Mahmoud Ahmadinejad may know something no one in the Western media, let alone governments, seems to know.
What is it?
We're all bluffing.
I had assumed that the ludicrous surge in interest in playing poker was limited to the United States, but it certainly appears that the president of Iran has managed to tie into one element of the culture of the "great Satan." He's calling our bluff.
For years, the enlightened nations of the West have been voicing concerns over Iran's nuclear research program.
The fact that one of the world's leading oil producers was investing serious money in developing "peaceful uses of nuclear energy" was, shall we say, a mite suspicious on its face.
What in the world do the ayatollahs need with nuclear power plants, we might ask? The answer is obvious. They have no real interest in nuclear power, but a lot of interest in nuclear weapons.
The United States has deferred to our European allies on Iran as even the "cowboys" supposedly running foreign policy in the Bush administration have let the E.U.-3 (Germany, France and Britain) work on this problem.
All of which has gotten us nowhere.
Despite years of tempting offers from the West to give up their nuclear ambitions, the Iranians have consistently said nothing doing. No amount of European bribery or cajoling has gotten them to budge. And with the technology they have purchased from Russia, there's no reason to believe why they will not ultimately succeed at developing weapons if that is actually their goal.
Adding to the concern about them is the fact that Ahmadinejad, who came to power last year, has gone out of his way to antagonize not just Israel but the sensibilities of the civilized world.
He has directly called for wiping Israel off the map, endorsed Holocaust denial and refused, even in the face of worldwide condemnation, to back off even a little bit on his hate speech.
Though Ahmadinejad's statements have gained an enormous amount of publicity, it is nothing new for Iran. Since the time of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini who led the revolt against the shah, threats against Israel and pledges to work toward its annihilation have been routine.
One of its leaders has even mused that the cost of an Israeli nuclear counter-strike would be worth it if it meant the end of the Jewish state (as any nuclear detonation in that tiny country would assure).
No doubt there are many who will argue the Iranian president is playing to his domestic audience, and doesn't really contemplate the use of nuclear weapons. These are the same sort of arguments that we heard about Palestinian leaders only playing to the crowd when they promised them the Oslo peace accords would not mean an end to terror against Israel. Sometimes, thugs have to be taken at their word.
Does this make Iran strictly a Jewish issue? No, history has shown that mad regimes that attack Jews have a tendency to get around to threatening others as well.
But despite all the concerned rhetoric about Ahmadinejad from people like President Bush and even U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, a workable plan for making the Iranians say "uncle" on the nuclear issue has yet to be presented.
Those hoping that diplomacy will do the trick haven't been paying attention. Iran has doubled the stakes recently by breaking the seals on a nuclear facility that had been placed there by U.N. officials. They've further threatened that if the Euros make good on their threat to take the issue to the U.N. Security Council and open up the possibility of sanctions, they'll halt inspections altogether.
Will that cause the Security Council to back off? Don't bet against it. But even in the unlikely event that economic sanctions are enacted, they will also make Iran the latest cause for the international left to embrace. Just as anti-American demonstrators wept crocodile tears for Iraqis who suffered because of the sanctions against Saddam (which were flouted by the U.N.'s fraudulent "oil for food" plan), get ready for the same routine about Iran. The same crowd can be counted on to oppose any military efforts to restrain Iranians.
South American Ally
Tehran is already preparing for this by allying itself with, of all people, Venezuelan demagogue Hugo Chavez, who shares its hatred for the United States. In September, the leftist Chavez government cast the only vote opposing a call to bring Iran to account at the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Chavez recently made news with a speech in which he declared that "minorities, the descendants of those who crucified Christ, have taken over the riches of the world."
Perhaps its just a coincidence that he would indulge in an anti-Semitic remark at the same time as his Iranian friends' verbal rampage, but Chavez and his apologists in this country and elsewhere could prove useful allies for Iran as the situation worsens. Like the Iranians, Chavez knows that one way to get American attention is to make the Jews feel uncomfortable.
As for the military option, right now there really isn't one. Some are counting on the Israelis to do the world's dirty work for it as they did when Prime Minister Menachem Begin courageously ordered the Israeli Air Force to take out Saddam's Osirak nuclear reactor in 1981. But the Iranians know that piece of history and are prepared. There is little chance that Israel could take out this threat cleanly by themselves.
Nor is there reason to believe the United States could accomplish this task without igniting a far larger war than the American public would support. Even if the United States and its allies didn't have their hands full in Iraq, the much larger and more populous Iran is a far tougher nut to crack. A war against Iran would seem to require more conventional forces than we've got right now. And the Iranians know that, too.
All of which means that there may be no real obstacle between the Iranians and their bomb. So for all of the tough talk we're hearing about Iran, you can bet that Ahmadinejad and his extremist mentors have already figured out that we're just bluffing.
But that doesn't mean that Washington should flinch from pursuing sanctions and drawing more countries into a firm alliance to confront the ayatollahs. If a genuine international consensus could turn Iran into a South African-like pariah, maybe there's hope for a happy ending to this story. But as long as Iran can count on Russia to supply them with material and other rogue states, such as the one led by the anti-democratic Chavez and his international cheering section, to support them, that won't happen.
One thing we do know is that Ahmadinejad's Jew-baiting is no accident, and his threats are not to be taken lightly. The world has been warned. The problem is, we haven't found an answer.