Iran Waiting Bush Out?

Amir Taheri has an interesting op-ed in yesterday’s London Telegraph arguing that the Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is hoping to run out the clock until President Bush leaves office.

He’s also, apparently, even nuttier than most of us guessed:

Last Monday, just before he announced that Iran had gatecrashed “the nuclear club”, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad disappeared for several hours. He was having a khalvat (tête-à-tête) with the Hidden Imam, the 12th and last of the imams of Shiism who went into “grand occultation” in 941. According to Shia lore, the Imam is a messianic figure who, although in hiding, remains the true Sovereign of the World. In every generation, the Imam chooses 36 men, (and, for obvious reasons, no women) naming them the owtad or “nails”, whose presence, hammered into mankind’s existence, prevents the universe from “falling off”. Although the “nails” are not known to common mortals, it is, at times, possible to identify one thanks to his deeds. It is on that basis that some of Ahmad-inejad’s more passionate admirers insist that he is a “nail”, a claim he has not discouraged. For example, he has claimed that last September, as he addressed the United Nations’ General Assembly in New York, the “Hidden Imam drenched the place in a sweet light”.

Last year, it was after another khalvat that Ahmadinejad announced his intention to stand for president. Now, he boasts that the Imam gave him the presidency for a single task: provoking a “clash of civilisations” in which the Muslim world, led by Iran, takes on the “infidel” West, led by the United States, and defeats it in a slow but prolonged contest that, in military jargon, sounds like a low intensity, asymmetrical war.

This is the Divine Right of Kings theory kicked up a notch. And, like much of Islamist thought, mired in the Dark Ages. Added to this, we get some thinking straight out of the Leninist-Stalinist playbook, with an Islamist twist:

In Ahmadinejad’s analysis, the rising Islamic “superpower” has decisive advantages over the infidel. Islam has four times as many young men of fighting age as the West, with its ageing populations. Hundreds of millions of Muslim “ghazis” (holy raiders) are keen to become martyrs while the infidel youths, loving life and fearing death, hate to fight. Islam also has four-fifths of the world’s oil reserves, and so controls the lifeblood of the infidel. More importantly, the US, the only infidel power still capable of fighting, is hated by most other nations.

According to this analysis, spelled out in commentaries by Ahmadinejad’s strategic guru, Hassan Abassi, known as the “Dr Kissinger of Islam”, President George W Bush is an aberration, an exception to a rule under which all American presidents since Truman, when faced with serious setbacks abroad, have “run away”. Iran’s current strategy, therefore, is to wait Bush out. And that, by “divine coincidence”, corresponds to the time Iran needs to develop its nuclear arsenal, thus matching the only advantage that the infidel enjoys.

Still, as messianic as this vision might be, it is not without merit. While Western leaders are more or less all in agreement that a nuclear Iran would be a very bad thing, it is indeed questionable how many have the stomach to do much about it. George Busha and Tony Blair are the only current major power leaders one can really imagine taking military action on their own if they deemed that eventuality otherwise unstoppable and both are exceedingly unpopular at the moment. Blair is certainly an aberration among Labour Party leaders and Bush is rather unique among American politicians in not seeming overly concerned about his poll numbers and press clippings.

The Iranian plan is simple: playing the diplomatic game for another two years until Bush becomes a “lame-duck”, unable to take military action against the mullahs, while continuing to develop nuclear weapons. Thus do not be surprised if, by the end of the 12 days still left of the United Nations’ Security Council “deadline”, Ahmadinejad announces a “temporary suspension” of uranium enrichment as a “confidence building measure”. Also, don’t be surprised if some time in June he agrees to ask the Majlis (the Islamic parliament) to consider signing the additional protocols of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT).

Such manoeuvres would allow the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) director, Muhammad El-Baradei, and Britain’s Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, to congratulate Iran for its “positive gestures” and denounce talk of sanctions, let alone military action. The confidence building measures would never amount to anything, but their announcement would be enough to prevent the G8 summit, hosted by Russia in July, from moving against Iran.

This, too, strikes me as plausible. The history of deterring regimes on the verge of acquiring nuclear weapons from doing so through diplomacy is not encouraging. Indeed, this plan sounds strikingly similar to the one that worked like a charm for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

The remainder of the piece deals with Taheri’s reading of the rest of Iran’s strategic vision to enhance its position in the Islamist cause. It certainly appears plausible. And, certainly, scary.

Hat tip to OTB roving correspondent Richard Gardner

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Jim Henley says:

    And what about the time Ahmadenijad personally ripped babies from the incubators when Iran invaded Kuwait?

  2. Cat\\\\\\\'s Yawn says:

    Hey, that corroborates Hersh’s reporting that Bush doesn’t trust leaving Iran to another president. It’s like a war made in heaven. Once Ahmadinejad starts claiming the 12th Imam’s presence was in the smoldering ruins of the twin towers, well, just say, “We remember!”

  3. legion says:

    Now, he boasts that the Imam gave him the presidency for a single task: provoking a â??clash of civilisationsâ?? in which the Muslim world, led by Iran, takes on the â??infidelâ?? West, led by the United States, and defeats it in a slow but prolonged contest that, in military jargon, sounds like a low intensity, asymmetrical war.

    Umm, except for the ‘low-intensity’ part, isn’t that how a lot of right-wingers & neocons have described Bush’s ascent to power?

  4. LJD says:

    Bush wants to ‘take on the infidel west’?

  5. angela says:

    They aren’t acting like someone planning to wait us out. While it is *possible* that Iran could build an abomb in 2 or 3 years, it is far more *likely* based on what we know of their technology that they could still be trying after a decade. After all they started 30 years ago under the shah and haven’t gotten far.

    Instead they are taunting us and declaring non existent super weapons like the underwater missle, typical tough guy talk.

    So we hit them, they become a leader of the midlle east, Saudi Arabia (onc of their rivals) is already uniting with Pakistan to defend them, the Shiites may rise up and we might take serious consequences and oil might rise dramatically.

    It is equally plausible that they are trying to draw us in.

    As for diplomacy, last year the Bush administration took diplomatic steps that it could have taken 5 years ago with N. Korea. Except then it would have porevented the building of several bombs. We didn’t have NK bombs under Clinton we have them under cowboy Bush. If he hadn’t swaggered and delayed talks for years we might not.

  6. LJD says:

    We are talking about the planet Earth, yes?

    No way, no how, will Saudi and Pakistan EVER unite against the U.S. They owe us much more, and value our partnership far more than anything Iran could offer them.

    As for North Korea, they are a nuclear power today precisely because of the lack of policy by the Clinton admin. ‘Five more bombs’ doesn’t make a bit of difference.

  7. anjin-san says:

    I thought Iran was like, 6 seconds away from having the bomb and nuking everyone in sight. Which is it?

  8. If George Bush can just stay strong, the Iranians will all move out of Iran….

    But if the American liberals win, then the Iranians will just remain in the country they’ve been in for centuries, just waiting, waiting, waiting…

    Good thing we have been “staying the course” in Iraq, I hear the insurgents there are renting U-Haul trailers right and left since they weren’t able to “wait us out there”…

  9. Roger says:

    LJD is an idiot.