- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Any student of history knows the failure to learn its lessons leaves a nation likely to repeat its mistakes.

On Feb. 23, 1998, an event occurred that went ignored by the United States. Not until September 11, 2001 would its importance become clear — and, thus, from the vantage point of hindsight, a “lesson learned.” For it was then that a little-known terrorist named Osama bin Laden declared war against the U.S. For those who heard it, the declaration must have sounded as ludicrous and nonthreatening as Prime Minister Count Mountjoy’s declaration of war against the U.S. in the movie comedy “The Mouse That Roared.” But unlike Mountjoy’s declaration, bin Laden’s was no laughing matter. He roared — its echo to reverberate for generations to come.

The lesson learned from bin Laden’s February 1998 declaration is this: When an Islamic extremist leader speaks, we need to listen — for what is said may well contain an ominous threat of action to follow. In Osama’s mind, he was giving advance notice of his intent to attack. Had we listened, September 11 might well have been avoided.

Sadly, bin Laden’s threat to harm us was not the only time we have failed to heed such warnings. One need only look back to Adolf Hitler’s pre-World War II rantings to see we failed to listen and act to prevent him from embarking upon his murderous rampage throughout Europe. Unfortunately, we have not been very good students of history’s lessons.

Another threat to do the world harm was issued last year. It remains to be seen what the world community will do to prevent that threat from becoming a reality.

In October 2005, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad publicly called for Israel to be “wiped off the map” and for the destruction of the United States. These statements must be given full weight as to intent: i.e., they are Iran’s advance notice that Israel and the U.S. need to be destroyed. The obvious way to do so is with nuclear weapons.

In 2001, former Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani suggested as much, speculating that when a Muslim state developed a nuclear weapon it might be used to destroy Israel. Mr. Rafsanjani knew then what the international community suspects now — Iran is developing such a capability. He also speculated that, armed with a nuclear weapon, such a Muslim country could destroy all Israel, which would be unable to retaliate in kind to destroy the entire Muslim world.

Mr. Rafsanjani’s comments need to be weighed alongside Mr. Ahmadinejad’s beliefs on the coming of Islam’s 12th imam. Mr. Ahmadinejad is a Shi’ite who believes in the return of Muhammad al-Mahdi as the 12th imam, who supposedly will come to save the world and make Islam supreme, but only after the world has first descended into chaos. While orthodox Shi’ites believe man is not permitted to initiate the chaos precipitating the imam’s return, it is reported Mr. Ahmadinejad is/was a member of a group believing otherwise — a group including four current Iranian Cabinet ministers who have signed a formal pledge to support the 12th imam. The tea leaves suggest Mr. Ahmadinejad may well envision himself as a self-appointed facilitator in effecting such chaos, thus preparing the world for the 12th imam’s arrival. Letting loose with a nuclear weapon would be an ideal way to do so.

During the Cold War, to deter nuclear conflict, the U.S. and the Soviet Union adopted the policy of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) — the effectiveness of which turned on the logic that if each side possesses enough weapons to destroy the other following one side’s first strike, neither will initiate such an exchange. It also recognized that while millions would be killed outright in a nuclear exchange, millions more would succumb later to radiation exposure.

This logic seems to be totally lost on the Iranian leadership. The Israelis already are developing a submarine fleet armed with nuclear missiles so any first strike by Iran against Israeli land targets will still leave Israel able to retaliate from the sea. Radiation generated in an Iranian first strike would be spread by prevailing westerly winds back across Middle East states with major Muslim/Arab populations — including Iran.

In Iranian President Ahmadinejad we have a mad leader, untethered by the MAD deterrent, hell-bent on creating the required chaos by paving the road for the 12th imam’s return with the dead, and without concern as to whether the victims are Jews or Muslims.

James G. Zumwalt, a Marine veteran of the Persian Gulf and Vietnam wars, is a contributor to The Washington Times.

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