The Islamic Republic of Iran has been at war with the United States since 1979. For much of that time, America fought a passive war of defense only. The amount of damage that Iran could inflict upon us was considered tolerable in comparison to the damage that would incur from open hostilities. Our capabilities had been so eroded since the post-Vietnam emasculation of our covert operations apparatus that any attempts to strike back at Iran were of necessity quite limited. This was the status quo from the time of the American embassy take over in Tehran in 1979 until 9/11.
Post-9/11, many people recognized Iran as a greater long term threat than Iraq, but numerous constraints, internationally and at home, made a direct response to Iran an impossibility. I firmly believe that the strategic decision was made to encircle Iran with the aim of eventually toppling the regime, which since the advent of Ayatollah Khomeini has been the single greatest supporter of Islamic terror in the world.
Not surprisingly, in all such wars, the final battles tend to be the most dangerous. We are approaching the end game and the timing and outcome depend on too many factors that are either unknown or unknowable.
The problem for the West is that modernization is incompatible with the Islam practiced by the Iranian Mullahs, which is closely related to the Islam practiced by the Saudi Wahhabists and al Qaeda. Furthermore, every day that passes, the defeat of their version of Islam inevitably comes nearer. Obtaining a nuclear weapon is the only hope the Mullahs have for stopping the slide of "true" Islam into apostasy; furthermore, using a nuclear weapon is the only hope they have of vanquishing the infidels. Their version of Allah demands it and no merely human intervention by the UN will have any chance of derailing their desires.
Last Thursday, Dariush Zahedi and Omid Memarian wrote an Op-Ed in the New York Times, A Firebrand in a House of Cards in which they suggested we compromise with Iran:
In light of these ominous possibilities, both Mr. Ahmadinejad and Mr. Bush would do well to avoid overplaying their hands. They should take a leaf from the book not of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini the ideologue, but of Ayatollah Khomeini the pragmatic politician. Like Mr. Ahmadinejad, Ayatollah Khomeini argued that the "Zionist entity" should be wiped off the map. But he chose regime preservation over ideology when he ended the Iran-Iraq war and even bought weapons from Israel.
IRAN should endeavor to regain the trust of the international community by engaging in compromise, and the United States should allow this compromise to be sufficiently face-saving for Iran's ruling elite. To regain the confidence of the international community, Iran should accept the Russian offer to process Iranian uranium gas into fuel and voluntarily stop, for a specified time, insisting on its right to do so at home.
Dariush Zahedi is a political scientist at the University of California at Berkeley. Omid Memarian, an Iranian journalist and blogger, is a visiting scholar at the university's Graduate School of Journalism.
It would be nice if the threat of sanctions at the UN were enough to induce the Iranians to make such a rational agreement, but all indications are that it is unlikely in the extreme and to believe that Iran is deterrable is to misunderstand the nature of the opposition. This has everything to do with the character of the current Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and by extension, the character of the current regime. Essentially, the question becomes: Is Ahmadinejad a "mad man", a paranoid psychotic with messianic delusions, or is he ultimately a rational politician who can be effected by the actions of others, ie can he be deterred? In reality, I believe Ahmadinejad and the Iranian rulers are neither "mad" nor "rational" as we use the term and they are behaving exactly as one would expect in order to achieve their goal.
The is a growing body of evidence to support the idea that Ahmadinejad either believes himself to be the 12th Imam or that he is preparing the way for the return of the 12th Imam:
The core of the Shi'ite religious world view is the Hidden Imam, Muhammad al-Mahdi, "The Guided One."
The Hidden Imam, however, will eventually leave his Greater Occultation and appear (zuhur ) to the world of humanity. This return is the most significant event in the future for the Shi'ite faithful and has thunderous eschatological consequences. This return will occur shortly before the Final Judgement and the end of history. Imam Mahdi will return at the head of the forces of righteousness and do battle with the forces of evil in one, final, apocalyptic battle. When evil has been defeated once and for all, the Imam Mahdi will rule the world for several years under a perfect government and bring about a perfect spirituality among the peoples of the world. After the Imam Mahdi has reigned for several years, Jesus Christ will return (raj'a ), as will Husayn and others. It is the return of the dead that falls under the Doctrine of Return; the Mahdi will only appear to humanity.
Dr. Sanity has an excellent review of some of the issues that are related to Ahmadinejad's recent ravings; she likens him to the extremely difficult patient with religious delusions that we sometimes see, and concludes that we need to take him at his word:
The schizophrenic patients I have seen with religious delusions were often the hardest to treat and least responsive to medication. Most of them had such severely impaired thinking processes that they could hardly function on a day-to-day basis; let alone would they have been able to rise to a position of influence or power in any culture. But there were a few who were notable for their single-minded and persistent incorporation of everything they came in contact with into their delusional system; and who had only contempt for anyone who didn't subscribe to their psychotic ideas. These latter patients exhibited a psychopathically clever and manipulative intelligence that was completely immune to any insight into their illness. These patients' were chillingly and frighteningly serious about their delusion, and to them you were nothing.
In my series on Narcissism, Malignant Narcissism, and Paranoia, I pointed out that the extreme Narcissist is extraordinarily dependent on his audience to idealize him and that this dependence can lead to a paranoid position; in Part III, I pointed out :
In more severe cases, the existence of the other person’s mind and life is simply of no consequence. For the Malignant Narcissist, other people are mere props in the pageantry of their lives. A tyrant can throw someone into a shredding machine without a second thought because the victim only matters in relation to how he can support the grandiosity of the tyrant; beyond that, he is faceless, nameless, worthless. It was no accident that Saddam Hussein was surrounded by sycophants who all grew mustaches to look just like him.
As might be apparent from the descriptions of narcissism, the attitude of the other is extremely important. (Narcissists are very sensitive to slights from others and almost anything that is not supportive is felt as criticism or attack.) One can see how, as you move down the spectrum from the healthy narcissist who has a concern and regard for the best wishes of others, to the more pathological narcissist who is intensely needful of being aggrandized, to the malignant narcissist who demands obeisance just as he can not trust anyone to really think well of him, you are moving down a spectrum from sensitivity to paranoia. [Emphasis added-SW]
Further complicating the situation is that the Narcissistic Character is extraordinarily sensitive to humiliation and equally intolerant of it.
Malignant Narcissism and Paranoid Psychosis are two sides of a coin, but the most important aspect of such a person is that they are not "mad" or "crazy" in any conventional meaning of the term. Their basic assumptions may be bizarre and their goals may be terrifying, but they are perfectly capable of being cunning, brilliant, charming, and exhibiting a full range of human attributes, all the while imagining ushering in the Apocalypse. In addition, and this is crucial for understanding the danger from Iran, the relationship between the Narcissist and his belief structure is such that they cannot separate themselves from their beliefs. A typical Narcissist who fails feels humiliated and becomes depressed and/or enraged as a result. The Malignant Narcissist takes this to an extreme. Failure to them is incompatible with existence; they become suicidal and/or homicidal. In such a setting suicide bombers are no accident.
Since being elected President, Ahmadinejad has been consolidating his rule and eliminating the competition. This report from Regime Change Iran is chilling:
With these events, Mr. Ahmadinejad’s government has created the most stringent controls over the national media. The media of the critics has been completely filtered out or banned. … .
Civil institutions too had a hectic and devastating week. Sherkate Vahed workers union that organizes workers in the national city bus transportation system was confronted when government’s anti-riot forces stopped a planned workers meeting. NGOs in general have been ruled to be organizations that work to “overthrow” the regime, thus preparing the ground work for their final dissolution and ban.
Ultra-conservative and fundamentalist Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi’s [reported elsewhere as Ahmadinejad's mentor-SW] activities to take over the control of the Majles Khobregan (Experts Assembly for the Leadership) and the news that he met the supreme leader of the country was the main topic of many political activists around the country. Newly published documents reveal that Yazdi had opposed the founding leader of the Islamic Revolution. President Ahmadinejad even went so far as to expressly state that he is a follower of Navab Safavi, the founder of the armed group Fadayane Islam that took the responsibility for assassinating Mohammad Ali Razmara Iran’s prime minister in 1951. (Some of its members eventually joined the Heyate Motalefe party (Islamic Coalition party.) The approval of Ahmadinejad’s policies by Egypt’s Akhvan al Muslemeen (Muslim Brotherhood) attest to the warnings that former president Mohammad Khatami and former Majlis leader Mehdi Karoubi had issued that the current official ideology would lead them to that of Bin Laden’s.
These are not the actions of fools or "madmen." They are the rational actions of people in the service of irrational goals. The goal of the Iranian leadership is to bring on the Apocalypse. They can not separate their Islamic beliefs from their experience of the world and the failure of Islam would be a psychic death; suicide via murdering the infidel is the only outcome possible that preserves their mental state. This is true on a small scale, with suicide bombers, and on the larger scale of a society that cannot exist without the justification of doing Allah's work. Despite their demographic advance in Europe, Islamists must know, even if they do not admit it, that their version of ascetic and radical Islam cannot withstand the allure of the material wealth and freedoms of the West. Secular Islam is an oxymoron to these men and this is why the options are so limited. Iran not only wants the prestige of nuclear weapons, but whether it takes place next month, next year, or next decade, they need a nuclear war before their grip on power begins to slip. That is the clock that is ticking.