Power Line has an interesting bit about the cultural significance of President Ahmadinejad’s letter to President Bush. In the history of the Prophet Mohammad, he would often write letters to those whom he intended to conquer. As The New York Sun‘s editorial on the subject explains:
President Ahmadinejad’s letter to President Bush, widely interpreted as a peaceful overture, is in fact a declaration of war. The key sentence in the letter is the closing salutation. In an eight-page text of the letter being circulated by the Council on Foreign Relations, it is left untranslated and rendered as “Vasalam Ala Man Ataba’al hoda.” What this means is “Peace only unto those who follow the true path.”
It is a phrase with historical significance in Islam, for, according to Islamic tradition, in year six of the Hejira – the late 620s – the prophet Mohammad sent letters to the Byzantine emperor and the Sassanid emperor telling them to convert to the true faith of Islam or be conquered. The letters included the same phrase that President Ahmadinejad used to conclude his letter to Mr. Bush. For Mohammad, the letters were a prelude to a Muslim offensive, a war launched for the purpose of imposing Islamic rule over infidels.
I believe that if President Ahmadinejad believed he could strike the United States with a nuclear weapon, he wouldn’t hesitate in doing so. He isn’t concerned about the prospect of massive retaliation; he believes that the United States doesn’t have the will to do such a thing, and he’s convinced that if he can make some kind of grand strike he can unite the Muslim world under his leadership and bring about the coming of the Twelvth Imam.
Ahmadinejad is likely insane – and clinically so. If he gets the bomb, the chances are he’ll use it are fearfully high, and the subtext of his letter would seem to be little more than a veiled threat to the United States. We can’t assume that the doctrine of containment would work against someone with such a messianic belief system – which is why denying Tehran the chance to develop such a weapon is the most singularly important issue we face in the world at the moment.