The Magazine

WikiLeaks, Iran, and Obama

It’s hardly news that Tehran is up to no good.

Nov 8, 2010, Vol. 16, No. 08 • By REUEL MARC GERECHT
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Their nuclear victory, moreover, is likely to coincide with a victory over their internal opposition. Khamenei and Ahmadinejad see these things as connected: When Kayhan, the newspaper of preference for Khamenei’s ruminations, tells us that the principal reason the West aided the Green Movement’s rise was to stop Iran’s nuclear program (an utterly false charge since the West didn’t help the Green Movement), we glimpse the conspiracy thinking of Tehran’s ruling elite. It is often hard for Westerners to comprehend the extent to which towtieh, con spiracy, permeates the world view of those who rule the Islamic Republic; a defining feature of the lay and clerical dissident intellectuals who’ve propelled Iran’s cultural reformation since the death of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1989 is their relative freedom from the conspiratorial swamp in which Khamenei and the Revolutionary Guards live. The opposition sees the sins (and virtues) of the West more maturely. They blame Iranians for many, if not most, of their country’s debilitating problems. In doing so, they only prove to Khamenei and his kind that the internal critics of the regime are “tools of the West.” 

What Washington really needs to worry about is the possibility that the Iranian regime, which violently attacks the opposition at home, will similarly attack the far greater evil abroad. Once he has the bomb, inspired by that victory over the West, Khamenei may much more vigorously push back against the United States. 

And President Obama invites the test of wills. As determined as the president may be to continue the fight in Afghanistan, the image of America that he conveys—the one portrayed by Bob Woodward in Obama’s Wars—is of a nation eager to flee Afghanistan and Iraq and fight no more wars in the Middle East, no matter the provocation. President Obama has many virtues; embracing the job of commander in chief is not one of them. Add the psychological effect on Iran’s ruling elite of the West’s punishing sanctions, plus Khamenei’s personal distaste for Obama, and you’ve got a recipe for a rebirth of much more vigorous Iranian terrorism against the United States. What we’ve seen in Iraq and Afghanistan (where the Iranians reportedly are now supplying ground-to-air missiles to the Taliban) is likely just a foretaste of what’s to come. 

President Bush made a serious mistake in not militarily confronting Iran when Khamenei started gunning for Americans and Shiites in Iraq. Bombing runs on a few Revolutionary Guard facilities would have sent a clear signal that any loss of American life would bring lethal retaliation. Such actions would have helped convey the message that Khamenei’s pursuit of nuclear weapons will not diminish America’s resolve to confront Tehran militarily if its hubris gets out of hand. To avoid a repeat of Khobar Towers, where the Iranians orchestrated a deadly terrorist attack against American personnel in Saudi Arabia in 1996, we should have shown that we would retaliate for any loss of American life. 

Bush’s mistake has been compounded by President Obama, who cannot possibly pretend to have the Nixonian I-might-just-bomb-the-blank-out-of-you gene. Many in the Democratic party, and more than a few in the Republican party, would like to play down the Iranian threat, comforting themselves with historically dubious Cold War parallels, emphasizing America’s “measured resolve” against the Soviet Union. But the Soviet Union would never have given laissez-passers to members of al Qaeda, as Iran did after the embassy bombings in Africa in 1998. And Soviet and East German support to the Palestine Liberation Organization was positively benign by comparison with the aid that Iran has given a wide variety of Islamic terrorist organizations. 

The Islamic Republic is a different type of menace from the Soviet Union, with a much more vicious, America-centric ideology at work among the regime’s hardcore. We are fortunate that this ideology is contained within a state that has assets we can destroy. But Tehran needs to know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that we are prepared to shake the foundations of the Islamic Republic if it continues to kill Americans. 

If the press reports are true about Iran now supplying surface-to-air missiles to the Taliban, then we are asking for Khamenei and the Revolutionary Guards to hit us even harder if we don’t respond militarily to their provocation. Such weaponry is a significant escalation over Explosively Formed Penetrators. Any serious threat to American and NATO helicopters in Afghanistan could be militarily and politically paralyzing. As the WikiLeaks documents reveal, Iran is a connoisseur of Machtpolitik, which remains, alas, the Middle Eastern way of measuring men and their faiths. Iran’s great Sufi poets of brotherhood and love are so cherished by ordinary Persians because the country’s rulers have so often ruthlessly worshipped power. If the United States is to win in Afghanistan, President Obama will need to read Saadi less and Khomeini more. 

Reuel Marc Gerecht is a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard and a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.


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