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While the fighting in Syria has been getting lots of attention lately, Iran remains our biggest foreign policy problem. The possibility that Shia clerics that are running that country may have nuclear weapons at their disposal in the near future poses a grave threat, and not just to their immediate neighbors. A piece, written by Ayad Jamaluddin that appeared in the Wall Street Journal in the July 17 edition, explains why. Jamaluddin knows what he’s talking about. He’s a Shia cleric himself and served in Iraq’s parliament.
According to Jamaluddin, there is a figure in Shia Islam—the form of Islam that Iran’s theocracy subscribes to—called Imam al-Mahdi, who has been hidden since the ninth century. This is a messiah-like figure who Shia Muslims consider the true ruler of heaven and earth. Everything, except for individuals’ personal property, belongs to him. In addition, all existing governments are usurpers, exercising powers that rightfully belong to him.
The clerics who run Iran claim that, until Mahdi appears to take up his rule personally, a Shia scholar must take over and rule the world in his place, exercising control over every nation, family and individual. World domination in the name of Mahdi is this scholar’s job. The end justifies the means in achieving this goal.
Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini proclaimed himself to be this scholar when he seized power in Iran in 1979. Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s current supreme leader, succeeded him in this role after Khomeini’s death.
You can see why diplomacy won’t work as we deal with Iran.
That, however, doesn’t mean that we ought to immediately go to war with Iran. War, while a tool of foreign policy, should be a tool of last resort. Right now the increasingly tight sanctions that the United States and the European Union have applied to Iran seem to be putting the squeeze on its theocrats, but that doesn’t mean we will necessarily be able to avoid war with Iran.
A great problem is that Iran periodically does a little saber rattling by threatening to close the Strait of Hormuz. This is narrow body of water that connects the Persian Gulf with the Arabian Sea and a lot of the world’s oil flows through it. Iran could cause a global economic catastrophe by carrying through on this threat. They could do it, too, because they wouldn’t have to actually blockade it. All they would have to do is make the Strait a dangerous place for tankers, sending insurance rates for tankers plying this route through the ceiling and making tanker owners reluctant to go there. This could be accomplished by periodically releasing floating mines in the area. It’s a cheap, low tech weapon, that would be effective in this narrow strait.
We can use mine sweepers to clear the mines, but that won’t be enough because the Iranians could easily and cheaply turn more loose in an endless game of cat and .mouse. We would have to take some robust military action to stop them, to render them unable to continue doing this.
I’ve always believed that the best way to end up in a war is to leave a hostile power convinced that we won’t fight. Whatever his actual intentions, President Barack Obama must never let Iran’s theocrats get the idea that we won’t go to war with them if they push us.
Meanwhile, as he puts the squeeze on Iran through the sanctions he’s orchestrating, President Obama must also openly support Iran’s democrats. One of the things this will do is prevent a rally ‘round the flag effect by making it clear that we support the Iranian people — that our problem is with the country’s leadership. And, who knows., we may actually see a democracy established in Iran. That’s not to say that we would like everything a democratic Iran would do, but at least we would have a situation where diplomacy could be effective in resolving problems because we would no longer be dealing with a Shia cleric who thinks he’s Imam al-Mahdi’s place holder on earth.