For some partisans, no matter who is elected President to succeed George W. Bush, it will seem like the end of the world. We are in the apocalypse silly season once again. Take Tim LeHaye, the doctrinal inspiration of the WASP-friendly Left Behind book series (Jerry B. Jenkins provides the verbal inspiration in sci-fi style); he has been preaching the politics of biblical apocalypse for years. Indeed, since the apostle John allegedly first had his vision on the island of Patmos, the world has been teetering in the end times. This world is always going to hell; Jesus must be coming soon. Bible-belting believers and bible-belching evangelists constantly look to the heavens with rapturous delight for the mother of all shock-and-awe shows to begin. Up go the faithful in the twinkling of an eye and then it is open tribulation season on the Jews that will make the 20th century Nazi holocaust look like a sabbath picnic. Fortunately, most of the world’s Christians look at such a naive-ity scene with alarm. “Even so,” it might be said, “do not come Lord Jesus.”

Reverends Tim LeHaye, Pat Robertson and John Hagee are not the only mega-mouths who know deep down in their saved souls that they will not be left behind. Ironically, they share theologically-maddened space with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the shi’a-evangelical President of Iran. As noted in a New York Times article today by Nazila Fathi, the Iranian President’s “high father” is Imam Mahdi, the hidden 12th “twelver” Imam who occulted well over a millennium ago, but whose reappearance has been looked for year after year in popular imagination. Ahmadinejad, who loves to wear his religion on his sleeves, says that Imam Mahdi guides his day-to-day decisions as a president. In gratitude, Ahmadinejad has sponsored an institute to prepare Iran for the Imam’s immanent return. This would be like Bush asking his faith-based supporters to create a special office in Homeland Security on Eternal Security Risks to those Left Behind.

Forget tight jeans and coca cola; move over for more of the old doctrinal wars. Iranian clerics are now telling Ahmadinejad to lay off the exegesis and do what he was elected to do as president. Even Ayyatollah Khomeini did not claim to receive daily missives from the hidden Imam. As reported in the article, Mehdi Karroubi, a cleric and former speaker of Iran’s Parliament, responded to Ahmadinejad’s hidden Imam agenda by saying “We should not link everything to religious and hidden issues.”

We should be so lucky, either in Iran or in Baptist-bolstered post-9/11 America. In 2003 President Bush knocked off the Taliban, which had served their anti-communist purpose, in order to capture Osama Bin Laden, who five years later remains at larger than life. Secular Saddam Hussein, whose motivation was totally of this world and thus quite predictable, has been hanged, while Iraq surges further into civil war with sectarian lines etched in blood only after Saddam was toppled. Another article in the paper today notes that with the shift of Iraqi and U.S. forces to subdue Sadr City, violence has flared in other parts of Baghdad, and indeed other parts of Iraq. The question troubling certain of the devout on both sides of this clash must be why Jesus or Imam Mahdi (take your pick, since the end-time result would be the same for most of us) is waiting so long.

The Mahdi madness provides an interesting angle for viewing the current soundbite media debate between John McCain and Barack Obama. Senator Obama, in reacting to a political propaganda volley sent his way from the Bush, noted that Iran is not nearly as dangerous as the Soviet Union or China during the Cold War. John McCain followed suit by saying: “Obviously Iran isn’t a superpower and doesn’t possess the military power the Soviet Union had, but that does not mean that the threat posed by Iran is insignificant,” adding at another point that Obama uses “reckless judgment.” I suppose this hinges on what the meaning of “insignificant” means, but surely the Soviet arsenal of thousands of warheads aimed at America and its allies at the height of the Cold War or China’s expansionist policies under Mao are vastly more significant as dangers to national security than a weak military power that does not even have the capacity to make one nuclear bomb. Add to this the simple fact that with Saddam removed from power and Iraq heading toward a shi’a-led future, Iran is much the stronger because of our ill-founded occupation of Iraq. If Iran’s threat is not insignificant, McCain had better distance himself from the Bush-Cheney neocons who have made Iran far more significant.

There are two ways of assessing the threat of Iran to U.S. interests. One is that Ahmadinejad is a crazy loon who, if given the chance, would fire off nuclear missiles at Israel and Saudi Arabia. Of course, this assume he will be a president-for-life, like our friend Husni Mubarak in Egypt, or king-for-life, like our oil-rich partners in the Saudi kingdom. However, Iran actually has elections and changes it presidents. Indeed, the economic woes of Iran are as likely to doom a future term for Ahmadinejad as Bush’s policies may do for the Republican party in 2008. On the other hand, no nukes is good news. If all Ahmadinejad has to rely on is a hidden Imam, it suggests that the nuclear option is nowhere in sight. Let him wear his Ghost Dance shirt to the negotiation table and meet the next president of the most powerful nation on earth.

Daniel Martin Varisco