- By David RothkopfDavid Rothkopf is visiting professor at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs and visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. His latest book is The Great Questions of Tomorrow. He has been a longtime contributor to Foreign Policy and was CEO and editor of the FP Group from 2012 to May 2017.
In an event that will undoubtedly be as interesting to mental health professionals as it is to foreign policy wonks, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has flown directly from his Tehran cuckoo’s nest to the padded cell of his partner in derangement, Hugo Chavez, for the 2012 Summit of the Nonaligned and Vaguely Unhinged. Despite Chavez’ increasing irrelevance this was an act of considerable courage on Mahmoud’s part both because you never know what’s going to happen when you’re dealing with El Loco but also because whenever a despot leaves a country as screwed up as Iran is at the moment, he can’t be sure he’s going to have a job when he gets back.
At the moment, given the parlous state of the Iranian economy, the likelihood of its further decline later this year, the upcoming parliamentary elections in March that could be another trigger for restiveness in that country, the increasing global pressure of every type regarding Iran’s rogue nuclear program, and Ahmadinejad’s profusion of enemies among Tehran’s empowered classes, he can’t be too comfortable, even when he is at home. The statement over the weekend by U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta that America simply will not allow Iran to get nuclear weapons and our tough response to Iran’s saber rattling in the Gulf of Hormuz can’t make things any easier.
So, what’s a would-be world leader — who is increasingly isolated — to do? Well, turn to someone who understands his problems. Other than Kim Jong-un and Ron Paul, there are few people on the world stage who understand better than Chavez the plight of being seen as a member of the lunatic fringe of the global elite. (Sorry, Ron, you’re a member of the global elite whether your tin-foil hat wearing contingent of conspiracy theorist supporters are willing to accept it or not.) Indeed, like Chavez and Kim, Ahmadinejad’s claim on world attention is based as much or more on his potential for irrationality as it is on any particular resource or capability of the country he represents. Oh sure, Iran and Venezuela have oil, and North Korea and perhaps soon Iran may have nukes. But the point is these are otherwise marginal countries with the capability of being little more than regional trouble makers, who have tried like recalcitrant sixth graders to get more attention than they deserve through acting up.
The only difference between Ahmadinejad — whose Venezuela stop is the first on a trip through Latin America in search of Sofia Vergara, er, that famous Latin warmth and hospitality — and Chavez and Kim is that if anything, his grip on power is more tenuous. Which is saying something, given that Chavez is battling cancer and faces what may be his first real electoral challenge in years, and Kim is an untested newcomer, the neophyte Pillsbury doughboy of rogue nations. Come to think of it, the one thing that all three of these guys have in common is that all three must worry that the day may soon come when their grip on power is actually weaker than their grasp of reality.
For the rest of us, we can only hope that day comes soon.