Washington -- As I observe the results of President Trump's pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal, my thoughts inevitably go back to the days when it all began.
For me, it was a late fall day in 1978 when I traveled to a village just outside Paris to interview the glowering Ayatollah Khomeini, leader of the Shiites in Iran and the man who would start the "Islamic Revolution" that continues to torment us.
When I close my eyes, I see the old ayatollah moving like a huge black moth into the small summer house where I, draped protectively in a black abaya, sat on a Persian carpet, waiting. I remember how I distinctly felt that waves of evil swirled about him.
Formally, I asked him every possible question about the Iran, or the Persia, he would lead upon his return in the winter of 1979. And with every answer, bar none, he insisted that his Iran would be open, liberal and modern.
But I knew his answers were false because the Persians believed in "dissimulation" or "taqiya," which means lying to the enemy if in danger of religious persecution. It was a protection during those many centuries when Persia, a landlocked society, was under attack from all sides.
Yet today, those fallacious answers live on in the muddle and imbroglio over Iran's place in the Middle East -- and the newest American intervention in that region, which could carry us even closer to the brink of yet another war in the region.
First, we have President Trump's withdrawal from the Obama nuclear deal with Iran, which has been, by all accounts, successful in keeping Tehran from developing nuclear weapons. So far Iran has reacted prudently, but what does it all really mean?
Then, curiously enough: 1) On May 10, Israel struck Syria, destroying, in official Israeli words, "nearly all of Iran's infrastructure" there. 2) Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu spent 10 hours in Moscow on May 9 with Russian President Vladimir Putin, including the honor of overseeing the mass demonstration marking Russian victories in World War II. 3) The U.S. opened its embassy in Jerusalem on May 14, more closely allying itself with Israel, even as more than 60 Palestinians were killed and many more wounded, protesting only miles away in the misery of Gaza.
Where is President Trump going? Both new National Security Adviser John Bolton and new Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have at times railed openly about the overthrow of regimes -- from the mullahs' in Tehran to the hardline Communists' in North Korea. Leaves you wondering where we go next, doesn't it?
When you look at poor, destroyed Syria, the picture becomes even more confusing. Moscow is all over the country, keeping the brutal President Bashir al Assad in power. Meanwhile, we have a mere 2,000 troops there and no policy or strategy to speak of, except this huge muddle of contradictory proclamations and random responses.
Finally, we have last weekend's much-touted elections in Iraq. You remember Iraq? That was our most recent historical attempt to impose democracy by military force. Only thing is, despite almost 5,000 Americans and a half-million Iraqis dead, the election was won by the group of Moqtada al-Sadr, who has been until recently perfervidly anti-American and pro-Iranian!
One can only surmise that the American president, with his inability to grasp how one thing inevitably leads to another, actually intends to risk getting us into a deeper war in the Middle East -- this time with a large and militarized country, Iran, which has already created a so-called "axis of resistance" from Tehran across Iraq and Syria to Lebanon and the Mediterranean Sea.
Iraq, again? Well, yes … But Col. Andrew Bacevich, one of our finest military analysts of America's post-World War II "small wars," tells me that, unlike in those as-yet unfinished wars:
"The present administration is not interested in spreading freedom and democracy. They want to dominate and foolishly believe that the further use of force -- now targeting Iran -- will enable the United States to achieve that goal."
Ah, I can hear you asking: Just what did Khomeini have to do with all of this? It happens that 1978, when we met near Paris, marked the beginning of all of these troubles. Islamic Shiite evangelism raged across the Middle East for years after that, threatening the more moderate and usually Sunni Arab states and leading to America's interventions in 2003 and '04, in the fraught and disastrous "Arab Spring" of 2010, and now with the possibility of new and far more complicated conflicts.
Is this really what Americans want?