I think my American Scene colleague Tim Lee has it badly wrong on what he calls 'international apartheid.' But I think he has it almost exactly right on Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Almost, because he bemoans the use of 'petty insults' to deride and denigrate Ahmadinejad, supplanting forceful but reasoned discourse. I do too, only I am not convinced that calling Ahmadinejad a "petty and cruel tyrant" is engaging in petty insult.
Leave aside the issue that concerns the National Review -- namely, whether or not Ahmadinejad actually is a petty and cruel tyrant. Think about the logic of rhetoric to which we'd have to accede if NR's move was the first we had to make. We don't need to prove that Ahmadinejad is any particular thing in order to fairly allege that he is that thing. The standard for making allegations like that is, I think, ably captured by Lee himself:
politely but firmly explain why American values like liberty, democracy, feminism, and religious freedom are superior to the values promoted by the Iranian regime. That’s really not a hard argument to win, but we’re not going to win it if we’re too busy calling him names.
Now I don't like 'values' talk and I don't know which wave of feminism Lee has in mind, but the point is clear. The only issue outstanding is whether our call to politeness extends so as to require of us that we politely describe impolite behavior in terms of politeness. And I don't think that's so, and I think that must not be so. There are a thousand ways to allege that someone is a petty and cruel dictator without pointing, laughing, jeering, sneering, or, in short, being a rube about it. And in fact I think that the art of being able to extend polite discourse into impolite realms is an essential component of mastering 'dialogue' with enemies and adversaries on terms favorable to our own selves. Sadly this sort of articulate, intellectual, rhetorical, and most potently political virtuosity increasingly looks like a relic of the West's past during a time when politics more greatly flourished.