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First thoughts while watching the extraordinary debate at Columbia today. Lee Bolinger gave a passionate, thoughtful introduction that was a mastery of deft put down. It will likely be viewed as a classic and I thought it was extremely well composed (love the “Would you wipe us out, too?” line), but I thought it was unduly harsh, considering, as the president of Iran later said, Columbia had invited him. It also showed how Americans are capably of viewing the situation with Iran through only one prism: our own.
By contrast, the professor who handled the Q&A did a much more masterful job pressing his questions, insiting on a follow-up, and not allowing Ahmadinjead to fillibuster tough questions.
As for the president, his glib slipperiness was evidently on display. Everyone can have a favorite moment, but the one that will come back to haunt him most, I predict, will be the one on homosexuality: “We don’t have that problem in our country.” I was personally at a co-ed, straight-gay party in Tehran in 2000 where the host would defy this proclamation. His answer about women will satisfy few inside or outside his country: That they are respected. By your standards alone.
But one of the more telling moments for me involved something that I’ve written about here in the past, namely the distinction he drew between Jews and Zionists. Whatever else you think about the president, his point his true: That Iranians can accept Jews living in their country while also calling for the destruction of Israel makes sense to many Iranians, including Iranian Jews.
My other impression, switching among CNN, FOX, and MSNBC, is that the American cable media are completely buying into the neo-con, brinksmanship hook, line, and sinker. And they don’t even realize it; there simply is no alternative voice being articulated in the mainstream media. Props, though, to Shep Smith on FOX for pointing out to John Bolton that maybe it was a sign of strength that Americans could listen to the president of Iran. Bolton, as you might imgaine, was having none of it. “You can hear Ahmadinejad anytime you want on the Internet.” Would that that be the only place we could hear Mr. Bolton.

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