I am among those interviewed in Iranium, along with several other Foundation for Defense of Democracies experts. Also providing analysis and insight: scholar Bernard Lewis, former CIA director Jim Woolsey, Senator Jon Kyl, and former Ambassador John Bolton. But it is really Iran’s despots who tell the story.
For example, in 1980, war broke out between Iran and Iraq. Khomeini sent Iranian children on foot to clear minefields so that regular troops and tanks could pass after. How could a man of faith justify that? He was guaranteeing their entry into Paradise. Iran’s current president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, finds poetry in such carnage. “No art is more beautiful,” he is seen in the film telling a group of his acolytes, "more divine and more everlasting" than "the art of martyrdom".
Khomeini’s successor, the Supreme Leader – an audacious title -- Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is candid: America is not just Iran’s enemy; America is the “enemy of Allah” and “the Great Satan.”
It is difficult for us, for Westerners, children of the Enlightenment, to believe that there are rulers of great nations who take such notions seriously. But if you watch and listen to them – not least in this documentary – it becomes clear that they do. What does that mean for policy? It means that diplomacy, outreach, engagement and carefully crafted speeches showing respect and apologizing for “grievances” will have limited utility.
Truth be told, Americans have been reaching out to Iran’s theocrats for more than 30 years. Khomeini came to power on Jimmy Carter’s watch. Carter was by no means hostile to him and his revolution. On the contrary, Carter’s U.N. ambassador, Andrew Young, called Khomeini "some kind of saint." William Sullivan, the U.S. ambassador in Tehran, compared Khomeini to Gandhi. A State Department spokesman at that time worried about the possibility of a military coup against Khomeini, saying that would be "most dangerous for U.S. interests. It would blow away the moderates and invite the majority to unite behind a radical faction.”
In response, Khomeini and his followers, as seen in the film, chanted not only "Death to America!" but also "Death to Carter!" And, of course, less than a year after Khomeini came to power, his followers took over the U.S. embassy, which Khomeini called a “center for corruption,” holding its occupants hostage for 444 days – not exactly the kind of action Gandhi would have endorsed.
Seizing an embassy is an act of war. Carter’s response was, as Bernard Lewis characterized it, “feeble.” Khomeini was gratified to discover that, “Americans cannot do a damn thing.”
Three years later, Khomeini tested that proposition again. He dispatched the Lebanese-based Hezbollah to suicide-bomb the barracks of U.S. peacekeepers in Beirut. Not since Iwo Jim had so many U.S. Marines been killed in a single attack. In response, President Reagan committed a grave error: He did not retaliate against Hezbollah or Iran. That taught a lesson: Hit Americans and Americans will retreat. They really “cannot do a damn thing.” (And, as I write this, Hezbollah is on the verge of taking over Lebanon. The American response? So far, it would be fair to characterize it as “feeble.”)
Islamic militants throughout the world were inspired by what happened in Tehran and Beirut. What Steve Simon and Daniel Benjamin, advisors to President Clinton, would call “The Age of Sacred Terror: Radical Islam’s War Against America” had begun.
Iran has since collaborated with al-Qaeda and a long list of other terrorists groups – the evidence is overwhelming – while also training and equipping those fighting Americans in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
The regime continues to repress its own people – dissidents, of course, but also ethnic and religious minorities, homosexuals and women. As noted in the film, virgins sentenced to capital punishment are routinely raped prior to execution. This practice also is based on theology: Virgins go to Paradise, a reward enemies of the regime do not deserve.
And now Ahmadinejad and Khameini are in hot pursuit of nuclear weapons. To what end? The destruction of Israel, which Khameini has called “a cancerous tumor." The treatment he prescribes: "remove it." But it is not Israel alone to which scalpels are to be applied. Ahmadinejad tells a crowd: “The arrogant powers of the world must be annihilated. … The countdown of America's sinister power has begun. … Have no doubt: Islam will conquer …all the mountaintops of the world.”
Iran's Arab neighbors have at least as much to fear as Israel and America. As cables recently released by WikiLeaks make clear, they know that, they are looking to the U.S., and they are not reassured.
No sensible, rational person can watch this film, hear this evidence, and fail to come to the conclusion that the fanatics who rule Iran must be prevented from acquiring nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them.
That is the message Iranium – I like that title, too, by the way -- conveys. That’s why the theocrats and their apologists don’t want you to see it. That's why you really should.