With the Muslim Brotherhood poised to emerge dominant in Egypt, uprisings rocking government foundations in Jordan and Tunisia and Algeria, domestic unrest bubbling up in Syria and Yemen, and Iranian-backed Hezbollah establishing control of Lebanon, the situation in the Middle East is ratcheting up from mere chronic instability to chaos. And looming over it all is the catalyst of a rabidly anti-Western, theocratic regime in Iran, in hot pursuit of nuclear weapons.
Recently I attended a packed screening at Los Angeles' Luxe Hotel of the new documentary Iranium, about the danger of a nuclear-armed Iran, produced by the Clarion Fund, the same filmmakers of the controversial Obsession: Radical Islam's War Against the West and The Third Jihad: Radical Islam’s Vision for America. The audience so overflowed that the Luxe had to open up the adjacent conference room to accommodate everyone.
Featuring an array of compelling experts including former ambassadors John Bolton and Dore Gold, the Center for Security Policy’s Frank Gaffney Jr. and Clare Lopez, scholars Bernard Lewis and Walid Phares, political writers Clifford May and Kenneth Timmerman, and more, Iranium makes the case that keeping nuclear capability out of the hands of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the mullahs has never been a more urgent task. Allowing it would result in a tectonic shift in the balance of power not only in the Middle East, but across the world, Gaffney asserts ominously that we have gone beyond the point where we should discuss the “risks associated with acting, to the point where we must discuss the risks associated with not acting.”
Narrated by the distinctively smoky-voiced, Oscar-nominated, Iranian-American actress Shohreh Aghdashloo, who starred in 2009’s award-winning The Stoning of Soraya M. (banned in Iran because of the international attention it drew to the ongoing atrocity there of execution by stoning), Iranium opens with background about the current Iranian regime, which seized power with the overthrow of Shah Reza Pahlavi in 1979 and the ascension of the Ayatollah Khomeini, whose hateful visage glared out across his country from many a wall-sized banner. Khomeini, the man who took the “fun” out of fundamentalism, instituted a reign of the ugliest theocratic oppression in modern times and established Iran as the world’s foremost state sponsor of international terrorism. Iranium presents video of then-President Jimmy Carter praising the country -- hilariously, in retrospect -- as “an island of stability.”
Swiftly paced and increasingly gripping, the documentary depicts the rise of the IRGC, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, and the brutal power it wields behind the scenes; Iran’s expansion into South America and its alliance with Venezuela’s crafty socialist thug Hugo Chavez; its shrewd oil deals with China and Russia; and the apocalyptic insanity of Ahmadinejad, who has repeatedly promised to wipe Israel from the face of the earth, and who is quoted in the film claiming that the highest form of art is “the art of martyrdom” -- a man for whom the concept of Mutually Assured Destruction is not a deterrent but an incitement.
As with The Stoning of Soraya M., Iran is unsurprisingly averse to the spotlight being thrown on it by Iranium. The Iranian embassy managed to get a showing of the documentary at the Free Thinking Film Society in Ottawa temporarily canceled, until the Canadian minister of national heritage stepped in and got the show up and running again.
Then, again unsurprisingly, the Film Society promptly received threats and two suspicious letters. “Once we started to receive threats from the public and threats of public protest,” an archives spokeswoman said, “we deemed the risk associated with the event was a little too high.” Clare Lopez, who had been scheduled to lead a discussion of the film afterward, wrote, “It is a telling indicator about the vulnerability of the Iranian regime that the mere scheduling of this film, which is not yet even released to the public, should elicit such thuggish threats of violence.”
Thuggish threats of violence, of course, are Iran’s stock-in-trade. After last month’s nuclear talks in Istanbul broke down due to the preconditions Iran demanded, Ahmadinejad said, "The uncultured Zionists and some power-hungry people in Europe and the U.S. are not interested in a good resolution of the issues”– by which he means, of course, that the boorish West aggressively refused to allow the Iranian mullahcracy to hold the world hostage to its insanity. “The world should know,” he warned, “that this nation stands up to bullying and will put the bullies in their place. You cannot make Iran back down an inch from its course as it is now a nuclear state.”
Ahmad Vahidi, Iran’s defense minister, echoed this with similarly direct bluster: “If America and England do not change their behavior and do not make fundamental changes to their policies, they will suffer a fate worse than Hitler and Saddam.” Apparently he didn’t get the memo about the new language of civility in the political sphere.
For our part, the West has dithered impotently with sanctions and civility for too long. In 2008, President Obama swore that he would “do everything in my power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon -- everything.” Replace the word “everything” in that sentence with “nothing,” and the sentence will then clarify not only his administration’s efforts, but those of previous administrations as well. Unfortunately, it’s clear that Obama has decided we must live with -- in other words, risk perishing at the hands of -- a nuclear Iran.
Had Obama done everything in his power to support Iran’s 2009 Green Revolution protesters and a true democratic uprising, a possible regime change might have made all this concern unnecessary now. Pundits eyeing the collapse of the Mubarak regime are claiming that Obama may become known as “the president who lost Egypt” (neglecting to mention that, as far as our allies go, he has already lost Israel and England); in fact, he, like Carter, is already “the president who lost Iran” -- a second time.
(Speaking of Egypt: As the former head of the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency, Brotherhood-backed Egyptian presidential hopeful Mohammed ElBaradei repeatedly stonewalled international efforts to put the brakes on Iran’s ambitions; as recently as last month he dismissed the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran. If ElBaradei ends up holding the reins of power in Egypt, the threat to Israel of a hostile, nuclear Iran becomes all the more substantial.)
As Iranium director Alex Traiman told me, “the weapons themselves do not represent the depth of the danger. Rather, they are the final component of an extreme ideology that has been backed by extreme actions for three decades. ... And to let Ahmadinejad, [Khomeini’s successor, Ayatollah Ali] Khamenei and company cross the nuclear threshold could literally be catastrophic.”
With the eyes of the world focused on the turmoil in Egypt and the rise to power of the Muslim Brotherhood there, Iranium is a disturbing and necessary reminder that Iran remains the truly imminent and terrifying threat to American interests and world peace.
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