Mahmoud Ahmadinejad may be scarier than we think. By “we” I mean everyone, including Iranians, not looking forward to the Apocolypse a few years from now when Iran has nuclear weapons. More alarming than Ahmadinejad’s well publicized bellicose pronouncements concerning Israel are his less publicized messianic proclamations concerning the “Twelfth Imam.” The latter is the talk of a self-righteous thug earnestly planning an early return of the Islamic Messiah and, therefore, the end of the world. Consequently, our policy toward Iran may be more than a little naive. Rational negotiation based on soaring rhetoric and more threats of more sanctions will hardly persuade the irrational Ahmadinejad to trade away the means to his cataclysmic end.
In his first State of the Union address after 9/11, George Bush spoke of an Axis of Evil composed of Iraq, North Korea, and Iran. Many people jokingly dismissed the inclusion of Iran. I missed the joke. But it wasn’t because I thought Iran was a threat. I was laughing so hard at the “Axis of Evil” phrase that I missed the part about the growing nuclear threat to world peace. Although Iran is the world’s 4th largest oil producer, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei claimed its nuclear technology was being developed for electrical power. Having been chosen as Iran’s Supreme Leader by no less a body than the Assembly of Experts, he evidently knew what he was talking about. Today, however, it is perilously odd that so few know what Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Ayatollah’s puppet, is talking about.
Eventually, it became clear that Iran’s nuclear ambitions were not peaceful. Still, I chuckled – this time at the incongruity of an Ayatollah and ballistic missiles. The image of a devoutly religious man, in Mohammad-era garb and demeanor, with his finger on the launch button to a 21st century ICBM seemed preposterous. Perhaps this image (as opposed to ignorance, greed and cowardice) explained the failure of the U.N. Security Council to support sanctions proposed by the United States.
Three years later, in 2005, Ahmadinejad was elected president. His comically appalling statements, which entertain us to this day, drew more attention to Iran’s uranium enrichment progress. Public denials of the Holocaust and calls for the annihilation of Israel, a fellow U.N. member, evoked stern reactions from many ambassadors. Some, pushing U.N. standards of outrage, decried his statements as unacceptable. Russia and China, always amused by U.N. ineptitude, saw humor in the notion that wild, brash talk from a weaselly fool, barely 5’ 2” tall, wearing a ‘Members Only’ jacket was taken serious in the first place.
But the Ayatollah was probably heartened, as well as puzzled, by the inability of the the Great Satan (and Israel, the Little Satan) to instill fear in his stooge president. The runty Ahmadinejad, who often stood on stools for photographs, stood tall against the infidels. His courage, though, may have been derived from theological beliefs and his nuclear ambitions may best be understood by the prayers that he would include in all of his major speeches. The Ayatollah, being an ayatollah, understood the prayers. I, not being an ayatolah, didn’t and missed the arrival of the Armageddon Man.
One of Ahmadinejad’s first acts as president was to give $17 million of government funds to the Jamkaran Mosque in Tehran. It was a benevolent, but ominous, gesture. A month before his first address to the U.N. General Assembly, Ahmadinejad started talking about the main mission of the Islamic Revolution as one of paving the way for the reappearance of the 12th Imam, also known as al Mahdi. Al Mahdi is a direct descendant of the Prophet Mohammed who, as a child of five, went into hiding sometime during the ninth century. So Revolutionary Guard members all over Iran must have been cheering when Ahmadinejad concluded his U.N. speech with a prayer for Allah to expedite his return:
“… O mighty Lord, I pray to you to hasten the emergence of your last repository, the promised one, that perfect and pure human being, the one that will fill this world with justice and peace.”
Evidently, Allah was listening. Upon his return to Iran, Ahmadinejad told colleagues that he was surrounded by a halo of light and went on to say,
"I felt the atmosphere suddenly change. And for those 27 or 28 minutes, the leaders of the world did not blink. ... It seemed as if a hand was holding them there, and it opened their eyes to receive the message from the Islamic Republic.''
The problem is that al Mahdi isn’t supposed to show up until just before Judgment Day, right after a period of global chaos, war and bloodshed. To Ahmadinejad, this is desirable, serving the ‘greater purpose’ of saving the world. A related problem, however, is that any infidels (i.e., us) lucky enough to survive the tribulations must convert to Islam or be put to death. He warns us and thinks that, with the help of Allah, we understand what he is saying. But today, as he is on the verge of having nuclear weapons (warheads with ballistic delivery systems), the ominous part is what he will do with them.
Most experts believe he will use nuclear weapons to bully, and ultimately, attack Israel. Some believe he will use them to dominate Southwest Asia. Others fear that he will pass the technology to terrorist organizations and countries such as Venezuela. He might, however, use them as weapons of the apocalypse – weapons for which the defeat of an enemy is much less important than what the attack provokes.
While George Bush had been severely ridiculed for his religious beliefs and his attacks against radical Islam, Ahmadinejad, a religious fiend with an horrific eschatology for the entire Judeo-Christian world, has been unscathed by the press. Journalists have not thought to question the theological underpinnings of his policies. If they had, we would have found Ahmadinejad telling his followers that the end of the world is rapidly approaching. We would see numerous stories warning us of “Crazy Mahmoud” and his plans to hasten the coming of the Messiah. We would hear policy experts and news analysts exuberantly pitching their theories of the global jihad to annihilate Israel and the United States. As Barack Obama prepares to negotiate “without preconditions” with a nation more deceitful than North Korea, the level of media scrutiny of Ahmadinejad’s true plans has barely reached banality.
Posing as a narcissistic clown like Kim Jung Il, he may be a deranged religious fanatic, acquiring the tools to craft his end time delusion. Shortly after the 2005 U.N. speech, he began telling followers that the Mahdi is already here, but has not yet chosen to be revealed. After a Tehran plane crash in December that killed 108, Ahmadinejad praised the victims, saying: "What is important is that they have shown the way to martyrdom which we must follow." By 2006, his entire cabinet had signed a contract to work for the Mahdi‘s return. And he began telling followers that he is in contact with the Mahdi and receives instructions from him.
By 2007, Iran’s steady progress in uranium enrichment and missile testing had increased anxiety, most notably, in countries that saw themselves falling within the rapidly expanding Shahab missile footprint. But at the 2007 U.N. meeting, rather than allaying their fears, Ahmadinejad talked at length of the benevolence of the 12th Imam and his role in ending Western dominance, saying, "Without any doubt, the Promised One, who is the ultimate Saviour, will come. The pleasing aroma of justice will permeate the whole world."
To curb its nuclear ambitions and numerous terrorist activities, the Obama administration “supports tough and direct diplomacy with Iran without preconditions." Last March, president Obama said that Iran’s place in the international community “cannot be reached through terror or arms, but rather through peaceful actions that demonstrate the true greatness of the Iranian people and civilization.” Unimpressed, Ayatollah Khamenei promptly rebuffed the plea, saying that he was still waiting for the foreign policy changes promised when Obama first took office. So we stand trapped in a cycle of juvenile diplomacy between our messiah (“You change your ways!”) and their Ayatollah (“No, you change yours!”).
Ahmadinejad was as unimpressed with Obama’s entreaties as Obama was apparently shocked by the discovery of a second, clandestine uranium enrichment facility, curiously in Qom, the religious capital of Iran. While it’s not clear Ahmadinejad is waiting for Obama’s policy changes, it is almost certain that he will not change his. At the September 2009 U.N. General Assembly, he warned the world again of his ultimate plan, by beginning his speech with,
“Praise be to Allah, the Lord of the universe, and peace and blessings upon our masters and prophet Mohammed and his pure household and his noble companions. O, God, hasten the arrival of Imam al-Mahdi and grant him good health and victory, and make us his followers and those who attest to his rightfulness.”
Exuding confidence at the U.N. meeting, the subsequent awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to president Obama must have made Ahmadinejad feel 5’3” tall. He already believed Obama to be weaker and more indecisive than Jimmy Carter, the last U.S. president deluded by the idea he could negotiate with Iran. Obama’s subdued response to its post-election crackdown confirmed his assessment. When speaking out against brutal repression would have counted, the risk of being perceived as meddling silenced Obama. And now, the Nobel Prize would render him impotent. There is no place for “the military option” on the table of an officially crowned world champion of peace, especially one for whom image is of paramount importance. Ahmadinejad undoubtedly saw this as yet another sign from Allah – one allowing Iran’s nuclear weapons program to flourish, now unfettered militarily by the Great Satan.
At the G-20 Summit, a few days after the largely adulatory reception of his largely ingratiating General Assembly speech, president Obama put Iran on notice. He accused Iran of intentionally hiding its nuclear facilities from the IAEA and said that a choice between international isolation and nuclear weapons is drawing near, the latter putting Iran on "a path that is going to lead to confrontation." Ahmadinejad’s response: Iran has done nothing wrong and Obama would regret his accusations.
But confrontation may be exactly what Ahmadinejad wants. It can lead to hostilities, which can escalate to warfare and, over time, precipitate the apocolyptic events necessary for the return of the 12th Imam. One would think that after years of listening to his boasts and warnings, foreign policy experts would consider the possibility that Ahmadinejad is serious. We know he is a religious fanatic. But what if this eschatological talk is more than metaphorical end game rants? What if he is insane? I would worry at least a little about how Obama’s “regret” might be manifested. I would worry a lot about what al Mahdi is saying to Ahmadinejad (Help me! I’m in a well and can’t get out.). If scrutinized half as much as the speculated conversations between God and George Bush, our foreign policy dilettantes could discover a clue as to how Ahmadinejad plans to hasten al Mahdi’s return. If crazy Mahmoud, the Armageddon Man, gets his hands on even a single nuclear-armed missile, he could get things started in 30 minutes.
Ahmadinejad’s 2005 Jamkaran investment set the stage for his role in the early return of the 12th Imam. When he emerges, he is to do so from a well at that mosque - no doubt obliged to Ahmadinejad for the renovations. In as few as three years, he could be setting the stage for the destruction of the entire Judeo-Christian world. If we don’t change our naïve, toothless policies toward Iran, our only hope might be that our Messiah can out-negotiate their Messiah.