Arnaud de Borchgrave is, without a doubt, one of the more astute observers of the international scene. As a former senior editor at Newsweek and now, as editor-at-large for both The Washington Times and UPI, Mr. de Borchgrave has decades of experience in the Middle East, and has long-established ties with many of the region's power players.
That's why I'm scratching my head (a bit) over his most recent column, which appears in today's edition of the Times. Mr. de Borchgrave spends about 500 words tracing the mystical beliefs of Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, including his efforts to hasten the return of the 12th Imam, known as the Mahdi. According to Shiite tradition, the Mahdi went into "occlusion" in the 9th century (at the age of 5). Ahmadinejad calculates that the return of the Mahdi is only two years away; he has close ties to Muslim scholars who believe the Imam's return can be hastened by creation of "chaos on earth." Apparently, Mr. Ahmadinejad is doing his best to support that cause, by taunting the U.S. and its European allies, and proceeding with Iran's nuclear program.
Such information provides a critical cultural and religious context that is (typically) missing from MSM coverage of the Iranian nuclear standoff. But de Borchgrave suffers a self-inflicted logic wound at the end of his piece, when he mulls over possible options for dealing with Tehran:
"It might behoove the United States to sit down with "axis of evil" Iran to find out if the MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) doctrine that kept the Soviet Union and the U.S. at peace for a half-century could still be made to work."
Does de Borchgrave really believe that Ahmadinejab and his mullahs would be swayed by MAD, especially if warfare and regional tumult would accelerate the appearance of their Mahdi? Mr. de Borchgrave isn't the first pundit to advocate this idea--Pat Buchanan advanced this notion a few weeks back--but it's a silly idea at best, dangerous at worst. Fanatics who welcome the apoclaypse have no reason to fear it, so it's not much of a negotiating strategy.
It makes far more sense to work hard--and fast--with Iranian opposition groups. Most have ties to student groups (or what's left of them) and members of the "regular" military who have doubts about Iran's course. Working with them to forment a revolution (a long shot, to be sure) may be our only viable option, short of war. The de Borchgrave approach--threatening Armageddon to those who embrace it--is simply a non-starter.