Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the impenitent president of Iran, arrived in New York for his eighth, and presumably last, official visit on a late September Saturday night. The media hung on his every belligerent, homophobic or anti-Israeli word — while at the same time dismissing him as a lame duck, irrelevant to Iran’s future. But missing in all the coverage was what Ahmadinejad’s legacy may be and whether he’ll have a political future beyond Iran’s presidential election in June.
Beleaguered at home by infighting and the dire economic situation – due to sanctions, but also his administration’s mismanagement – Ahmadinejad seemed even more eager to enjoy his usual week of Western media attention. His schedule was packed – not just with media appearances but also meetings with peace groups, anti-capitalist protest groups and scholars.
Ahmadinejad’s U.N. lecture, the reason for his visit, was surprisingly mild. He essentially laid out a personal philosophy on world governance, cloaking it as Iran’s, that was based on religion. He understood this speech might well help define his legacy – at least for an audience back home or in the Muslim world.
Ahmadinejad has had a profound effect on Iran domestically, and has affected its international standing to a greater degree than anyone could have imagined when he was first elected eight years ago.
He has made many domestic political enemies – from fellow conservatives to the reformists he’s vanquished. But he also set a precedent with his independence. He was fearless in clashes with other branches of government – even with the ayatollahs, who wield the real power in Iran. So it’s hard to imagine him quietly fading away next year – no matter how eagerly many Iranians look forward to this.