1) Ahmadinejad was in fact democratically elected in 2005 and 2) he's largely a figurehead, since ultimate authority for domestic and foreign policy rests with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (hint, Lee: that's what "Supreme Leader" means).
As I was watching Bollinger's grandstanding recitation of valid criticisms freely intermingled with Bush administration talking points--a veritable blueprint for the demonization script that's being used to set the stage for war with Iran--I started to wonder if Bollinger reserved his dudgeon only for US-designated enemies. An article today in the Nation pointed me to the (unsurprising) answer, in the form of Bollinger's handling of a similar event with General Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan in September 2005. Here are some excerpts I've transcribed from Bollinger's introductory encomium for Musharraf:
Rarely do we have an opportunity such as this to greet a figure of such central and global importance. It is with great gratitude and excitement that I welcome President Musharraf and his wife, Sehbah Musharraf, to Columbia University. ...
We at Columbia are eager to listen. As a community of scholars and as students and faculty who come from everywhere in the world, we take a great scholarly and personal interest in what the President has to say. The development in Pakistan over the past several years, from its economic growth to its fight against extremism and terrorism, are vital issues for all of us. Mr. President, as you share your thoughts and insights you will give our students, the leaders of tomorrow, first-hand knowledge of the world their generation will inherit.
"President Musharraf is a leader of global importance and his contribution to Pakistan’s economic turnaround and the international fight against terror remain remarkable - it is rare that we have a leader of his stature at campus," said Lee C Bollinger, the President of Columbia University.
After delivering his introductory speech, Bollinger rushed home to transfer the print of Musharraf's boot from his tongue onto a piece of paper, so he could frame it, hang it above his desk, and admire it lovingly every day.
Bollinger's unwillingness to distinguish an elected president from an actual, flesh and blood dictator, and his eagerness to point out the crimes of official enemies while whitewashing those of official allies, extends to Columbia's World Leaders Forum itself. If you look at their bio link for Musharraf, you'll see this creative rendition of history:
General Pervez Musharraf assumed the office of chief executive of Pakistan in October 1999, having been appointed chief of staff of the army a year earlier. After calling general elections in 2002 and then restoring the constitution, he became president and commander of the armed services of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan in October of that year.
They source their biographical text completely to a BBC article about Musharraf. So what does that BBC article actually say?
General Pervez Musharraf seized power in a bloodless coup in 1999 which was widely condemned and which led to Pakistan's suspension from the Commonwealth until 2004. ...
In 2002 General Musharraf awarded himself another five years as president, together with the power to dismiss an elected parliament. The handover from military to civilian rule came with parliamentary elections in November 2002, and the appointment of a civilian prime minister.
General Musharraf has retained his military role, reneging on a promise to give up his army post and to become a civilian president.
"Seized power in a bloodless coup"? "Awarded himself another five years as president"? No, no, no, that will never do. Let's see...how about "assumed the office of chief executive of Pakistan" and "became president"? Yeah, that's much better.
It's rare that you get such a crystal clear demonstration of the willingness of intellectuals and institutions to restrict their criticisms to officially-designated enemies. It would be nice if Bollinger's rank hypocrisy were only laughable, but unfortunately it's also very dangerous; his eagerness to embrace the Bush administration's Iran propaganda, and to do so in a high-profile forum, has helped move us one step closer to war.
(To clarify one thing: I'm all for bozos like Ahmadinejad being confronted and dressed down. But I'll take it seriously the day I see someone like Bollinger do it to Henry Kissinger, or Bill Clinton, or Ehud Olmert, or George Bush, or....)
UPDATE: Dennis Perrin has much better jokes in his version.