Oliver North

Twenty-three years ago this week, Iran's self-appointed supreme leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, broadcast a religious edict declaring that author Salman Rushdie and his publishers were "hereby sentenced to death." The fatwa also called for "all the intrepid Muslims in the world" to "execute them quickly, wherever they find them." The U.S. State Department acknowledged the proclamation and issued a statement "condemning this threat in the strongest possible terms." Rushdie, then living in London, did the sensible thing; he went into hiding and rarely has been seen in public since.

Since 1979, when Khomeini returned to Tehran from exile and organized the Islamic Revolution and the hagiocracy that still rules the Persian people, the depth and breadth of Iranian malevolence has consistently shocked and surprised official Washington. President Jimmy Carter believed that "we can find common ground with them." Four hundred forty-four days of Americans being held hostage in Tehran proved otherwise.

In the early 1980s, we could put wire diagrams of every major international terror organization up on a screen in the White House Situation Room. But we missed the explosive growth and cohesion of radical Islamists on a global scale. We were shocked and surprised when the U.S. Embassy in Beirut was bombed twice, when the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut were destroyed and when more than a dozen Americans were taken hostage. Some -- including CIA officer William Buckley and Marine Col. Rich Higgins -- were brutally tortured and then murdered.

And all Americans -- not just officials in Washington -- were stunned by the hijacking and bombing of dozens of commercial airliners and the murder of Americans. In 1985 -- when U.S. Navy diver Robert Stethem. a passenger on TWA Flight 847, was shot in the head and his body dumped on a Beirut tarmac -- there were some in our government who tied the perpetrators to Tehran, but not enough to make a difference.

Oliver North

Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of War Stories on the Fox News Channel, the author of the new novel Heroes Proved and the co-founder of Freedom Alliance, an organization that provides college scholarships to the children of U.S. military personnel killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. Join Oliver North in Israel by going to www.olivernorthisrael.com.