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Iran: The Nuclear Messiah
Posted by: Jon Henke on Saturday, January 14, 2006

McQ certainly nailed the motivations of Iranian President Ahmadinejad in this post last week. He's on an apocalyptic mission from god. Via Drudge, I see the Telegraph asking the same questions I asked here at QandO last week: "What is moving its President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to such recklessness?"
Political analysts point to the fact that Iran feels strong because of high oil prices, while America has been weakened by the insurgency in Iraq. ... [But] there is another dimension, a religious messianism that, some suspect, is giving the Iranian leader a dangerous sense of divine mission.
All streams of Islam believe in a divine saviour, known as the Mahdi, who will appear at the End of Days. A common rumour - denied by the government but widely believed - is that Mr Ahmadinejad and his cabinet have signed a "contract" pledging themselves to work for the return of the Mahdi and sent it to Jamkaran. [...] This is similar to the Christian vision of the Apocalypse.
President Ahmadinejad appears to be the crank on the corner carrying a "The End is Near" ICBM; Jim Jones with irradiated Kool-Aid.President Ahmadinejad appears to be the crank on the corner carrying a "The End is Near" ICBM; Jim Jones with irradiated Kool-Aid.

Or, you know, maybe he's not. History is replete with leaders — of countries, religions and movements — whose rhetoric for public consumption was markedly different than their private views. Many a Pope taught piety, while practicing something else. Communism was/is filled with leaders who paid lip service to The People, while slaughtering them by the millions. In a more recent—and related—example, Saddam Hussein seemed to have little personal interest in Islam, but in the 1990s, he began to encourage the radical clerics within Iraq and make overtures to Islamism as a means of propping up his regime.

So, maybe Ahmadinejad really believes the Mahdi is coming, and maybe he doesn't. I'm inclined to the view that, while he may believe in the broad outlines, his geopolitical strategy is more cynical. I wrote previously that Iran's current strategy could be to angle for better concessions, or it could be to provoke Israeli preemption in order to create an Islamic/Israeli war without being the aggressor nation.

The former assumes Iran really wants economic and diplomatic benefits out of all this, which I tend to doubt. The latter, however, is perfectly consistent with a Messiah Complex, wherein Iran—or persons within Iran—sees itself as an important element in end-times Islamic prophecy. What's more, an aggrieved Iran would be very likely to unite the Islamic and Arab world in a war against Israel, in a way that Iranian preemption would not.

Or — and this is certainly a possibility with some precedent in Iranian history — it may be that President Ahmadinejad is cynically using this religious message to consolidate his own power. From another recent Telegraph story...
By putting himself inside this aura, Mr Ahmadinejad may be at once sincere and cynical. He may truly think that God is bringing the Mahdi his way, but he will also know that by identifying with this strand of Shi'ism he can seem to be a Robin Hood for the poor against corruption. He may also be hinting, some experts believe, that, if the Hidden Messenger is coming, the increasingly unpopular clergy and their Supreme Leader (Ayatollah Khamenei) could be superseded by truly holy, non-clerical persons, eg himself and his Revolutionary Guard.

The Bomb, blessed by God, will make Iran proud. It will force the West to let Iran dictate terms in the region, give Mr Ahmadinejad the prestige to crush dissent in his own country and help him grab world Muslim leadership, taking over Iraq. Mad, perhaps, terrifying, certainly, but perfectly sane as a way of staying on top.


Unfortunately, so long as Iran insists it cannot be bought off, there aren't a lot of good options.
All of which leaves us....where? Unfortunately, so long as Iran insists it cannot be bought off, there aren't a lot of good options.

(1) The UN Security Council...
  • ...for all the good that's ever done. The only real benefit of going to the UNSC may be that Russia and China, who've largely stayed on the sidelines so far, will have to take sides, either with or against Iran. That will at least clarify the balances of power involved.

  • ...but what leverage does the UNSC have with Iran? In fact, with their massive oil reserves, prominence within OPEC, proximity to and complicity with Iraqi instability, and a burgeoning nuclear program it may be that Iran can cause the world as many problems as the world can cause Iran.

(2) Preemptive Strike

Stratfor recently published a picture of possible Israeli fly-over routes. Inter alia, they're going to have to get at least tacit permission from Saudi Arabia, Iraq or Turkey. Good luck with that.

As Stratfor notes, due to tactical problems, there's no real comparison between Osirik and the current Iranian problem...
The IAF strike package will have to include other aircraft besides the F-15Is. Once they enter Iranian airspace, the Israelis will have to suppress Iranian air defenses. This would most likely be accomplished by F-16Is in the "Wild Weasel" role. On the way to the nuclear facilities, separate strike packages would have to neutralize the Iranian air force's (IRIAF) 3rd Tactical Air Base at Hamadan in order to prevent its F-4 fighters from interfering with the raid. On the way out, the IRIAF 2nd Tactical Air Base at Tabriz, with its F-5s and MiG-29s, would have to be neutralized. All of these strike aircraft — those sent against the nuclear facilities, the Wild Weasels and those sent against the Iranian air bases, would need their own fighter escorts as well.

Because of the size and dispersion of Iran's nuclear program, the Israelis would be unable to take it out with a single strike as was done at Osirak. Rather, Israel would have to carry out multiple strikes and possibly even a brief air campaign along the lines of the U.S. 'Desert Fox' operation in 1998. In order to sustain such an operation, the Israelis would almost certainly have to use Turkish airspace — and, due to the length of the operation, the IAF would not be able to use Turkish airspace without Ankara's knowledge and approval. This is, of course, assuming the Turks would grant the Jewish state permission to use its airspace to attack another Muslim country; in 2003, Ankara refused to allow its NATO ally Washington to use its territory to invade Iraq.
Pat Lang at Sic Semper Tyrannis 2006 thinks attack even less likely, arguing that Israel could do no "more than anger the Iranians", because their "smallish air force lacks the strength, range, tanker capability, targeting capability, etc. The target set would require numerous waves of re-strikes after bomb damage assessments were made." [some links via Matthew Yglesias]

Thomas PM Barnett argues that it's time for rapprochement, since, if we've "ruled out all the stupid and ineffective routes, what remains, ipso facto, is the co-optation route that crowds out the nuts in the Iranian government by rewarding the realists."
Unfortunately, as trenchant as sarcasm may be, it's not a foreign policy.
Meanwhile, on the domestic front, our poor options are only made worse by the events of the past few years. On the one side, we have the base of the Democratic Party, still smarting from the Iraq war, preemptively mocking anybody who argues that maybe Iran really is a problem. Unfortunately, as trenchant as sarcasm may be, it's not a foreign policy.

On the other side, we've got a US Administration whose diplomatic and Intel reputation is pretty well shot to hell, but which nonetheless seems committed to Diplomacy-by-Force-of-Will. That's set up a perverse set of incentives domestically, as Praktike points out...
I suppose it's increasingly unlikely that the US can or will pull off a strategy of encouraging liberalization and democratization through international institutions. In today's political climate, Democratic candidate would hardly be well-advised to promote a rapprochement with Tehran, and the Bush administration seems ready to go the mat. In any case, Iran has rejected talks through the Khalilzad channel in Baghdad, so it's not clear they'd go for higher-level direct discussions about their nuclear program.
Fortunately, Praktike notes, "by most estimates, Iran is several years and possibly a decade away from being nuclear-capable." Stratfor cites a similar Israeli Army assessment, which has Iran potentially "enriching uranium as soon as March 2006" and "producing nuclear weapons in three years".

That leaves us with some time to make what will be irreversible decisions. But not a lot of time; and the options do not appear to be getting any better.
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Previous Comments to this Post 

Unfortunately, I don’t see any other ending to this than all out war between the US/Europe/Israel and Iran. The Iranian opposition won’t move against the regime because they’re not organized, armed, and many in the opposition support the nuclear program for nationalistic reasons. Plus the Iranian nutcase in chief, as you pointed, believes he is the Madhi and has a mission from Allah to destroy the infidels and he won’t listen to reason. The only question is who will strike first, the US and allies or Iran.
Written By: Kevin
I live in Japan, where anti-North Korean feeling is sometimes fevered. Occasionally, the TV networks feel the need to trot out possibility of a nuclear attack from North Korea. In the U. S., too, we hear occasional shrieks that Kim Jong Il might nuke us in our beds any moment.

The arguments for this are:
1. that North Korea is a repressive dictatorship. This is true, but it has nothing to do with whether or not it will use nuclear weapons.

2. That Kim Jong Il is a madman. Dick Cheney is a madman. George Bush is a madman. Paul Wolfowitz is a madman. Donald Rumsfeld is a madman. On the other hand, there is not much evidence that Kim Jong Il, while evil, is a madman. I see no reason why he would want to see himself and most of his country obliterated. Even with nuclear weapons, he is less a threat than the neocons in our administration.

There may be diplomatic ways to reduce the level of tension in the Far East, but there is nothing in the attitudes and policies of the Bush regime to suggest that they will take them.
Written By: notjonathon
URL: http://
I’m torn in my attitude towards these very real problems.

On the one hand, I am a person who believes in defending yourself with everything available (eg...if someone comes at me with a knife I have no problem pulling out a gun and shooting them).On the other hand, we can’t go fighting everyone. Whether we like it or not, these countries WILL have nuclear capabilities sooner or later so it doesn’t make a lot of sense going to war over something that will happen even if we do blow some of them up.
Written By: SkyWatch
URL: http://
I’m very worried about a nuclear-tipped Mullahcracy sitting on the world’s third-largest oil supply.

Imagine what happens when a dysfunctional, single-commodity economy - with a fundamentalist, terrorist-supporting ruling class - gets nuclear weapons for Christmas.

Iran has no real democratic checks on its military, Iranians cannot express themselves freely on their streets nor in national media, and coercive, religious social restrictions pervade their daily lives. Compare that to America or Isreal (or Japan, or France, or Germany): both have civilian oversight of their militaries, in both their citizens can freely dissent in movies, parks, blogs and national papers, and they get to choose for themselves which religious social customs they want to adhere to.

This is a real test for liberalism and internationalism, and the onus is on proponents of a more multilateralist approach (like Barnett’s "rapprochement") to explain why more "soft-power" will solve this NPT abrogation, when it has only failed so far.

Written By: Steve
URL: http://
Some conjecture;

That Iran is so desperate for nuclear weapons that they’re willing to tee off the rest of the world to obtain them tells me that they don’t think they have a sizable enough military for their objectives. It seems at least plausible that Iraq hurt them worse than we knew during the Iran / Iraq war. If that’s true, then now is the time to take them out. Before, that is, they actually get nuclear weapons working...At which point the job becomes nigh on impossible .

I wonder if the security council will see it so. Given that Russia, France, and and Germany are all major trading partners with Iran I have reason to suspect they will not, and that they, and the UN as a whole will react to this situation the same way they did with Iraq... which is to say, somewhere between not all and stonewalling.

Which means of course, someone’s going to have to step in. Gee, guess who that’s going to have to be.

We’re in the UN.... why, again?

All that said however, if my original supposition is correct that Iran is weaker than they’re letting on militarily, and if Kevin’s point about there being a sizable opposition within Iraq is correct, it seems reasonable to suggest that an easier time of things will be had in Iran than we had even in Iraq. The opposition in Iran will doubtless have heard of the successes in Iraq. (Indeed they probably heard more of those successes that have U.S. citizens.) once they see our tanks coming over the ridge I expect the opposition will fall together very quickly.

Written By: Bithead
I see no reason why he would want to see himself and most of his country obliterated.

Unless he (Kim Jong Il) believes that he is about to lose power, at which point he might not care if the Korean state or its people survive. It certainly appears that his maintaining power is much more important to him than, say, ensuring his people don’t starve to death.


Dick Cheney is a madman. George Bush is a madman. Paul Wolfowitz is a madman. Donald Rumsfeld is a madman. have a very bizarre concept of madman.

Written By: Mark A. Flacy
URL: http://
Good point, Bithead, We don’t have the luxury of time, anymore. The time for chin-wagging is coming to an end. And we need to act while we still have some element of surprise.

One curl in the "rapprochement" debate: Barnett repeats a CV that I think is plain wrong. Barnett quotes Timothy Garton Ash’s summary of the Mullah’s CV: "They know that the US is deeply mired in neighbouring Iraq..."

One of my favorite bloggers, Wretchard restates this same CV in a domestic political context:: " American President would chance [Operation Iranian Freedom] after three years of political pillorying for OIF." (post dated 01/15/06)

My view is the U.S. is not "mired" anywhere - OIF has, in fact, left us with better flexibility of action. This "mire" CV smells like a corollary to the "quagmire" meme trotted-out by those generally opposed to a unilateral American foreign policy, and I think it is a poor argument for a return to the ineffective multilateralism of the past.
PS: North Korea is a diversion from Iran - keep your eye on the ball, guys.
Written By: Steve
URL: http://
Oops! "CV" should be "CW" for Conventional Wisdom.

It’s a good thing my wife reads your blog, Jon.
Written By: Steve
URL: http://

First time reader by-way of Balloon Juice. Excellent, excellent post. You are of couse correct that sideline sniping is not especially helpful, but I think Atrios can be forgiven for fearing the bait-and-switch here.


How do you see the current Iraq situation as giving us "better flexibility of action?"
Written By: Pooh
Because we currently have 150,000 troops next door, between Afghanistan on one side and Iraq on the other. That gives us the ability to act from a "standing start."
Written By: SDN
URL: http://
When should we start the irreversible bombing Steve
Oh, 15 or 20 minutes.

You seem to be under the mistaken notion that an option has to be inherently good for to be the right one to be taken. War, you and I apparently agree is never a tremendously good option. However in this case it is the one to take... and soon.
Written By: Bithead
"How do you see the current Iraq situation as giving us "better flexibility of action?"

Good question. I think OIF is causing quakes in "Arabia" - in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Kuwait, Egypt and Jordan - that offer opportunities for action that did not exist before OIF. We are in a better position to impose sanctions or wage war. Whichever we choose.

Physically, our hand is nearer the job. We have forward stationed our troops and materiale out of their earlier, "over-the-horizon" positions into what look likes a preparation for blockade: Iran is surrounded, and its continued export of terror and her NPT violations will be the blockade’s trigger.

Geo-politically, the mantra of U.N.-sponsored soft-power has been delegitimized by OIF (and Rwanda). The organization’s pet-projects, like "humanitarian aid," international peacekeeping and refugee food relief were hijacked to serve as fronts for palm-greasing, nepotism and a protection-racket for a regional dictator. (See Claudia Rosett’s reporting on the U.N.’s "Oil for Food Program" at the WSJ).

The rejection of the E.U. Constitution by France and the Netherlands, Germany’s voters’ rejection of Schroeder, France’s heavily publicized urban insurgency and three consecutive democratic elections in Iraq don’t hurt either. Did OIF have anything to do with any of these? I wonder.

In domestic politics, I think the wool is off the eyes of the responsible elements of our nation’s government. Despite their professed pacifism, even Democrats like Evan Bayh, Herald Ford, Joe Biden and Jane Harman know the real stakes. Also, Bush’s reelection and war-time polling that shows substantial support for a powerful executive at a time of war are indicative of the staying power and backbone of our citizens.

Lastly, if the discourse matters, (I think it does) a couple of popular, progressive memes have been slain since OIF. The Vietnamesque "quagmire" meme - has been debunked twice now, in Afghanistan and Iraq. The "oil-for-blood" meme rolled-over when crude hit $60. And the "no ties to terrorism" excuse for continuing Saddam’s tyranny is on its sick-bed, as all the documents discovered in OIF are finally being translated and published (see Stephen Hayes’ reportage at the Weekly Standard).

Carpe Diem!
Written By: Steve
URL: http://
Physically, our hand is nearer the job.
And can you imagine taking on such a job with an intact Saddam?

Written By: Bithead
And can you imagine taking on such a job with an intact Saddam?

Naval operations from Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf with Airforce support out of Kuwait and Turkey and Army poised in Turkey and Afghanistan.

Written By: Unaha-closp
URL: http://

Naval operations from Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf with Airforce support out of Kuwait and Turkey and Army poised in Turkey and Afghanistan.
That would make sense if we were being driven here by an ideology that works completely independently of borders and country. when we took out Iraq in Afghanistan those two places were places where radicals could not go to receive support any longer. or they still in place Iranian radicals would simply move to Iraq. Can’t do that anymore.

And... oh dear. Book seems to have re-locked into the "it’s all about oil" meme again. You’d think you’d have learned some point over the last 3000 times that’s been disproven. Book I don’t suppose it has occurred to that fertile mindlessness of yours, that there are a lot more productive places that we could’ve invaded if rading for a oil was all we’re about?
Written By: Bithead
Fortunately, Praktike notes, "by most estimates, Iran is several years and possibly a decade away from being nuclear-capable."
That leaves us with some time to make what will be irreversible decisions. But not a lot of time; and the options do not appear to be getting any better.

The timetable might look something like this.

For the next three years Bush Administration is going to play multilateral game referring Iran to UN, starting new talks with mullahs, breaking talks, starting again. In 2008 a democratic president will be elected, who will promptly remove american forces from the harms way, reducing American strategic presence in the Middle East. These will be happy and peaceful days that will end up with looming economic disaster in the US by 2016. In 2016 general public will decide to change horses and a Republican President will be elected. In September 2017 (around 11th, I guess), New York City will be destroyed with Iranian made nuclear device planted by a suicide bomber with valid immigration visa.

On a brighter side, this will be the end of New York Times, good riddance. How old Maureen Dowd is going to be in 2017? I hope she’ll be capable to comprehend her own annihilation.

Written By: khr128
URL: http://
How about we (meaning the US and allies) just adopt a policy of ASSURED DESTRUCTION

If a nuclear weapon goes off in any allied nation, the military infrastructure of all "ROGUE STATES" will be nuked in retaliation.

Then tell them, go ahead and build your bombs.

Screw "mutually assured destruction," they can’t do physically do that. They can tip us that way economically, but they’d also be tipping Russia and China that way as well.
Written By: Keith, Indy
URL: http://
In September 2017 (around 11th, I guess), New York City will be destroyed with Iranian made nuclear device planted by a suicide bomber with valid immigration visa.

After which the republican president will charter flights for all Iranians out of the country, declare "war on suicide bombs", set a lunch date at his ranch (in Texas) with the king of Iran and invade Afghanistan & Iraq.

Written By: Unaha-closp
URL: http://
The theory of mutually assured destruction, only works if both ends of the projected conflict have sane people running the show. I think it clear, that can’t be said in this case.
Written By: Bithead
I’ll predict right now...

Military coup in Iran leading to a popular revolt...

Within the next 5 years.

Precisely because they don’t have sane people running the show.
Written By: Keith, Indy
URL: http://
Iran is desparate, not for energy (have plenty of it), but for nuclear weapons. Consequences need to be compared: Consequences from stopping Ahmadinejad from getting nukes to Consequences of
Ahmadinejad with nukes. I think one really outweighs the other. I think the hope of Ahmadinejad changing his colors once he has nukes is flawed.
Written By: charles hemer
URL: http://
What kind of resolve does a man have that is convinced he will help usher in the coming of the Islamic messiah? I would say about as much as a person can have.

Iran is a cancer that needs to be dealt with. Question is do we as a people (U.S.A.) have the stomach for the casualties that we will suffer in a war with Iran? How are the doves in the country going to like 15,000 dead? I wish we were not in this arguement with Iran, but this is one we cannot afford to lose.The consequences of doing nothing and watching them become a global threat is a nightmare we don’t want to live through. Nor do we want to pass this on to our childrens generation.If we go soon the hurt to us will be much less than waiting 2 years. I really do not see another way.

I am safe in Texas. Can you imagine living in Israel?

Written By: Homes
URL: http://
Unless the US or Isreal hits Iran with nukes , which by the way is the only way to samsh its nuclear reactors, there is no reasonable way to attack Iran.
If the US thought Iraq was a bad go, I think Iran would be sucide. Isreal is thinking irrationally. Up to the north they have a problem. Huzbullah. Who would happen to have rockets supplied by Iran that puts Tel Aviv well within range. So if Isreal were to hit Iran theyll automatically have to face Huzbullah, who to note were the only arabs to force Isreal out of land with violence.
And on the mehdi issue, Isreal and the west all belive a devine saviour will come, but from which side is whats deciding politics of the world.
Written By: Samy
URL: http://

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