Brian Williams: Don't Worry, Ahmadinejad's Just Playing to His Base
Calm down, you neo-conservative warmongers. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's no more a threat than Congressman Joe Blow back in Cleveland, trying to appeal to the good folks who make up his base. So suggests Brian Williams. Hat tip jazr. Fresh from his trip to Tehran, where he scored a big exclusive with the Iranian president, Williams sat down with Jon Stewart on last night's Daily Show.
JON STEWART: Tell me about this guy.
BRIAN WILLIAMS: He is a lot of things. He's a Ph.D. He's the former mayor of Tehran. He's got an election next year, and, after all, at the end of the day, he's a politician. And he may very well know that the religious folks who, some would argue, more in charge than he is, have perhaps decided that embracing the West, the US, while these talks are going on in Geneva, wouldn't be a bad idea. You enter that country and you see what sanctions do. You see that the city streets remind you of a cross between Havana and Baghdad. Kind of a used-to-be Eastern Bloc nation that hasn't had a cent invested in years. Where we're staying in what used to be a Hilton until the revolution, and it has just gone to hell. Walls of the hotel are scraped and it's dirty and awful --
View video at Daily Show website [16 minutes in].
STEWART: Any stuff to bomb? Anything we could bring down with some type of explosions?
WILLIAMS [ignoring the question]: So the first indication we had --
STEWART: Were you at the presidential palace?
WILLIAMS: We were. Never happened before. I mean this is like the most heavily guarded--you come down several streets --
STEWART: You must be very special. Let me ask you this: do they have favors? When you went to the bathroom, what were the soaps like? Are they like, do they say like, "Tehran," "presidential palace"? Were there ashtrays to steal? What did you find over there?
WILLIAMS [feigning getting up and leaving]: We're on your time.
STEWART: Come back!
WILLIAMS: If you feel. I never left. Just for the record. It's an amazing place. You're in this courtyard, 95-degree heat, he comes out of what is the equivalent of the West Wing; his residence is behind you. You realize briefly you're in this courtyard where the CIA would have given thousands of dollars just to see up-close. It's never; we have very little human intelligence in Iran. And it was clear he had a message to impart. It was clear from the moment we were picked up at the airport when we learned where the interview was going to be. Ten minutes after he walked out I was on the Today show from his courtyard: absolutely unheard of. And buried in his message --
STEWART: Let me guess the message. Can I guess it?
WILLIAMS: Yes, Jon.
STEWART: Death to America.
WILLIAMS: Not so much. It was more like--I'm going to use a big one here--rapprochement. Can you handle it?
STEWART: Sounds pretty, I don't know: French.
WILLIAMS: And what's "Stewart"?
STEWART: Sort of Jew. When you talk to them, do you feel like, when he says the crazy things that he says--and he says crazy things--is he playing to his base? Is this just a politician? Because, wasn't that the mistake we made with Saddam Hussein? His braggadocio, his all those things, were of necessity, because he has to play to this base. Are we misinterpreting their belligerence, and thinking it's baiting us into a war, when it's just a way to stay in power?
WILLIAMS: Well, that's exactly what it is. There's universals in politics. He's playing to his base like a politician in Cleveland [NB: on behalf of Dennis Kucinich, I resent that!] You can go through the transcript, and he, you were joking, he says all but "death to America." At one point he said to me, and I'm paraphrasing very loosely, the atomic bomb is so 20th-century. He wanted us to know there --
STEWART: What? They have a death ray? What do you mean the atomic bomb is --
WILLIAMS: I don't know what. It does beg the question: what do you guys got?
WILLIAMS: Yeah. But he delves into sarcasm; he tries false flattery. But then --
STEWART: Have we made a mistake elevating them to this idea that they are now the Axis Powers, that they are Germany in the '30s? Have we made a mistake in this type of elevation?
WILLIAMS: That's the great argument. First time I go to Russia, I realize Tom Friedman's theory, that the dirty little secret was they couldn't build a light-bulb back during those years we were so worried about them. First time, I was in Saddam's palace two days after the invasion. Went to drink from a faucet in his bathroom and realized the gold sink was paint, and the underside was just black metal. And that's a perfect metaphor for so much of what these rulers build up. So maybe you could argue that a military-industrial complex depends on having enemies. I'm not saying that: it's been proferred before.
STEWART: Brian Williams says beware the military-industrial complex. He makes a plea I think to the American leaders tonight on this show to stand down and embrace the Iranian people. He speaks French. And other than that, I think, really no news made here tonight. Can we --
WILLIAMS: Can we go back to the guy named Braggadocio you mentioned earlier? I think I grew up with him in New Jersey.
See, it's really our fault. Poor Mahmoud wouldn't be making trouble were it not for our being his enemy. And the harmless little fuzzball [with his 6,000 centrifuges] is no more a threat than was Saddam Hussein, the guy who gassed thousands of Kurds to death and was sitting on 550 tons of yellowcake. I tell you, Ahmadinejad's no more capable of making nuclear weapons than another guy with bad hotels, Kim Jong-il. What's that? North Korea did develop nuclear weapons, despite the bad decor? Never mind