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Helping Iran Think

By David Warren

I admit, I am about to present a paradox, that may take up to a minute to think through. But it will be time well invested.

The reason one utters a threat, to another person who is threatening to hurt us, is not, usually, because we want to fight. It is, usually, because we don't want to fight. We are hoping to persuade this enemy -- who must be an enemy, because he threatened us first -- to back down. We are explaining to him, as succinctly as we can, why it is that he might not want to do what he says he wants to do. One may -- here comes the paradox -- utter a threat with entirely pacific intentions.

You'd think this was obvious, my gentle reader. I used to think it was, too. But we are living in a time, out here in the far West, when nothing seems to be obvious anymore, when -- the example is irresistible -- even motherhood is no longer a motherhood issue. And I am darned if I'm not going to continue trying to use this column to explain the most self-explanatory things. Because you never know when the penny's going to drop, even in the mind of a determined "gliberal".

That is the word I use to describe the established power class in our government, universities, bureaucracies, and media. Not ideological incendiaries, for the most part, but rather, people who quietly work to advance surprisingly imbecilic ideas, that will collapse in a moment if they are ever examined. People whose lives are lived in a cottonball fog of "mere plausibility". People for whom any paradox is a dangerous anathema, that threatens to trick them into intelligent thought.

For such people, a threat is just a threat, a warlike act -- unless it is directed towards President Bush, or some more local bogeyman, in which case it becomes a natural expression of a nearly cosmic antipathy. The most blood-curdling cries from Iranian ayatollahs, to exterminate all Americans and Jews in a nuclear holocaust, can be shrugged off as just a little overdone. But should the U.S. president reply, "We will defend ourselves," he will provoke a great glowing rage among them. How dare Bush utter threats?

They do not think of themselves as siding with, e.g. the ayatollahs. Not even the Iranian man in the street does that. They think they are on the side of pellucid virtue. But the paradox there is: no, they are on the side of the ayatollahs.

In several recent dispatches on Iran, by the well-informed Persian, Amir Taheri, and other regional correspondents, we have been learning about how the Iranian revolutionary government has been reacting to the recent American build-up of forces in the Persian Gulf, and now in neighbouring Iraq. Iran's priestly politburo is genuinely unlike the one we associate with the old Soviet empire. It often fails to speak with one voice. There are currently many signs of dissension in the ayatollahs' ranks, and those who read Persian watch carefully for them.

As Taheri puts it, these rulers are from all sides becoming aware of the havoc being played on Iran's economy by both the threat of regional war, and the remarkable success of a few key Bush administration manoeuvres (including in world oil markets). On one side of the current dissension are those who, like President Ahmadinejad, insist that America is a paper tiger, and that although its sanctions are beginning to bite, even before U.N. measures are applied, "wiser heads" among U.S. Democrats will abandon them shortly. To this Iranian view, as to the general view of both Sunni and Shia fanatics, America will never have the stomach for a fight, so they should keep pushing against the paper tiger until it crumples.

But there are indications that many in the background leadership, including the "supreme guide", Ali Khamenei, think quite differently and have been preparing Iranian public opinion (such as it is) for some rather humiliating climb-downs. In other words, they begin to sense that Iran may be the paper tiger: an inevitable conclusion if you look at the two rivals, on paper.

As allies of the Americans, with common interests, we are in a position either to reinforce the Bush administration's "threats" -- and thus encourage the Iranian climb-down faction. Or to try to sabotage them in the name of "peace" -- and thus encourage the most aggressive faction. It really is as simple as that.

© Ottawa Citizen

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