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Cheney on the Warpath Again?

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Hewitt: "If they actually possess nuclear weapons, do you think they're deterable in the way that the Soviets were, or is that what you're getting at, that they might actually use them because it's part of the theological justification for their -- "

Cheney: "Well, I think we have to be careful, obviously -- it's a difficult kind of a judgment to make. I think we do have an obligation to listen to what they're saying. And there's a great temptation, when he says truly outrageous things, for example, about the destruction of Israel, for people to write that off and say, well, he doesn't mean it, it's just rhetoric. But you can't do that. And I certainly am -- I know the Israelis well enough, and I was just there a couple of weeks ago, to know there isn't any way they're prepared to ignore those kinds of statements coming out of Tehran. They have to take them seriously, given their history. And I think they perceive the possibility of an Iran armed with nuclear weapons as a fundamental threat to the very survival of the state of Israel."

Hewitt: "Did you talk with the Israelis in any way you can discuss about action against Israel -- against Iran's nuclear capability?"

Cheney: "No, I couldn't talk about those matters here."

The 12th Imam

Cheney's talk of the 12th Imam marks his revival of an old neocon chestnut.

The 12th Imam, or the mahdi, is considered by devout Shiite Muslims to be a direct descendant of the Prophet Mohammed who disappeared in the ninth century and will reappear before judgment day to end tyranny and promote justice.

The man Cheney cites as an authority on Iranian apocalyptic thinking, controversial mideast scholar Bernard Lewis, hinted in an Aug. 8, 2006, Wall Street Journal op-ed that Ahmadinejad might be planning a nuclear attack on Israel just two weeks later, on the date in the Islamic calendar when the Prophet Muhammad made his mystical journey to Jerusalem.

"This might well be deemed an appropriate date for the apocalyptic ending of Israel and if necessary of the world," Lewis wrote. "It is far from certain that Mr. Ahmadinejad plans any such cataclysmic events precisely for Aug. 22. But it would be wise to bear the possibility in mind."

Needless to say, the day went by without incident.

Noah Feldman wrote in the New York Times Magazine on Oct. 29, 2006, that "the relative absence of a contemporary Shiite trend to messianic brinkmanship suggests that Ahmadinejad's recent emphasis on the mahdi may be interpreted more in terms of an attempt to summon [Ayotollah] Khomeini's legacy and Iran's revolutionary moment than as a desperate willingness to bring the nation to the edge of war. . . .

"Ahmadinejad surely understands the consequences of using a nuclear bomb, and Shiite Islam, even in its messianic incarnation, still falls short of inviting nuclear retaliation and engendering collective suicide."

As for Wiping Israel Off the Map

Back in March, William Branigin of The Washington Post shed some light on the administration's continued insistence that the Iranian government had expressed its desire to wipe Israel off the map.


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