Sprightly Ahmadinejad tours nuclear facilities, having stolen an election he marches on as his police batter and protesters. And everywhere he goes, he smiles his trademark loopy smile. The smile of a psychopath or a saint.

Why is Ahmadinejad smiling? The answer is not a terribly complicated one. With every step he takes and every day that he remains in power, he discredits the most deeply held ideas of Western liberals about the power of diplomacy to resolve conflicts and internal civil disobedience to achieve peaceful regime change. Despite years of diplomatic and hundreds of thousands of protesters taking to the streets– Ahmadinejad’s grip on power remains as secure as ever.

Walking over the bodies of student protesters, of political dissidents, of the thousands killed by the wars he has touched off, he continues to taunt the rest of the world to do anything about it. And the rest of the world has done nothing except talk. And as Ahmadinejad has demonstrated, talk counts for nothing at all.

While Mahmoud Ahmadinejad may be detached from ordinary reality, living in an Islamic version of Charles Manson’s fantasies about touching off a spectacular war in order to bring on a new age, he understands his enemies well enough to call them out on their weakness. Like every other Islamic terrorist and warlord, Ahmadinejad sees diplomacy as weakness behind a mask of civility. And like just about every strongman in the world, he laughs at it.

Ahmadinejad may be a monster, but there are no shortage of monsters in the Middle East. Saddam Hussein was just as bad, yet much of the American and European left proved eager to shut their eyes to the rape rooms, to Uday’s horrors of mangled limbs and broken fingers, to the ethnic cleansing and gassing– while demanding that we respect Saddam’s sovereignty. Today those very same people pat themselves on the back, as if defending the right of a tyrant to keep killing his own people were some great act of moral courage.

But even Saddam and Ahmadinejad are not particularly unique, because monsters proliferate in the Middle East like mushrooms after a rainstorm, growing off the oil money that their enemies send them, which they exchange for weapons and payments to their own loyalists to secure their base of power. Every petrodollar sent to the Middle East means death of a certain kind, whether it’s the death of a passerby by a suicide bomb in Basra funded by Iranian or Saudi money, the death of an imported Indian contract worker in Dubai or the murder of an African Sudanese in Sudan. Either way oil money is death money, and the world knows it, and yet does nothing. No wonder Ahmadinejad keeps on smiling.

The Middle Eastern tyrannies of today often began as client states by Western governments and the USSR, which thought that they could control their oil by way of a strong leader or two. They were right and they were wrong. Because it didn’t take a great genius to realize that the leaders would take the oil and the reins would soon be pointing the other way. That’s what happened to the United States and Saudi Arabia. The US oil companies were nationalized, and then the Saudis proceeded to nationalize the US government as well.

Eisenhower’s intervention on behalf of Nasser’s seizure of the Suez Canal, and against England, (despite Nasser being a Soviet ally) demonstrated that America would rather turn on its allies, than risk alienating Arab and Muslim states. When the Saudis nationalized ARAMCO, they were confident that America would do nothing. And they were only partially wrong. America did something, it used taxpayer money to compensate shareholders for the nationalized by our “Saudi” friends.

And then the pattern was set. And it’s still set. The Saudi plan of slow conquest is proceeding on schedule, as their front groups promote Islam in America and Europe, their Chevron board members (formerly ARAMCO) hold key positions on foreign policy, and everyone bows to the Religion of Peace. But there are those on both the Sunni and Shiite side who are dissatisfied with slowly boring from within, who want apocalyptic showdowns and governments of the faithful installed post haste in every Muslim and non-Muslim country. Al Qaeda represents the Sunni extreme. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad represents the Shiite extreme. Together they have become the conductors of the international orchestra of death.

Because the West did not just underestimate their own vulnerability to blackmail, once all that black crude was in the territory of “our close friends”, but they failed to take Islam into account. To the mindset of the time, Islam was a borderline irrelevant factor, a primitive tribal religion that few of the Sheikhs took seriously anymore. It might be used by a Mahdi to drive a crowd into a fevered rage. It might be used to command a certain amount of loyalty. But the idea of Islam and the modern world colliding in any way, was not taken seriously by too many of the Oxford and Harvard educated pipe smoking chaps who made the maps and wrote what they thought was the future of the Middle East.

But while Islam may be backward, it is the primitive things that are the hardest to kill and exercise their strongest grip on the mind of man. And while the abstract battle between capitalism and communism raged on, abstract because the Middle East was already full of capitalists who lived communal lives under totalitarian rule, Islam, which had never gone away, inevitably because the dominant theme of the region. And eventually the world.

And what will the West throw up against it? Back in 1956 the British tried to stage a phony crisis in order to send in peacekeeping troops in order to stop Nasser’s nationalization of the Suez Canal, a weak effort that was aborted when Eisenhower threatened to use the Treasury to destroy the British Pound. Eisenhower would later go on to regret it, but the deed was done.

Today the West threatens extensive diplomacy, possible trade sanctions (which amount to a puff of dust in the wind) and eventually perhaps some kind of liberation force intended to implement regime change and democracy. All of which essentially translate into a show of weakness. And that is why Saddam wanted nuclear weapons, knowing that having them would enable him to bluff any threat. Ahmadinejad wants it for the same reason, but his bluff is aimed a lot wider and higher. Because he plans to actually use nuclear weapons and then call the world’s bluff to do anything about it. And he may be right.

Ahmadinejad’s smile is nurtured by the toxic self-assurance of a monster who knows he is unstoppable. Hitler wore that same smile as his armies tore across Europe, and only when those same armies were finally shattered and sent back in retreat at a terrible cost, did his madness finally turn on him and drive him deeper and deeper into delusion, and finally suicide. Hitler believed he was unstoppable, because the only thing his enemies seemed willing to throw at him was diplomacy and more diplomacy. This only fed his grandiose complex and his sense of omnipotence, for how better to encourage a madman who believes that nothing can stand in his way, than to fail to stand in his way.

But Ahmadinejad’s story is also the larger tale of the Middle East. Where the world turns its face away from genocide, terrorism, oppression, gender apartheid and slavery by oil rich Muslim nations, while lambasting Israel in the hopes of winning their favor. The Muslim world has gone from a fetid swamp to a radioactive dump, its green glow shining poisonously into the sky. And there is a very simple reason for that. Because when you do not oppose evil, or worse when you actively pander to it, the evil grows that much worse.

Both the slow Saudi apocalypse and the speedy Iranian armageddon can be stopped by demonstrating that the people who they think are their victims are neither weak nor willing. The tyrants of the Muslim world are not afraid of diplomacy, they are not all that terrified of protests, and bombs and bullets don’t worry them too much unless they are backed by real resolve. You can scare a wolf pack away for a time by firing into the air or by occasionally firing at them, but eventually the predators realize how the game works and they either work their way around your position or just charge. The slow apocalypse or the speedy one. Then there is a third option. When the hunters become the hunted. In half a century, oil money has built petty tyrants and tribal coalitions into imaginary nations and states. In less than a decade, all that can be taken away. If we continue retreating or bluffing with the power we dare not use, the wolves will have their way, one way or another. Only by going on the offensive can we win.

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