America erred in Iraq by seeking democracy rather than traditional consensus. Multi-religious countries such as Lebanon or Iraq cannot afford democracy: when the majority rules, the minority fights. These countries maintained a shaky balance by governing through consensus: liberal in Lebanon, authoritarian in Iraq. The West loves the tales of Saddam’s totalitarian regime, but Saddam actually imposed consensus: he rejected the Shiites’ right of majoritarian rule and insisted that the Sunnis have an equal say. That seemed undemocratic to America, but it was the only prescription against Shia-Sunni violence.

America, on the contrary, did not invite the Sunnis to the negotiation table immediately after invasion—and they revolted. Sunnis are not a negligible minority, but the native population of the land; Iran flooded Iraq with Shiites to create instability. Sunni Arabs, moreover, can get along with Sunni Kurds for a while. The Sunnis welcomed the US troops in Fallujah, Baghdad, and elsewhere, but were democratically excluded from the political process.

Minor thug Muqtada Sadr makes headlines, but real Iranian support goes to Sistani and the Mahdi army, named after the twelfth prophet who would lead Shiites to their final victory against the infidels and Sunnis. The Ayatollahs won’t shake hands with the likes of Sadr; they aim much higher—not just at a terrorist insurgency, but at a Shiite revolution in Iraq. Sadr only paves the way for the real action to happen after the US withdrawal leaves Iran a failed state of Iraq to annex into its sphere of influence. Wise and cynical monsters in Saudi Arabia understand the situation, and express full support for the “peaceful” Iranian nuclear program. They cannot beat Iran and are willing to settle for befriending it. Likely, Saudi Arabia will support Iran financially and logistically against any sanctions. Buying off an enemy is their standard policy: recall the Medina mosque construction contract the Saudis offered bin Laden to keep him away from Yemen. At the same time, Saudi Arabia is winding down its nuclear program and is reportedly hiding some of the missing Pakistani nuclear warheads.

America defended Kuwait but got none of its oil free, or even cheap; it has defended Iraq with a similar lack of anything to show for it. The invasion of Iraq was profitable for the Saudis: they got rid of a militant neighbor, one that was dangerous whether under a Sunni totalitarian regime or Iranian Shiite influence. The Saudis also profited tremendously from the predictable rise in oil prices after the Iraqi debacle. War in Iraq and protracted confrontation with Iran over its nuclear program are immensely profitable for oil corporations, which enjoy rising prices. American soldiers die defending Saudi Arabia; American taxpayers finance the conflict, which makes American consumers pay unreasonably high prices for gasoline. Ain’t the Saudis smart?

Ahmadinejad is unique in the Muslim world and elsewhere, in that he walks without guards and sits among the people in mosques during Friday sermons. Muslims are used to Mubarak being glassed away from common Egyptians at all public events, even down to football matches, with the army patrolling the streets and helicopters hovering in the air; they admire Ahmadinejad as a symbol of freedom and non-corruption. Khatami, whom the US touts as a moderate, frantically traverses Africa and Islamic countries to establish Shiite footholds. Wahhabites fund madrassas while Khatami funds schools and hospitals to draw the population to the madrassas, but otherwise Iran spreads Shiism like the Saudis spread Wahhabism.

Sunni Arab countries don’t care about the Iranian nuclear bomb. It is unlikely that Iran would nuke Egypt or Saudi Arabia, though a good reason to do so can spring up anytime—recall the unexpectedly savage war between Iran and Iraq over nothing. Sunni rulers care a lot about the Shiite enclaves created in their countries through Khatami’s efforts because Shiites are loyal to the chief imam in Iran, the ayatollah, not to their country of citizenship. Sunnis lack such centralized religious authority. Iran is like the eleventh-century Vatican with a nuclear bomb: both exert vast religious control over others’ subjects.

Iran waited for America to invade Iraq and then announced its latent nuclear program, reasoning correctly that America cannot prosecute wars in Iran and Iraq simultaneously and would hesitate to attack an Iran which shapes the war in Iraq. When Iran warned Americans that it could make Iraq burn under their feet, that was true. Shiites will obey the ayatollah’s orders. Shiites are much more militant and suicidal that Sunnis, which is possibly a function of living under Sunni siege for centuries, but also a matter of apocalyptic doctrine. Iran marched its teenaged soldiers through minefields to clear them cheaply, and can similarly swarm enemy states with suicide bombers; The Saudis know that well. Iran controls Syria, and therefore borders Israel. Iran is quietly building a far-flung Shiite empire that spans continents, and moderate Khatami, whom the US supports to replace Ahmadinejad, spearheads that drive. The West finances the spread of Shiism, which is more dangerous that Wahhabism, with oil purchases. The West “slaps” Iran with meager sanctions, but showers it with oil revenues. Iranians easily circumvent the sanctions by routing their shipments and finances through Dubai and other countries. Iran needs a nuclear bomb to become a full-fledged empire. Iran cooperates with outcast Sunni states, particularly the nuclear Pakistan. Shiites are apocalyptic—consider the name of the Mahdi army—and blindly trust the ayatollahs. Iranian secularism erodes the fervent religiosity that Khatami is working to expand, but nuclear imams won’t easily give their power away. Threatened with domestic unrest, they will start a foreign war; they will invade Iraq at the request of its Shiites or Saudi Arabia to claim the holy mosques. By promoting insurgency in places like Baluchistan, America is pushing Iran into a full-scale war whose fronts are unpredictable.

And Bush has announced that the security situation in Iraq continues to improve—with 1,800 dead in August.

Tale of Smart mullahs