There were many losers in last week's Congressional elections, but it seems pretty clear who was the main winner: President Ahmadinejad of Iran. His high-risk strategy, unanticipated by American policy makers, has placed him in a startling position of power.
His maneuver is one I can personally appreciate, having once done the same in a similar situation. Back circa 1991, I was driving east through Indiana, on a trip from Chicago to Michigan to visit my son in summer camp. A nasty rain began lashing at the windshield, making for treacherous visibility. We were all inching along at a pace below the speed limit, hoping these conditions would not linger very long. Suddenly the two cars ahead of me, apparently in traversing a slippery patch, both lost control simultaneously and began to spin wildly across the lanes of the highway.
In the split-second Fate allots for such decisions, I realized none of the classic approaches would work. Hitting the brakes on that wet surface would send me careening in unpredictable directions. If by a fluke they stopped the car, I was likely to be struck from behind. Turning the wheel sharply to one side or another on an interstate highway was merely trading unknown risks for the known.
So I plowed forward. Straight ahead I went, as if nothing untoward was happening, as I looked for an opening. Somehow I found just the right slot between two spinning cars, avoiding each by millimeters. My course might have been riskiest of all, if actuarial statistics were calculated, but it gave me a measure of control to pilot my way through a gap.
When President Bush named three nations in his Axis of Evil speech, he never intended to attack all three. The idea was to effect regime change in Iraq and to intimidate Iran and North Korea into compliance. The leaders of Iran were placed in a quandary, and initially they kept a low profile. They continued supplying Hezbollah with arms but otherwise avoided direct confrontation with the United States.
Upon the accession of Ahmadinejad to the presidency, all this changed. Whether he is the mastermind or merely the lackey, the result is the same. He began a strategy of driving right into the melee. Instead of backing down, he ramps up the rhetoric. In the past, at least since Sadat's treaty, no Arab head-of-state had publicly embraced the slogan of driving Israel into the sea. (Iranians are not Arabs, but the current configuration in the Middle East makes that a difference without a distinction.) That had been the province of hotheads and radicals. If governments sympathized, they did so discreetly.
By publicly advocating the destruction of Israel, by pushing his nuclear program full-speed ahead, and by sneering at American efforts in the Middle East, he has called our bluff in a big way. But as long as the Bush administration was on offense in Iraq, even if the military effort showed some cracks, Ahmadinejad was still bluffing. Now that an opposition-party Congress has been elected on an antiwar platform, Ahmadinejad holds a winning hand. What does the United States have in its arsenal that he should fear? Not military might, surely. Carl Levin's tanks won't be showing up on his border anytime soon.
In case this analysis was in doubt a day or two ago, it has now been confirmed by the best possible evidence. We learned long ago that the strongest proof of a real threat is when our appeasement class comes out of the Brooks Brothers closet. Sure enough, the last two days have featured a drumbeat of voices favoring a new rapprochement with Iran. The so-called Iraq Study Group, a collection of old-guard policy types, are already engaging in their specialty: bringing the wishy-washy to the nitty-gritty. They are helpfully pre-leaking the conclusion they will arrive at in two months: suck up to Iran.
In fact Iran is a far greater enemy of ours than anyone left in Iraq. If the U.S. military absconded tomorrow from Iraq, the government might survive or it might collapse in civil war. A few disgruntled creeps might come to the United States looking to blow up a building. None of that adds up to a clear and present danger in the way Iran does. A country developing nuclear weapons with an openly avowed intention of destroying another country is like nothing we have faced since World War II.
It was prescient of President Bush to realize back in 2001 that Iran was part of an axis committed to our destruction. Saying so out loud had the effect of making them show their hand. Now, five years later, they are openly daring us to back up our bluster. Tragically, we face them with an attenuated will and a divided government.
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