Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who once denied the World War II holocaust that consumed 6 million Jews ever took place, has had his wings clipped by his superiors. Iran's most-popular television series tells the story of an Iranian diplomat based in Paris in 1940 who falls in love with a French Jew and then helps her and some 500 other Jews escape to what was then Palestine, with forged Iranian passports.
Titled "Zero Degree Turn" and watched by millions Monday nights, the series is clearly on the side of the Jews' plight in World War II. It is also designed to soften the leadership's anti-Semitic image. Some 25,000 Jews still live in Iran, the largest community left outside of Israel in the Middle East. One deputy in parliament represents them.
Ahmadinejad, about to put in his third appearance in as many years before the U.N. General Assembly, has little power in Iran's theocracy. The key levers are in the hands of Supreme Religious Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Everything from media to intelligence and including the armed forces and parliament is in Khamenei's hands. And former Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani, who lost the presidential election to Ahmadinejad in 2005, was elected chairman of Iran's Assembly of Experts, the body that elects the supreme spiritual leader. Rafsanjani defeated a hard-line cleric who was Ahmadinejad's friend and protector.
Unlike Ahmadinejad, who would seem to welcome a military showdown with the United States, if only to force the entire Middle East to side with Iran against the United States, both Khamenei and Rafsanjani are apparently worried about the voices calling for the bombing of Iran's estimated 23 widely scattered underground nuclear facilities.
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, a socialist, appeared to be siding with America's neocons, Vice President Dick Cheney, the Israeli government and its right-wing opposition, when he said sanctions did not seem to be working and that war now appeared to be the next phase of the crisis. The ebullient Frenchman, founder of Doctors Without Borders, was told to pipe down by President Nicolas Sarkozy. Yet Sarkozy, following his meeting with President Bush in the family compound at Kennebunkport, Maine, last month, said with diplomacy and sanctions failing, either the West would learn to live with Iranian nukes or the weapons would be bombed.
Former Centcom commander Gen. John Abizaid, who speaks fluent Arabic and whose command extended from Afghanistan to Iraq and the rest of the Middle East and took in a large chunk of Africa from Egypt to the Horn of Africa down to Kenya (27 countries), said bombing Iran would be catastrophic. It would set the entire Middle East ablaze and bring millions more recruits to al-Qaida's anti-U.S. bandwagon.
Abizaid, now retired, says, "We can stop Iranian expansion. We contained the Soviet Union with tens of thousands of nuclear warheads in missiles targeted against the United States. But we kept talking to Soviet leaders throughout the worst of the Cold War. And we blocked Soviet expansionism and we also learned to live with China after President Nixon restored diplomatic relations."
Iran, the general explains, is a dangerous power that seeks weapons of mass destruction and to dominate its neighbors much the way the Soviet Union developed satellite and client states. The United States should be delivering clear messages. One or two Iranian nukes should not rattle us. If they fired them, Iran would be instantly vaporized.
"The ayatollahs are heirs to a great civilization," he said in a colloquy at the Center for Strategic & International Studies, "and they are not in the business of collective suicide. Using suicide bombers against Western or pro-Western countries is one thing, but committing national suicide quite another. They aren't mad." And we should be talking turkey with Iran at the highest level ASAP.
But Abizaid does see a long struggle ahead on a planetary scale. "Trouble is we work and think in 5-second soundbites while our self-avowed enemies are into 500-year soundbites. A 360-degree war is upon us. And our military forces are not designed to fight it. We have to stabilize Iraq over the next three or four years. Also Afghanistan and the Afghan-Pak border while avoiding a military showdown with Iran."
The four major challenges, as Abizaid sees them, with global dimensions:
1. Sunni al-Qaida's networked and lethal global extremism
2. The rise of Shiite extremist power with a hegemon in the Gulf
3. The continuing corrosive nature of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
4. The necessity for the global economy to continue to rely on Middle East oil
How to continue the process of globalization by excluding the extremists who are in the business of creating a global caliphate is the overall challenge. There is no question al-Qaida is pulling out all the stops to acquire WMD capability and won't hesitate to use it to cause tens if not hundreds of thousands of American casualties. "But it is difficult to get world opinion on our side following the discredited notion of WMD in Iraq," Abizaid said.
"We learned how to master land, sea, air, and then space," he explains. "Now we have to master virtual space where al-Qaida now operates with impunity in recruiting, proselytizing and plotting and planning. Al-Qaida's organizing ability in cyberspace is unprecedented. It takes a global network to beat a lethal global network."
Nor can we afford a Congress that legislates inaction.
"There's a very long conflict ahead and we can't deny night-vision equipment to countries that are in the same war on our side but don't meet certain criteria imposed by bureaucrats in Washington," Abizaid says.
In 1947, the National Security Act established the structures required to face communism. Today, a similar drastic reform is needed to contain and rollback Islamist extremism, whose fanatics number about 13 million (or 1 percent of the Muslim world). Behind them is a support group of fundamentalists that could number as many as 130 million.
Islamists have published their credo, largely ignored by European decision makers, much the way "Mein Kampf" was ignored when first published in 1925. Ditto the second volume a year later. Similarly, Abizaid remarked, few have studied all the pronouncements of Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri.
"Mein Kampf" discussed the "betrayal" of Germany in World War I; the determination for revenge against France; the need for lebensraum for the German people; the means by which the National Socialist (Nazi) party would gain power; its racist agenda and the glorification of the "Aryan" race; its radical terrorist programs to target Jews as subhuman parasites; and Marxism as a Jewish phenomenon to enslave the world. By the time Hitler became chancellor of the Third Reich in 1933, "Mein Kampf" outsold the Bible.
In Western Europe, some well-meaning liberals believe they can learn to live with Islamist radicals and co-opt them back into a multicultural environment that conforms to universal standards of civilized behavior. Check out any one of more than 6,000 pro-al-Qaida Web sites — and fuhgetaboutit.
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