No matter who is elected president in November, former CIA officer Robert Baer has no doubt about what will be topping his agenda: Iran.
“Everything is coming to a head in the Middle East,” Baer tells Newsmax. “The days of messing around with Iran are over. We’ve been kicking this can down the road for 30 years, and now we’re at the end of the road.”
The former CIA covert operative asserts that the Islamic nation of 70 million people is building an empire in the Middle East, believing it should be the “citadel of Islam.”
He warns that Iran is probably months, if not weeks, away from war with Israel.
That’s the message of Baer’s new book, “The Devil We Know: Dealing with the New Iranian Superpower.”
Baer came to national prominence after he left the agency in 1997 and wrote the New York Times bestseller “See No Evil,” detailing almost two decades of intrigue he saw firsthand while working for the agency. “See No Evil” and another Baer bestseller, “Sleeping with the Devil,” were the basis for the Oscar-winning film “Syriana.”
In previous books Baer had detailed the threat posed by Saddam Hussein. Now he has his finger clearly pointed at the Iranians.
With Chinese Silkworm missiles pointed toward the Strait of Hormuz, Iran has the ability to cripple the world economy in a matter of minutes by shutting down the flow of oil. That’s even before it gains a nuclear missile.
Like it or not, Baer argues in “The Devil We Know,” Iran is now a superpower with perhaps even more ability to alter America’s destiny than China or Russia. And the threat it poses has been ignored for far too long.
The next president will face three stark choices very soon, Baer says.
He can either stagger toward an eventual war with the Muslim nation or try to negotiate with a new Persian empire, much as previous administrations have done with hostile powers like the Soviet Union, Libya or North Korea.
Or the president can continue to “kick the can,” let Israel handle Iran, and reap the consequences.
“The Israelis are going to tell this to the next administration: ‘You guys have to do something or we got to do it.’ I hear that over and over again from the Israelis,” Baer says.
“And that’s exactly what we don’t want to do: push the Israelis into a corner,’’ he adds. “Because they’ve got guts. We either have to have the b***s to take on Iran and knock them down a peg, or we have to have the guts to have a serious sit-down.”
A combination of analysis and recent reporting from Iraq, Iran and other parts of the Middle East, the book lays out Baer’s argument that Iran should be seen not as a messianic terror group such as al-Qaida, but as a nation with imperial aspirations like the former Soviet Union or China. Historic compulsions inspire Iran’s leaders to re-create a Persian empire throughout the Middle East and Central Asia.
Baer has friends and sources in every corner of the Mideast: from Hezbollah fighters in Lebanon to Sunni sheiks in Iraq. He knows the languages, the cultures and the history of the Middle East quite well.
Iran aspires to be the center of not only Shia Islam but also all Islam, with the goal of eventually taking over the holy sites of Mecca and Medina from Saudi Arabia, Baer says. That process is already pretty far along.
In Lebanon, it has created a state within a state led by the powerful Hezbollah, created by Iranian agents in the 1980s. It has made key alliances with Hamas in the Gaza Strip, has top allies in the Iraqi government, and is pressuring Saudi Arabia to share control of its holy places.
He says these are the natural tendencies of a nation with imperial ambitions -- something that Iranian leaders such as Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani have been quite open about in interviews.
Iran has evolved “from a terrorist state to a calculating Machiavellian power,” Baer says. Despite its religious, messianic, end-of-days rhetoric, its motives are clear-headed and logical once its history is understood.
Simply put, the Iranians are not crazy.
“They are not homicidal maniacs like the Sunni terrorists or Osama Bin Laden,’’ Baer says. “There’s no other way to look at bin Laden: he’s a nihilist. The Iranians have a mission, a goal. You may not meet their terms. You may end up in war with them, but just possibly you might be able to strike a deal with them.”
Says Baer: “I think they want stable markets in oil. I think they want to open up trade. I think they want a big say in Iraq. I think they want to stop the oppression of the Shia in Saudi Arabia. I think they want implementation of (United Nations Security Council) Resolution 242,” which calls for the Israelis to pull back from the West Bank and other territories seized in the Six Day War of 1967.
Baer doesn’t take Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his messianic, Holocaust-denying rhetoric seriously. He points out that, under the Iranian system, the president is largely a figurehead with little power. The real power rests with the country’s supreme leader and a small core of religious leaders in the Council of Guardians and the Assembly of Experts.
“He’s like the queen of England,” Baer says. “That’s how much power he has. In the Iranian system, he’s like a crazy congressman on the left or the right -- nobody pays much attention to him.”
“You have to go on actions, not words,” he adds. “The guy’s nuts. He’s bipolar. He doesn’t have it together. He’s like the Manchurian candidate, and since he doesn’t have his finger on the trigger, I don’t really care much.”
Baer is not saying that U.S. differences with the new Iranian superpower are resolvable. Nor is he saying the U.S. must not push back against Iran in Iraq, Lebanon and elsewhere.
War may be inevitable. But by engaging Iran, there’s a better chance that such a war will be at a time of America’s choosing, not Iran’s, Baer believes. He wants a tough negotiator, someone like former Secretary of State James Baker, to be tasked with talking to Iran.
“If we have to get in a war let’s make sure it’s intentional, not accidental, one that we can control,” Baer says. “But if we have to get into a war with Iran, let’s at least try to determine what the hell is going on in Tehran.”
[Editor’s Note: Get Robert Baer’s book, “The Devil We Know: Dealing with the New Iranian Superpower” — Go here now.]
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