Sunday, April 23, 2006

At least three unofficial Iranian emissaries have been in Washington this spring with the same recommendation: Send a high-ranking current or former U.S. official to Qom for secret talks with Ayatollah Ali Khameini to explore a geopolitical deal before Iran passes yet another nuclear milestone — e.g., a nonaggression treaty in return for taking Iran’s gauntleted hand off the nuclear sword and resheathing it in an International Atomic Energy Agency scabbard. An American exit from Iraq would be part of the diplomatic mix.

For President Bush, this is rank appeasement. He sees his embattled presidency as a throwback to Winston Churchill on the backbenches of Parliament surrounded by appeasers. Now it’s a world of appeasers trying to blunt America’s sword. Mr. Bush tells his out-of-town visitors to think of how history will judge his administration 20 years hence and not to worry about setbacks in Iraq.

Investigative reporter Seymour Hersh wrote a long story for the New Yorker the gist of which is that Mr. Bush is contemplating a tactical nuclear strike against Iran’s nuclear installations, now spread in at least 17 different locations. The absurd idea is not denied by Mr. Bush. He simply calls it “wild speculation.” For the rest of the world this means that the only power in history to have used nuclear weapons — “Little Boy” and “Fat Man” incinerated almost 200,000 in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in less than a second — is seriously thinking of doing it again.

Mr. Bush’s “wild speculation” description is now taken seriously in foreign media as yet another indication America’s global imperial hubris is out of control. The damage this is doing to America’s image is hard to quantify, but it is at least as serious as the Abu Ghraib “torture” pictures.

Neoconservative supporters of the Bush administration are confident the president will order air strikes against Iran between the November 2006 elections and November 2008, when his successor will be elected. The post-strike scenario was put to one of these neocon supporters:

(1) Swift minelayers sail from Bandar Abbas, the Iranian naval base at the mouth of the Strait of Hormuz and sow a few score mines in the world’s busiest oil shipping lane. All tanker traffic stops. U.S. and NATO minesweepers head for Hormuz. Iranian naval commandos in Zodiak rubber speedboats come alongside a supertanker and sink it by sticking limpet mines along the waterline. Oil futures quickly pass $100 a barrel and keep climbing,

(2) Saudi Arabia’s Shi’ite minority, employed in the eastern Saudi oilfields, begins blowing oil pipelines. Sabotage is reported at Ras Tanura, the world’s largest oil loading port.

(3) U.S. air strikes obliterate Bandar Abbas.

(4) Iraq’s two Shi’ite militia, armed and funded by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, are ordered into action against Iraq’s U.S.-funded and trained army and police forces and against U.S. forces. U.S. casualties mount again. Congress calls for immediate evacuation of U.S. forces into Kuwait. The Kuwaiti Parliament balks and declares its neutrality in what is now the new U.S.-Iran war.

(5) Hezbollah and Hamas fire several thousand rockets and missiles over Israel’s protective barrier killing scores of Israelis. The Israeli Defense Force is ordered back into Gaza to wipe out the terrorists.

(6) Hezbollah’s militia goes into action against U.S. interests in Beirut.

(7) Shi’ite and Sunni Arabs close ranks against the U.S.-Zionist enemy. Arab streets erupt in mass anti-U.S. demonstrations. Arab governments recall their ambassadors from Washington.

(8) The entire Muslim world closes ranks behind Iran.

(9) A “dirty bomb” explodes in Lower Manhattan. Casualties are far lower than on September 11, 2001, when the Twin Towers were destroyed. But a 60-square-block area has to be permanently evacuated. It will be uninhabitable for several years due to dangerous radiation.

The neocon interlocutor smiled, then shrugged his shoulders and called the scenario “wild speculation.” White House calculus ignores the fact Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran’s president and a member of a fanatic sect of Shi’ite Islam, believes in the apocalypse in his own lifetime. Some people who know him say he thinks global death and destruction is only two years away and that this will be followed by the return of the 12th Imam, known as the Mahdi.

Iran’s president, who claims the Nazi Holocaust was pure fiction and that Israel should be erased from the map, only has power over his Cabinet. Under Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei come the intelligence services, armed forces, revolutionary guards, parliament, broadcasting — and the government. The time for secret talks with the real No. 1 was yesterday.

Richard Armitage, a tough Republican who was deputy secretary of state under Colin Powell, says it would behoove the U.S. to talk to Iran directly — not simply at the level of the U.S. ambassador in Baghdad to talk about the future of Iraq. So far, the U.S. has resisted direct talks with Tehran about its nuclear aspirations and mandated the EU3 — the United Kingdom, France and Germany — as its surrogate.

The stakes are so high, Mr. Armitage says, the situation “merits talking to the Iranians about the full range of our relationship… everything from energy to terrorism to weapons to Iraq. We can be diplomatically astute enough to do it without giving anything away.”

When Nikita Khrushchev warned the U.S. that the Soviet Union would bury America, Washington didn’t break diplomatic relations but went on talking throughout the Cold War, and the evil empire collapsed.

During the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, with the world poised on the edge of nuclear war, brilliant U.S. diplomacy always left Khrushchev a way out of his geopolitical power play. He was trying to find a shortcut to nuclear parity with the U.S. The Soviet dictator took his missiles home, the U.S. agreed not to invade Cuba, and later took its obsolete Jupiter missiles out of Turkey.

Perhaps Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is not a student of Machiavelli. But Henry Kissinger, Zbigniew Brzezinski and James Schlesinger are still among us — and ready to serve, not a public circus, but a top-secret head-to-head with Velayat-e-Faqih, “the Guardianship of the Jurisprudent.” That’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Prophet’s proconsul in the holy city of Qom.

Arnaud de Borchgrave is editor at large of The Washington Times and of United Press International.

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