Posts Tagged ‘Ali Khamenei’

IL DUCE LIVES

In 1900, Theodore Roosevelt, then governor of New York, wrote in a letter what became his presidential philosophy: “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” If only Donald Trump had the judgment to heed TR.

Trump wants to hold a grand military parade in Washington. The U.S. last held one in 1991 after a U.S.-led coalition drove Iraq’s Saddam Hussein from Kuwait. I suggest that the parade under the auspices of President George H.W. Bush sought not only to honor our troops victorious in a 100-hour war but also make amends for the terrible treatment of American military personnel during and after the Vietnam War.

Why a parade now? Trump was impressed with the Bastille Day parade he attended in Paris last summer. But France long has been a secondary military power. In 1914, Germany overran much of France. In May 1940, Germany outflanked the heralded Maginot Line. France fell in six weeks. In 1954, the Vietnamese defeated the French at Dien Bien Phu. France bid adieu to its Indo-Chinese colonies. French forces have fought well in Afghanistan, Iraq and its former African colonies. But French military parades honor ancient glories.

What other countries hold military parades? Dictatorships and autocracies. Vladimir Putin loves seeing soldiers, tanks and rockets roll through Moscow’s Red Square. Kim Jong Un shows off the same in Pyongyang. China also gets in on the act. And Iran, under supreme leader Ali Khamenei, showcases rockets and missiles to menace America and Israel.

All draw on precedent. Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler loved military parades and being worshiped at enormous theatrical rallies. So, too, Josef Stalin. Dictators believe in speaking loudly and brandishing their big sticks. This enables them, they believe, to both cow other nations and intimidate internal opposition.

All of which paints Donald Trump as something of a junior Mussolini. Like Il Duce, Trump struts, glowers and preens. Hurls insults with abandon. And equates dissent with treason. Duce Jr. demands personal loyalty at home while disdaining America’s allies and eschewing diplomacy. This provokes hostile nations and troubles our friends, all of whom understand that America’s stick is very big indeed.

Still, even the biggest (read nuclear) stick can be challenged. Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq taught us how critical it is to know when to hold back. And that small nations and non-state actors can vex us with asymmetric warfare and terrorism.

But Duce Jr.’s bloated ego demands showing off his big stick—a sign not only of U.S. military might but of his own manliness. When the troops pass the reviewing stand, Trump will applaud not them but himself. He will believe that the troops are saluting him personally. And he will, again, be wrong. They will salute his office. That’s how the Constitution rolls.

A lover of our military, Trump never served (military school doesn’t count) unlike Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.), whom he publicly disparaged as a prisoner of war. During Vietnam, Trump received five deferments—four for college and one medical deferment after graduation.

Last Saturday, U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) referred to Trump as “Cadet Bone Spurs.” She earned the right, having lost both legs flying combat helicopter missions in Iraq. I might rephrase that, “Cadet Bone Spurious.” This all would be funny if it wasn’t so frightening.

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TRUE BELIEF IN TEHRAN

In 1951, Eric Hoffer’s book The True Believer presented a chilling subject. Political and religious mass movements form when leaders promise ultimate truth. Those leaders remain in power by defining truth, no matter how much they have to lie. See: Iran, Islamic Republic of.

In the September/October issue of FOREIGN AFFAIRS, Akbar Ganji profiles Iran’s Supreme Leader in “Who Is Ali Khamenei?” Ganji, an Iranian journalist and dissident, was imprisoned from 2000 to 2006. His writing is banned in Iran.

Yet this is no hatchet job. Ganji emphasizes Khamenei’s significant awareness of Western culture and praise for the West’s technology and capitalist risk taking. Moreover, Khamenei doesn’t hold the West responsible for all the Islamic world’s problems. He is not “crazy, irrational or a reckless zealot.” Still, Ganji acknowledges that Khamenei’s “deep-rooted views and intransigence” create a barrier to any rapprochement with the West.

From an Iranian point of view, Iran has an axe to grind. In 1953, the U.S. helped topple Iran’s elected government. We supported the Shah—a friend of ours but not to many of his own people. History to us. Not to Khamenei. Tehran lashes out, supporting terrorism around the world and repressing its people at home, all in the name of Islam as the answer to all problems.

Khamenei indeed promotes true belief. Start with his title—Supreme Leader. He assumed that position after the death of Ayatollah Khomeni in 1989. Supreme Leader has an ominous ring to it. It should. One man may decide who can and cannot run for office. One man may overrule any law passed by his government. One man has gigantic photos of himself posted throughout Iran. Images come to mind: Stalin, Mussolini, Hitler, North Korea’s Kims, George Orwell’s Big Brother. Each was a cult figure and a law unto himself.

So does Khamenei maintain a rational worldview or not? It’s a legitimate question since the Supreme Leader keeps looking under his bed for the bogeyman—and finding it. According to Ganji, Khamenei traces a string of evil deeds attacking Muslims worldwide, including the burning of a Quran by a lunatic pastor in Florida in 2010 (arrested yesterday before attempting to burn 3,000 Qurans), to—drum roll—the Jews! In a public speech, Khamenei spoke of “the system of hegemony and Zionist planning centers, which enjoy the greatest influence over the American government and its security and military agencies, as well as the British and some European governments.”

I’m not just aghast. I’m disappointed. Neither my parents, my friends nor my rabbis ever enlightened me that we Jews, all 14 million of us, control the world, which includes 1.6 billion Muslims. Mea culpa. I neglected to read The Protocols of the Elders of Zion as well as the writings of Hitler and the Ku Klux Klan. Yet this must be true. The Supreme Leader says it is.

There’s a lesson here: In a world of complexity mirroring the complexity of human nature, many find comfort in true belief. A sense of bliss follows separating oneself from any relationship with reality. Because reality, as they say, bites.

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