Politics & Policy

Iran Bubbles Over

Our enemy is still there.

While most media attention has been devoted to the “diplomatic” United Nations visit of Iran’s brand new terrorist president, Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nezhad, the fascinating turmoil within Iran, both inside the mullahcracy and between the mullahs and the Iranian people, has gone largely unreported. There are three basic reasons for this silence:

‐First, because no Western government–sadly including the Bush administration–has any intention of taking serious action against Iran, even though everyone knows that Iran is directly responsible for killing thousands of Iraqis and hundreds of Americans, Brits, and other Coalition soldiers and civilians.

‐Second, as a corollary to the first cause, because the whole question of Iran, which should be the central issue in the war against terrorism, has been reduced to a fatuous debate over the country’s nuclear program, and the attendant phony negotiations between the EU 3 (Britain, Germany, and France) and the mullahs. It was obvious from the outset that no good could come from these talks, because Iran will not abandon its nuclear program and neither the Europeans nor the Bush administration are prepared to do anything serious about it. The sham nuclear negotiations were in large part a way of avoiding what should be the central issue: Iran’s central role in the terror war against the West;

‐Finally, Western reporters in Iran are rightly afraid to report things that are damaging to the regime. They know that they can be expelled, or, as in the case of a Canadian female journalist who dared to look into the dark labrynths of contemporary Iran, brutally killed.

Nuked Up

To take the nuclear “question” first: Anyone who believes that Iran is not on a crash program to build atomic bombs need only listen to the Iranian leaders speaking to their own people. On September 15, for example, there was a meeting at the defense ministry in Tehran, involving the defense minister, Mostafa Mohammad-Najjar, and the heads of the Basij and Revolutionary Guards–the bloodiest arms of the regime. Right after the meeting, a young journalist reported on the official Jam-eh-Jam TV that Mohammad-Najjar had said that it is Iran’s “absolute right to have access to nuclear arms and that we must stand up to any pressure from the international community.”

Immediately following the televised report about “nuclear arms,” the broadcast network was disconnected. Shortly afterwards, Minister Mohammad-Najjar appeared on a radio broadcast for an interview about the meeting and attempted to whitewash his original remarks by stating the official disinformation that Iran “has the right to pursue a peaceful nuclear program for economic and energy purposes.”

Journalists are less inclined than ever to report such things (you can be sure that the young man who told the truth about the nuclear program will not become the country’s new Edward R. Murrow), now that the regime has intensified its already infamous campaign against dissidents and the misnamed “minorities” (in reality, Persians constitute less than half the population). Reporters Without Borders recently expressed alarm over the recent arrests of four Kurdish journalists: Madh Amadi, Ejlal Ghavami, Roya Tolou, and Said Saedi. Only Ghavami has had a trial, and both Ghavami and Amadi are on hunger strikes. And the country’s most famous dissident journalist, Akbar Ganji, is back in prison after the mullahs reneged on a promise to release him if he ended his hunger strike. At the time of his hunger strike, Ganji had received public support–and the regime had been publicly excoriated–by numerous world leaders, including President Bush and U.N. chief Kofi Annan. But there has been no such rage at the mullahs’ latest lying trickery.

These arrests are only a small piece of the intensified repression that characterizes the post-election Islamic republic. For example, in late August and early September there were mass arrests in the (mostly Arab) province of Khuzestan in the southwest. At least 260 prominent citizens, including lawyers, doctors, teachers, students, journalists, and human-rights activists have been rounded up. This follows the infamous crushing of a peaceful demonstration this past April, when security forces killed more than 60 men, women, and children, and arrested thousands of others.

The regime has been similarly aggressive internationally, threatening to withdraw from the Non-Proliferation Treaty if the EU appeasers dared to send the nuclear question to the U.N. Security Council, and, with a frequency and intensity that warrants our attention, threatening to attack the United States. Indeed–obviously believing everything they read in the New York Times or watched on our madstream television–the mullahs celebrated both the damage done by Katrina and the alleged ineptitude of the Bush administration’s response. With an America so weak and divided, the mullahs intoned, Iran could wreak devastation on every state.

Mullah Spin

As I predicted after the elections, the regime is now showing its fangs, both at home and abroad. I have no doubt that the professional analysts in the State department, the intelligence community, and the National Security Council are presenting a soothing interpretation of these events, arguing that there is a new “administration” in Tehran, and it will take a bit of time before they tone down their rhetoric and come to terms with reality. But this assumes that the Iranians are capable of understanding reality, and that we are capable of understanding them. The record to date suggests both assumptions are false.

Manic Moments & Exodus

The mullahs are altogether capable of deciding that events are now running strongly in their favor, and that they should strike directly at the United States. They look at us, and they see a deeply divided nation, a president who talked a lot about bringing democratic revolution to Iran and then did nothing to support it, a military that is clearly fighting in Iraq alone, and counting the days until we can say “it’s up to the Iraqis now,” and–again based on what they see in our popular press–a country that has no stomach for a prolonged campaign against the remaining terror masters in Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia.

Osama bin Laden came to similar conclusions, and ordered the events of 9/11. Why should the Iranians–who have been major supporters of the terror network ever since the 1979 revolution–not do the same?

Many Iranians have come to the conclusion that their country is a dangerous place, and they are running. A significant number of former officials have left Iran for infidel countries in the past few weeks and months. The former minister of culture, Ayatollah Mohajerani, has gone to London, along with the former mayor of Tehran, Mohammed Hassan Malekmadani. Mohsen Sazegara, a founder of the Revolutionary Guards, is now in Washington. Mohammed Taghi Banki and Cyrus Nasseri, until recently high-ranking officials, have gone to Austria. And these are the lucky ones, because they have managed to escape the Islamic republic. Within the cauldron, the purge continues, as I have suggested it would. Ten members of the Khorassan judiciary have been forced to resign. The commander in chief of the army is gone. Payman Forouzesh and Golmohammad Baqeri, both members of the last parliament, have resigned, as has Mohammed Mirlohi, the deputy minister of legal and parliamentary affairs. Other resignations and departures are likely to follow in short order; a friend of mine who knows a great deal about the affairs of banks in the Persian Gulf tells me there is an unprecedented flow of private money out of Iran to places like Dubai, Abu Dabhi, and Qatar.

This exodus does not bespeak either a tranquil country or a regime confident of its internal power, especially against the background of the massive repression now under way. It rather suggests a regime that knows it is hated, and intends to stay in power by crushing anyone in its way, both at home and abroad. It is reminiscent of the final days of the Nazi regime, when the Fuhrer in his bunker swung wildly between megalomaniacal dreams of miraculous world conquest, and deep depression, alternately purging his old guard and promoting incompetent underlings to positions of great power.

It may well be that the mullahs are torn between wild fear of America, and a fanatical conviction that they can finally destroy the great Satan. If, as I fear, they are either very close to, or actually possess atomic bombs, it might help explain their manic moments, and enable them to tell themselves that America would not dare attack a nuclear power.

Our policymakers have thus far utterly failed to design anything worthy of the name of an Iran policy, even though it is arguably the single most important challenge we face. National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley recently answered a question about Iran policy by saying that we did indeed have a policy, but we hadn’t yet written it down. This is reminiscent of the old riddle of whether a falling tree makes a sound if no one is there to hear it: can there be a policy if nobody can define it?

Lacking any defined policy, we can only judge the president and his aides by their actions, and there aren’t any, aside from the occasional speech or offhand remark at a press conference. The mullahs see that, and treat it with the contempt it deserves. We are currently indistinguishable from the Europeans, who run whenever the Iranians snarl at them.

This is not a war on terror, it is paralysis at best, and appeasement at worst. The hell of it is that it is costing thousands of lives, and will cost many more until the terror masters are destroyed, or we surrender. Those words were inconceivable for many years, but it is a sign of our present fecklessness that they are now entirely appropriate. We can still lose this war. And we cannot win it so long as we are blinded by our potentially fatal failure of strategic vision: we are in a regional war, but we have limited our actions to a single theater. Our most potent weapons are political and ideological, but our actions have been almost exclusively military.

Our main enemy, the single greatest engine in support of the terror war against us, whether Sunni or Shiite, jihadi, or secular, Arab or British or Italian or Spaniard, is Iran. There is no escape from this fact. The only questions are how long it will take us to face it, how effective we will be when we finally decide to act, and how terrible the price will be for our long delay.

Michael Ledeen, an NRO contributing editor, is most recently the author of The War Against the Terror Masters. He is resident scholar in the Freedom Chair at the American Enterprise Institute.

Michael LedeenMichael Ledeen is an American historian, philosopher, foreign-policy analyst, and writer. He is a former consultant to the National Security Council, the Department of State, and the Department of Defense. ...


The Latest