Ahmadinejad Calling Obama's Bluff

First, Ahmadinejad is offering to agree to Obama’s basic proposal of eliminating nuclear weapons, in effect, calling the president’s bluff. Obviously, this isn’t going to work at this stage on Obama. But Ahmadinejad is not trying to persuade the United States, but rather a range of Third World countries that might well oppose sanctions, including Lebanon, which is on the Security Council, Turkey, and Brazil.

He is also trying to buy even more time for Iran to obtain nuclear weapons.

There is also, and this is extraordinarily important, a longer-term aspect of Iranian strategy which I call creating a defensive umbrella for aggression. This might become the most vital gambit of the new era coming to the Middle East when Iran gets nuclear weapons.

Most discussion in the West has focused on Iran using nuclear weapons or threatening to do so. Yet that is not the main issue. Instead, Iran could genuinely be developing these arms in order to defend itself. The problem is that this defense is coupled with an aggressive policy.

In this framework, Iran would continue and escalate its subversive efforts against its neighbors; consolidate and increase its influence in Lebanon and Iraq; support Hamas and client forces in Afghanistan; press regional states toward appeasement; recruit many more people to revolutionary Islamist groups; and try to make Iran the hegemonic power in the region.

But when anyone thinks about opposing Iran, all Tehran need do is make a gentle reminder that it has nuclear arms and so they better be careful. Arabs in the region, especially the Gulf, don’t have to believe that Iran would win a nuclear exchange with the United States. After all, even if Tehran lost they know their own countries would be devastated. Better to avoid any chance of a nuclear war than to offend Iran.

The other element -- as so often in the Middle East -- is who the local rulers would most fear. How can the Obama administration, which has criticized past U.S. use of force and decisive leadership, persuade Iran to tremble in fear and Arabs to stand tall feeling securely protected? Of course, the Arabs will accept American security guarantees but they would then be far more likely to bow to Iranian demands than to U.S. requests.

Moreover, in the current administration concept of containing Iran, the United States would have to do precisely what Ahmadinejad wants to outlaw: threaten Iran with nuclear retaliation.

So this apparently pacifist-style, peacenik stance fits into Ahmadinejad’s strategy. In opening his speech, Ahmadinejad called upon the deity to “hasten the arrival” of the Shia Muslim messiah. For Iran, nuclear weapons may well provide the umbrella for them to seek the regime’s strategy of regional rule by merely existing as a threat.