Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has once again stolen the spotlight at the United Nations. On Tuesday, he declared that capitalism would soon be dead, and demanded an overhaul of the "undemocratic and unjust" global political system. That was just a warmup for his speech today at the opening of the UN General Assembly.
It's easy to dismiss Ahmadinejad's rhetoric as the rants of an unstable despot. But that misses the point: His message is intended to improve his standing in the Muslim world and bolster his reputation as a Third World hero.
In a region ruled by kings and tyrants, Ahmadinejad has worked hard to cultivate his image as a Pan-Islamic populist leader who is not afraid to stand up to the West. He quickly became more popular in the Arab world than among his own people, who were frustrated by his inability to improve a stagnant economy, root out corruption and redistribute oil wealth. When Ahmadinejad denies the Holocaust or threatens Israel, his rhetoric resonates more with Arabs than with Iranians, who have less at stake in the Arab-Israeli conflict.