HERNDON, Va., Oct. 8 (UPI) -- At times in U.S. history its leaders failed to "get the message" of a national security threat, suffering dire consequences as a result.
Prior to World War II, the United States had broken the Japanese code but failed to recognize Tokyo planned a surprise military strike. In 1998, U.S. leaders paid no heed when a little known terrorist -- Osama bin Laden -- declared war against the country.
In 1988, the United States didn't get Iran's message, admittedly, more veiled than the others, but today playing out in Iraq.
In 1980, Shiite Iraq, led by Sunni Saddam Hussein, invaded Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's Shiite Iran. A subsequent battlefield reversal forced an Iraqi retreat and stalemate on Iraqi soil. In 1982, Iraq sought a cease-fire -- rejected by Khomeini and his hard-line clerics. Six more years of bloodshed ensued, with no Iranian battlefield gains, before Khomeini finally accepted Iraq's proposal.
Khomeini -- disappointed Iraq's majority Shiites failed to rise up against its Sunni leader -- broke the news to his people in a July 20, 1988, radio broadcast the war had ended. To the outside world, his message fell on deaf ears.
"Happy are those who have departed through martyrdom," Khomeini declared. "Happy are those who have lost their lives in this convoy of light. Unhappy am I that I still survive and have drunk the poisoned chalice ..."
Khomeini's dismissal of 1 million Iranian dead enjoying the afterlife wasn't notable; his reference to drinking "the poisoned chalice" is.
Why did Khomeini so desperately opt to continue the war for six more years, incurring hundreds of thousands more Iranian casualties, rather than accept Saddam's 1982 cease-fire? What did drinking "the poisoned chalice" mean?
Khomeini believed Iranian Shiite influence over Iraq's majority Shiites was critical to the success of the eschatological belief to which he and his successor, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, subscribed. Any agreement leaving Saddam in power, as the 1988 pact did, denied Khomeini his religious destiny.
Khomeini went on to lament, "We do not repent, nor are we sorry for even a single moment for our performance during the war. Have we forgotten that we fought to fulfill our religious duty and that the result is a marginal issue?"
To Khomeini, the human losses meant nothing -- the eventual fulfillment of "our religious duty" -- to control Iraq -- did. He knew influence over Iraq would have to be delayed; thus, failing to do so now became just "a marginal issue."
When the United States invaded Iraq in 2003, accomplishing in a matter of weeks what Tehran couldn't in an 8-year war, Khamenei saw his opportunity to succeed where his predecessor had failed.
Khomenei's reference to drinking "the poisoned chalice" over making peace with Iraq was recognition he failed to become supreme leader of Iraq's Shiites -- a necessary step to becoming supreme leader of a unified Muslim state, undefined by existing national borders.
Khomenei's eschatological belief -- i.e., the 12th Imam would return from his ninth-century ascendency into a state of occultation, leading Islam to greatness -- depended on the ayatollah accomplishing something proven impossible for almost 14 centuries since Prophet Muhammad's death: a unified Islamic world.
As the two largest -- of only four countries of the world with a Shiite majority -- an Iran/Iraq unification under Tehran had to begin -- a difficult step as no single Islamic "pope" equivalent under which Muslims can unify is recognized.
But with the U.S. turnover of Iraq to a democratically elected Shiite government headed by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, Iran's shadow now extended into Iraq.
(Of Maliki's 24 years in exile, 22 were under Iranian influence.)
t is evidenced by Khamenei posters flooding Iraq -- the only country in the region allowing domestic promotion of a foreign power's leader. It is evidenced as the head of Iran's special forces, unable to fight his way for eight years during the Iran/Iraq war into Baghdad, now freely traveling there, killing unarmed Iranian opposition leaders living in restricted Iraqi camps.
During the 20th-century's Cold War, the West witnessed individual states on the global map gradually fall under Soviet influence -- until Moscow collapsed in 1991. Following Khomeini's 1979 takeover of Iran, we see the same thing happening as individual states fall under Iran's influence. To Tehran, for the moment, it matters not whether it supports Shiites or Sunnis.
Iran gained influence in Lebanon nurturing the terrorist Shiite group Hezbollah. It gained influence in Gaza supporting the terrorist Sunni group Hamas. It gained influence in Syria by supporting Bashar Assad's Alawite (strong 12th Imam believers) minority.
Now comes its focus on Iraq under a constitutional charter seeking to spread its Islamic Revolution globally, even to the far reaches of South America.
Unbelievably, as Iranian influence and violence spreads, the U.N. Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization not only approves numerous anti-Israel resolutions without considering the same against Iran as the world's primary state supporter of terrorism, but also declares the life works of a terrorist like Ernesto Che Guevara as valued contributions to mankind, meriting inclusion in its Memory of the World Program. One has to wonder whether the patients have taken over the insane asylum.
Anyone versed in Tehran's Islamist mindset understood the importance in 1988 Iraq played in Iran's regional power plan to usher in the 12th Imam's return and why Iranian influence was bound to increase upon the United States' withdrawal. The plan also includes relieving Sunni Saudi Arabia of responsibilities as protector of Islam's two holiest mosques in Mecca and Medina -- a message Riyadh gets.
Iran spreads its influential footprint globally -- secretly continuing its nuclear weapons program -- as the United States still struggles to get the message.
(A retired U.S. Marine, Lt. Col. James Zumwalt served in the Vietnam War, the U.S. invasion of Panama and the first Gulf War. He has written "Bare Feet, Iron Will -- Stories from the Other Side of Vietnam's Battlefields," "Living the Juche Lie: North Korea's Kim Dynasty" and "Doomsday: Iran -- The Clock is Ticking.")
(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)