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Cheney on the Warpath Again?

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By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Friday, April 11, 2008; 1:02 PM

Vice President Cheney went on right-wing talk radio yesterday with a dramatic new argument for preventing Iran from getting nuclear weapons, casting the Iranian leadership as apocalyptic zealots who yearn for a nuclear conflagration.

Cheney also notably refused to comment about any recent conversations he may have had with Israeli leaders about the possibility of their bombing Iranian nuclear facilities. Some observers suspect Cheney of encouraging Israel to attack Iran as a proxy.

Conventional wisdom in Washington has it that Cheney and other supporters of military action against Iran were sidelined after a National Intelligence Estimate last November reported that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003.

But the vice president sounded anything but chastened yesterday, speaking with two of his favorite media enablers. In fact, he sounded like the NIE never happened.

Here he is talking to Sean Hannity:

Hannity: "What did you make of Senator Barack Obama's comments that he would talk to [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad, a Holocaust denier who's repeatedly threatened to blow up and remove Israel from the state -- from the map, the world map, and obviously is pursuing some nuclear capability?"

Cheney: "Well, he is, and I think the position we've taken with respect to that is that we would be prepared to talk when they stopped enriching uranium. Of course, they've never met that condition, so we haven't had talks at that level.

"But Ahmadinejad is I think a very dangerous man. On the one hand, he has repeatedly stated that he wants to destroy Israel. He also has -- is a man who believes in the return of the 12th Imam; and that the highest honor that can befall a man is that he should die a martyr in facilitating the return of the 12th Imam.

"It's a radical, radical point of view. Bernard Lewis once said, mutual assured destruction in the Soviet-U.S. relationship in the Cold War meant deterrence, but mutual assured destruction with Ahmadinejad is an incentive. You have to be concerned about that."

The 12th Imam? What's that about? Just over two hours later, Hugh Hewitt was happy to indulge Cheney on that very issue.

Hewitt: "Do you -- Mr. Vice President, do you have a personal sense of whether or not the Iranian leadership is actually motivated by this end-times, bring-back-the-12th-Imam sort of theology that we've read so much about?"

Cheney: "Well, I've read about it, too. I don't know that that motivates all of the leadership. The one guy who talks about it repeatedly is Ahmadinejad. And -- in other words, a report even at one point that when he went to Iraq on a visit, that at least on one occasion, he insisted on there being a vacant chair at the table for the 12th Imam. And it's a -- it's hard to tell. I mean, if I look at what his beliefs supposedly are, the allegation that the -- a return of the 12th Imam is something to be much desired, and that the best contribution that a man can make is to die a martyr facilitating that return, and all that goes with it -- I always think of Bernard Lewis, who said that mutual assured destruction during the Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviets meant peace and stability and deterrence, but mutual assured destruction in the hands of Ahmadinejad may just be an incentive. It's a worrisome proposition."


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