It's good to see some of the contours of the argument between neocons and realists come into clearer focus. I'm more persuaded by the neocons on this one, precisely because I tend to believe what religious fanatics say about their own motives and aspirations. Iran's leaders - especially the current president - have been quite clear about what they want. They want the destruction of Israel and the submission of all infidels to Islamic rule. Here are a few recent statements by the Iranian president:
"The anger of Muslims may reach an explosion point soon. If such a day comes, they [Western governments] should know that the waves of the blast will not remain within the boundaries of our region and will engulf the corrupt powers that support this fake regime too."
"Open your eyes and see the fate of Pharaoh ... Open your eyes and see what happened to the Portuguese Empire. See the final fate of the British Empire ... I am telling you [major powers], if you do not abandon the path of falsehood and return to the path of justice, your doomed destiny will be annihilation, misfortune and abjectness."
Annihilation? The choice is between handing Iran a nuke or being annihilated? In 2005, Ahmadinejad was even clearer:
"Undoubtedly, I say that this slogan and goal is achievable, and with the support and power of God, we will soon experience a world without the United States and Zionism and will breathe in the brilliant time of Islamic sovereignty over today's world."
Two key words here: "achievable" and "soon." Those who favor containment must argue either that Ahmadinejad does not hold ultimate power or that he does not mean what he says. I have no doubt that he means what he says. The question is whether Ahmadinejad holds real power, i.e. whether the president of Iran represents Iran's true regime.
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