Friday, October 14, 2011

MAD Deterrence and Mad Leaders

Raphael Israeli
Professor of Islam at Hebrew UniversityJerusalem.

MAD Deterrence and Mad Leaders
By Raphael Israeli

  The published article in Hebrew in Maraah

During all the fateful years of the Cold War, the world survived due to the rational  reasoning that since both parties to the ideological conflict were in possession of enough nuclear weapons to destroy the other, many times over, and since each of them had the capacity of a second strike should it be taken by surprise and attacked with its guard down, none of them would be irrational enough to launch a nuclear strike and none of them would take the responsibility for destroying the world, erasing  mankind and possibly returning human culture and civilization to the Stone Age. In short, this calculation worked, and though most major cities in the world, East and West, were permanently targeted for destruction, the entire humanity lived under the fear of sudden and total annihilation, and strategic missiles, submarines and bombers were in a state of constant alert to avert the worst, the worst was avoided, until Star Wars exhausted one party economically and provided a final exit from MAD.

MAD, the acronym for Mutually Assured Destruction, could be dubbed thus,  precisely because it’s logic was accepted by the parties, while it was agreed that only madness of leaders of an unpredictable kind, not seen on the international horizon of that era, could invalidate that equation and shake the world’s security equilibrium. No one could predict when, where and how that kind of leadership could emerge to defy the two main rivals of the Cold War, and no one foretold that it would appear on the "bloody seamline" of Islam, in accordance with Huntington's fertile vision of the world of the post Cold War. The Islamic Revolution in Iran, of February 1979, which thrust Khumeini to power and  forced the pro-western and rational Shah to abdicate and to undercut one of the most formidable bastions of the US in the Middle East, produced this sudden and revolutionary change.

The Mullah regime of Khumeini indeed provided Iranian society not only with the rule of  the Cleric, who being learned and versed in theology, was better able than politicians to understand its intricacies, but due to the supreme Ayatullah’s ability to maintain spiritual contact with the Hidden Imam, the true ruler of the Universe, and to comprehend  His desires, intentions and dispositions to the Muslims and the world. The Doctrine of the Hidden Imam is the heart and essence of the Shi'ite belief inasmuch as it renders the expectation of the return of that Imam, the 12th and the last in the series (hence the Twelver Shi'a), who went into hiding in childhood in the 10th Century, and will return to rule the earth and bring plenty and justice, a very concrete projection for the near future, and no longer an indefinite and vague messianic promise for an uncertain future.

Ahmadinejad, a fanatic believer reared in that tradition, though not himself a cleric of any rating, has repeatedly, as a mayor of Tehran, widened the Avenues of his city to contain the multitudes of onlookers who would flock to the streets to watch the Imam's return, which the Mayor considered close at hand. As a President, he recounted to his crowds how he felt the aura of the Imam enveloping him when he was addressing the General Assembly of the UN, sometime after his own inauguration. For him this is not a messianic dream or a mystical vision, but a very operational blueprint whose implementation must be planned and provided for. For him, there must be an additional benefit: when he comes back, the role of the Supreme Leader, Khamenai, with whom he has had some friction over authority lately, would become redundant.

According to Shi'ite eschatology, the end of the world will come with the return of the Imam, whose arrival will be announced by violent pangs, unrest, wars, injustice and misery; and all the more, the more imminent his coming. Namely, mad leaders like Ahmadinejad, who are full of hatred and bellicosity, and imbued with messianic zeal and unimpressed by any worldly circumstances or restrictions, might very well, especially when controlling nuclear powers, decide to use them regardless of the costs or the consequences, as long as it will hasten the return of the Imam. For then, even the worst errors made by human leaders would, in their view, be redressed in an instant by the omnipotent Imam in the new post-apocalyptic world.