My grandfather told me when I was a kid that the favored meal of poor Ukrainian Jews, using the parts the butcher could not sell, was the “lung-and-liver”. I must have eaten a triple helping of that stuff while listening to Columbia President Bollinger introduce Iranian President Ahmadinejad the other day, because I sure as heck swallowed an awful lot of phlegm and bile. But wait… my charming research assistant interposes… you mean Ahmadinejad, don’t you, not Bollinger? Bollinger was the one who really gave it to the man from Iran, called him a petty dictator and a provocateur and an ignoramus and a fanatic. First time he has gotten that sort of treatment on our shores, and it’s high time.
Well, darling, you are right as always, and I won’t patronize you by complimenting you on this delicious coffee. But I do mean Bollinger, he is the guy who got under my skin, and he is the guy I would like to throw a pie at, or the guy at whom I would like to throw a pie, I’ll let you look that up in our style book.
To make my point, let me share a parable widely used in Jewish pedagogy, about the king who sent his secretary of state on a diplomatic sojourn to a neighboring principality. The king gave his minister wide powers of autonomy in negotiation, but he issued one proviso. “Under no circumstances should you remove your shirt.”
Off on his mission, the official made wonderful progress. Major military and economic treaties were in the offing. But then the prince threw up a surprise objection. “I feel you have a rigidity, a lack of flexibility. In fact, I would bet a million dollars you could not take off your shirt right here.” The shirt is stripped in a flash, and he comes home richer by a cool mil, cash in his suitcase. “What have you done?” screams the king when he returns. “You made me lose my five million dollar bet with the prince. I said you had too much class to take your shirt off, no matter what.”
The moral of the story, we were always taught, was that as small players in a big game, we should not assume that what looks like a short-term profit is really advantageous in the big picture. The problem is we need to learn the humility of knowing our place.
So let’s look at what Bollinger did. Let’s even say he gave Ahmadinejad no public-relations advantage. Let’s say B. gave A. the microphone to A.’s detriment. Let’s say B. knew A. would humiliate himself and show a side of himself A. would prefer to obscure. Let’s accept that B. ambushed A. brilliantly and drew him into his parlor to destroy him, like the spider to the fly. Let’s posit that B. crushed A. and gave him a tongue-lashing that every right-thinking American would have dearly loved to deliver. He was still being stupid, and arrogant, and irresponsible, and inappropriate — and downright dangerous.
Lives are hanging in the balance of the relationship between the United States and Iran. The lives of Iranian prisoners, some with U.S. citizenship, the lives of our soldiers exposed to their killer ordnance in Iraq, the lives of Israel’s citizenry, and the lives of innocents everywhere trapped in the gunsights of Hezbollah and other Iranian proxy terrorists. The decision of when to use soft soap and when to apply astringent, when to offer carrots and when to wave sticks, when to wear kid gloves and when to wear boxing gloves, properly rests in the hands of our duly elected President and those who serve as his appointees.
President Bush runs this country, not President Bollinger. These academics think they are so much smarter, so much subtler, so much more polished and sophisticated; in fact, the Ivy League has – in a silent vote that we can hear loud and clear — officially rescinded the President’s Yale bachelor’s degree and his Harvard MBA. All of that is fine, though regrettable, if they confine their protests to smirking at cocktail parties. But for them to run their own foreign policy? Bring critical foreign leaders to campus and humiliate them? They have no more right to offend the bad guys than they have to appease them.
So you see, honey, I agree with every word Bollinger said to Ahmadinejad. In spades. That does not mean he has the right to say them. People are supposed to know their place in a democracy. Which reminds me, this coffee cup is empty.