The last helicopter

The most important column in the papers this morning by far is Amir Taheri’s Wall Street Journal column: “The last helicopter.” Taheri writes:

To hear Mr. Abbasi tell it the entire recent history of the U.S. could be narrated with the help of the image of “the last helicopter.” It was that image in Saigon that concluded the Vietnam War under Gerald Ford. Jimmy Carter had five helicopters fleeing from the Iranian desert, leaving behind the charred corpses of eight American soldiers. Under Ronald Reagan the helicopters carried the corpses of 241 Marines murdered in their sleep in a Hezbollah suicide attack. Under the first President Bush, the helicopter flew from Safwan, in southern Iraq, with Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf aboard, leaving behind Saddam Hussein’s generals, who could not believe why they had been allowed live to fight their domestic foes, and America, another day. Bill Clinton’s helicopter was a Black Hawk, downed in Mogadishu and delivering 16 American soldiers into the hands of a murderous crowd.

According to this theory, President George W. Bush is an “aberration,” a leader out of sync with his nation’s character and no more than a brief nightmare for those who oppose the creation of an “American Middle East.” Messrs. Abbasi and Ahmadinejad have concluded that there will be no helicopter as long as George W. Bush is in the White House. But they believe that whoever succeeds him, Democrat or Republican, will revive the helicopter image to extricate the U.S. from a complex situation that few Americans appear to understand.

Mr. Ahmadinejad’s defiant rhetoric is based on a strategy known in Middle Eastern capitals as “waiting Bush out.” “We are sure the U.S. will return to saner policies,” says Manuchehr Motakki, Iran’s new Foreign Minister.

Mr. Ahmadinejad believes that the world is heading for a clash of civilizations with the Middle East as the main battlefield. In that clash Iran will lead the Muslim world against the “Crusader-Zionist camp” led by America. Mr. Bush might have led the U.S. into “a brief moment of triumph.” But the U.S. is a “sunset” (ofuli) power while Iran is a sunrise (tolu’ee) one and, once Mr. Bush is gone, a future president would admit defeat and order a retreat as all of Mr. Bush’s predecessors have done since Jimmy Carter.

Mr. Ahmadinejad also notes that Iran has just “reached the Mediterranean” thanks to its strong presence in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories. He used that message to convince Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to adopt a defiant position vis-à-vis the U.N. investigation of the murder of Rafiq Hariri, a former prime minister of Lebanon. His argument was that once Mr. Bush is gone, the U.N., too, will revert to its traditional lethargy. “They can pass resolutions until they are blue in the face,” Mr. Ahmadinejad told a gathering of Hezbollah, Hamas and other radical Arab leaders in Tehran last month.

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It is not only in Tehran and Damascus that the game of “waiting Bush out” is played with determination. In recent visits to several regional capitals, this writer was struck by the popularity of this new game from Islamabad to Rabat. The general assumption is that Mr. Bush’s plan to help democratize the heartland of Islam is fading under an avalanche of partisan attacks inside the U.S. The effect of this assumption can be witnessed everywhere.

Please read it all.

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