Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad clashed with his hosts in a forum at Columbia University on Monday. Ahmedinejad said his country didn’t want to build nuclear weapons, and that any nation that wanted atomic bombs was “retarded.” He also questioned whether six million Jews died in the Holocaust, said that there were no homosexuals in Iran, and that he wanted to lay a wreath at ground zero to show his respect for the victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Columbia President Lee Bollinger, in his introduction, said Ahmedinejad was “either brazenly provocative or astonishingly uneducated,” and said he acted like “a petty and cruel dictator.”

No Holocaust? No persecution of homosexuals in Iran? said the Dallas Morning News in an editorial. “This is the Ahmadinejad that Americans needed to see up close and personal.” He’s “evasive, unpredictable, and dangerous,” and he’s in charge of a nation with “illegal nuclear ambitions.” Ahmadinejad may have thought he’d get “a free ride,” but “his wickedness hung from him like an anchor.”

And Ahmedinejad loved every minute of it, said National Review Online in an editorial. If he’s seemed “jaunty these last few days” it’s because he sees that the American Left doesn’t really care about “Iran’s nuclear deceit and Iranian-sponsored mayhem in Iraq.” It was bad enough that Bollinger invited Ahmedinejad in the first place, but the man actually won occasional rounds of applause. The “approval of this madman” will “long be remembered in the annals of academic infamy.”

The day will be remembered alright, said the Los Angeles Times (free registration) in an editorial. But it will be remembered as the day when America got a good look at Ahmadinejad’s true colors. Turning him away—as politicians unwisely advised—would have violated the “core American principles” of “academic freedom and free speech.” Letting him talk was better. “The best way to discredit a tyrant is to let him do it himself, in his own poisonous words.”

It’s “an old rule of thumb in debate tournaments,” said The Wall Street Journal in an editorial. The first one to say “Hitler” loses. Well, one Columbia administrator said the university would have invited Hitler to speak on campus if this were 1939. But Adolf Hitler would have been no more swayed by students than Ahmadinejad was. The students’ ideas would have been “finer and better than Hitler’s,” but a few years later they still would have ended up “rushing a beach in Normandy.”

This circus “focused attention in the wrong place,” said Anne Applebaum in The Washington Post (free registration). “Instead of debating freedom of speech in Iran, here we are once again talking about freedom of speech in America, a subject we know a lot more about. Which is exactly what Ahmadinejad wanted.”

What he really wanted was to impress the folks back home, said Tony Karon in And as his “Cheshire Cat smile” indicated, the event was a “resounding success.” Ahmadinejad faces reelection in 2009, and he’s already under fire for failing to deliver economic promises. “Playing the nuclear card as an expression of Iranian national pride has always been part of his domestic political game, and the breathless television coverage his visit has prompted in the U.S. won't do his domestic prospects any harm.”