… so we can make them look silly and vulnerable. If tyrants are allowed to remain safely ensconced within their fortresses, away from the jagged elbows of the marketplace of ideas, they only grow stronger.

From The Australian:

Sitting alone under a spotlight on the darkened stage, Ahmadinejad looked silly, vulnerable and under arrest as Bollinger coldly and methodically demanded the Iranian leader explain his Holocaust denial, his support for terrorism, his crackdown on academic dissent and his threats against Israel, the country he wants “wiped off the map”.

As much accusation as inquiry, the questions seemed to go on forever, before ending with a putdown that was the verbal equivalent of being beaten with a baseball bat.

“Frankly, and in all candour, Mr President, I doubt that you will have the intellectual courage to answer these questions,” Bollinger said.

“But your avoiding them will itself be meaningful to us. I do expect you to exhibit the fanatical mindset that characterises so much of what you say and do.

“I feel all the weight of the modern civilised world yearning to express the revulsion at what you stand for. I only wish I could do better.”

Bollinger had promised to open Ahmadinejad’s appearance with “a series of sharp challenges” and had been adamant that a critical premise of free speech was that the dishonourable could not be made honourable simply by allowing it to be heard.

Sometimes the truth hurts.

If there is any impulse to feel sorry for Ahmadinejad (and surprisingly, some commentators seem to), we should only remember that Ahmadinjead has been notoriously evasive when it comes to exchanges with the Western media. That kind of behavior from an American political leader usually produces tougher questioning — and just as we see fit to go after our own leaders with this kind of zeal, so must we show the world that we are willing to raise tough questions with leaders who come to our shores. It’s part of our tradition.

POSTSCRIPT:  Joe Klein, speaking moments ago on MSNBC, gives us the salient point about Ahmadinejad’s appearance at Columbia University:  “… We learned that the ultimate expression, the ultimate music of freedom, which is laughter, can be disastrous for a dictator.”