Four years ago there was an election in Iran. Ahmadinejad won. No one cared.
Since then, he has done everything he could to get the world’s attention, poking at the Western world and daring us to oppose him. More cautious regimes, such as Saudi Arabia, stay silent, despite opposition to Western culture, and therefore stay stable. But Ahmadinejad has in just four years turned Iran from a nearly forgotten Middle Eastern country (for Americans) into part of the Axis of Evil. He has raised Iran’s stature significantly, and it is only because of him that any of us care about the protests now taking place across his country. I am sure that even a month ago, more Americans would recognize him than the leader of any other Middle Eastern state. He has helped push Iran back to the forefront.
Iran has the potential to be a powerful nation. The people there are more educated than most other countries in the world. One can easily imagine it rising alongside China and India as an economic tiger in the east. This will not be the case with Ahmadinejad in power. Instead, it will grind along, perhaps like Egypt, with great potential but not enough capitalization. So we can thank the Iranian president for showing us what Iran might be. Without him, his country would have stumbled along for decades like other Middle Eastern states- and it still might. But he may have pushed a majority of Iranians over the limit – too far for them to hold back any longer – to the point that we may see a true rising democracy, if not now, then in the next five years. Sometimes pushing people to the boiling point makes a bigger difference than reformers competing for change but making little progress.