Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (sanity free since 1978) has been making a name for himself over the past year, by making statements which may charitably be described as inflammatory and perjorative. Among the most commonly cited quotes are the ones which deny the occurrence of the Holocaust during World War 2, which demand the destruction of the nation of Israel and imply the destruction of America, and which give strong support to the belief that Iran is pursuing not just nuclear power, but nuclear weapons, and that once such weapons are possessed, they will be used on Iran’s enemies.
I have long puzzled over these remarks, as they are not something which any reasonable man would say in public, even if they exactly match his sentiments. Some people have claimed that Ahmadinejad made these comments because he is truly a madman, and honestly believes what he says. Others mention that they believe Ahmadinejad is the puppet of other men, who desire that he should make such statements. Certainly, the immediate effect of such bombast is to embolden the Jihadists, many of whom lack the capacity to understand the cost and peril of their quest, and there is a certain political logic to such rants, in line with what we have heard before from Hamas, Hizbollah, and other terrorist groups. The recent election of Hamas to leadership of the Palestinian Authority demonstrates that for many in the Middle East, there is no concern about choosing murderers to stand for the government. Yet I still read these statements as provocative, as if Ahmedinejad is goading the United States and Israel, trying to provoke something, and I wonder why that is so.
It came to me then , that what we are seeing and hearing, is actually good news, further confirmation that we are winning in Iraq. To explain that, I will have to step back and provide a brief overview.
In 1979, Saddam Hussein seized power in Iraq, just about the same time that the Ayatollah Khomeini grabbed control in Iran. The two men were very much like predecessors in Europe, Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin. In both cases, the men each held near sole control of a major military and economic power. Both coveted the other nation, and plotted to invade. Both believed they could bluff their way into gaining a position from which to strike. And just as Hitler struck while Stalin was still getting ready, so Hussein struck Iran while the Ayatollah’s army was still preparing. Everyone pretty much saw the fight coming.
Of course, the fight between Hitler and Stalin didn’t work out the same way that the fight between Saddam and Khomeini did. Both Saddam and Khomeini were angered that the Middle East largely wanted to stay out of the war, and both men were further upset by the way the U.S. played the middle – selling weapons early to Saddam because they (correctly) believed Khomeini meant to invade Iraq, then pulling that support and even selling a few weapons to Iran to prevent Saddam from taking over Iran. Reagan understood that neither dictator could be allowed to win, and mad sure of it. This was also a reason why the first President Bush did not “finish the job” and take out Saddam in 1991; he knew that the United Nations might allow the U.S. to remove Saddam, but not to select his replacement, leading to a power vacuum which would most likely be resolved by Iranian tanks.
So, as of 1991 the Middle East appeared to be going as it always had, but with two significant changes. The Soviet Union was fading away, and was already irrelevant in military terms to the Middle East. Also, the Middle East was plagued with regional warlords and terrorist groups, and neither President Clinton nor any of the European leaders showed any interest in cleaning up the mess. So both conditions festered, allowing the Jihadists to believe that they had been the ones to kill the Communist Empire, and that the West was weak and cowardly. And so this led to a cowardly attack on September 11th, in the stupid blunder of believing that the United States would not strike back, and would be forced to negotiate on terms favorable to the Jihadists, or simply abandon the Middle East altogether. As has been said about other people, the Jihadists ‘misunderestimated’ George W. Bush and the United States military.
Iran was actually very well-behaved on the surface during the early parts of the War in Afghanistan and Iraq. While the Mullahs were clearly upset at the installation of what must have seemed a pro-Western regime in Baghdad, the overall impression given by Iran’s diplomats and representatives was one of reserve and calm. However, even as early as the summer of 2003, the State Department was worried by signs of Iran’s non-compliance with IAEA requirements, particularly facilities designed to enrich uranium and experiments involving Polonium-210, which is a nuclear weapons initiator with no commercial value. Personally, I have no doubt that the President was aware of such developments long before they were released to the public, and that a secondary reason for the invasion of Iraq was to prevent an invasion by Iran. Certainly a free Iraq is a thorn in the side of the Jihadists, not only because an occupied Iraq would have been a great economic prize for Iran, and would have fueled the military adventure which the Mullahs so clearly want to pursue. Instead of a weak army headed by an unpopular and apostate tyrant, Iran now looks to Iraq and sees a free nation with a duly elected legislature and framework for a strong future on many levels, guarded by the world’s best-trained and most-advanced military force. Even Ahmadinejad understands that he cannot win a war against the United States as things stand, especially if he is foolish enough to strike the first blow by invading Iraq. Even if he acquires nuclear weapons, it hardly brings Iran equal to American capabilities, and there are few nations which would choose to stand alongside the Mullahs against the Marines. It’s one thing to wear masks and carry signs, knowing the police will protect a “right” to burn flags and riot, up to a point. It’s quite another to believe that the United States, already aware of how many IEDs and terrorists are brought into Iraq from Iran, would not crush Iran at the first opportunity. More than a few American generals are hoping for a chance to take out the fascists in Teheran, rather than let them breed the way Al Qaeda did during the 1990s.Not that the Americans are gun-happy, but they are well aware that the threat wil lonely grow with time or apathy.
And that brings me to why Ahmadinejad is playing his hand the way he has chosen. Direct military confrontation with America is not a good choice for the Jihadists right now, so they greatly prefer to keep the fighting at the “insurgent” level, which is to say Iran denies any hand in the murders of civilians and police and the occasional soldier with its roadside bombs and other low-level attacks. And Iran is far too much the pariah to fool anyone into believing that they would be a good citizen, to be trusted with agreements and treaties; Ahmadinejad understands that after Kim Jong-Il’s little stunt, the United States is not going to take Iran’s promise of good behavior at face value. So he has fallen back to what appears to be his most promising tack; the annoying madman. In President Ahmadinejad’s eyes, the history since 1979 shows the United States as vacillating, weak-willed and unwilling to carry a burden for very long. Within weeks of the 9/11 attacks, Democrats were already complaining about preparations for the American response, and within months of the fall of Baghdad, the press and the liberals were screaming for us to leave. Ahmadinejad is presenting himself as unstable, in order to frighten the gullible in the United States, and to show up the Americans in Muslim eyes. If he succeeds, the pullback from Iraq will allow Iran to plan and eventually carry out the invasion of Iraq, just as they planned all along. This invasion can only succeed if the Americans can be tricked into leaving before Iraq is truly self-supporting. This is the prime hope of the Mullahs in Teheran.
The second possibility, in the Jihadists’ eyes, is almost as appealing. If the United States invades Iran and appears to be the aggressor, the Mullahs will scream that such is an invasion not of a terrorist sponsor and rogue power, but an invasion of one of Islam’s strongest defenders. Count on Al-Jazeerah to make extensive use of a lot of video of “attacks” on mosques, even if it has to blow them up itself to create the image of American attacks. This, in the mind of the Mullahs, would expand the war by pulling in Islamic allies from all around Iran, from Syria and from Saudi Arabia and from Sudan and from Egypt; great pressure would be brought against any nation with a Muslim majority to support the “defense” of Iran, which would then be used as the pretext to invade “apostate” nations like Iraq and Jordan, and of course Israel if the opportunity seems ripe. As unrealistic as the plan sounds, this is precisely what the Mullahs are hoping will happen.
Why is this good news? Because fanatic though he is, Ahmadinejad has seen video of Saddam on trial, of women voting in Afghanistan and Iraq, of children getting to learn about the world as it really is in the 21st Century, rather than how Mohammed or Ali or Saladin might have envisioned it, of private citizens getting to live freely, and he understands that the Americans just might be able to do what they promise, and that his own future might also include hiding from Americans in a hole, while the world moves even further away from his dream of Jihad. He is forced to gamble on a desperate move, and one which shows no comprehension of the character of his opponents or their ideals. He senses defeat in Iraq, just as it is settling down in Afghanistan. Two or three more years of practicing democracy in Iraq, and no mullah may be able to shake the Iraqi people from it, and no Iranian army may matter in the decision between Jihad and personal rights, between a culture of repression and one of self-expression, between the old tyranny of the past and the bright hope of the future. Ahmadinejad screams his threats out of fear and despair, because he knows he is losing and the clock is running out. God willing his nightmare, a truly free and peaceful Middle East, will come to pass just as he fears.