Sunday, May 31, 2009

What Obama is Doing Right

I didn’t vote for Barack Obama. I don’t agree with most of his policies. In fact, I feel that most of his policies are dangerous to the United States, both economically and militarily. However, I do feel that there are some things that President Obama has done that are good things. Just as I criticize when Obama does something wrong, it is only fair to support him when he does something right. Call it positive reinforcement. In the interest of fairness and bipartisanship, here are the things that I believe that President Obama has done right.

First, he quickly abandoned his campaign promise for a hasty withdrawal of US troops from Iraq. Although President Obama has never fully conceded that he was wrong to oppose President Bush’s surge strategy, it is hard to argue with the results. The security situation in Iraq has improved dramatically over the last two years.

This improved security situation makes it possible for President Obama to negotiate a longer timeline for the withdrawal of American forces. This longer timeline will give the democratically elected government of the Republic of Iraq to have Iraqi security forces maintain safety and order in their country. A rapid and unilateral withdrawal as originally proposed by Senator Obama, and without the success of President Bush’s surge, would have likely resulted in a bloodbath for Iraqi civilians and the deterioration of Iraq into a terrorist state controlled by either al Qaeda or Iran.

President Obama does tacitly pay homage to President Bush’s strategy in his own proposals for a surge of troops in Afghanistan. While the situation in Iraq has improved, Afghanistan has deteriorated as Taliban forces strike Afghanistan’s rural provinces from bases in Pakistan. Additionally, Taliban forces have made gains in Pakistan as well. The government of Pakistan even conceded control of the Swat Valley to the Taliban in return for a truce.

President Obama’s decision to step up the war in Afghanistan is a good thing. A withdrawal from Afghanistan would allow the Taliban step up their efforts to return to power. If a resurgent Taliban again took control of Afghanistan, they would most likely set up terrorist training camps as they did in the 1990s. It would also provide Pakistani militants with safe havens from which to strike into Pakistan. Currently, the Pakistani government is taking the war to the Islamic militants who violated the truce.

A third good thing that Obama has done is to continue to fight the court-mandated release of “torture” photos of detainees. These photos would do nothing to resolve any of the questions about torture currently being debated, because they were not taken at the direction of US commanders. The abuse (many photos were taken at Abu Ghraib) was the action of rogue soldiers, many of whom were prosecuted during the Bush Administration.

President Obama realizes that the release of these photos would do nothing to bring the country together. On the other hand, they would only assist in bringing out more anti-Americanism, both at home and abroad. They would be used as a recruiting tool by our enemies and would ultimately cost the lives of American soldiers as well as making those of us here at home less safe.

President Obama also is doing well to return to the Bush-era military tribunals to try detainees. Some detainees, such as those captured on US soil or those with US citizenship, may be entitled to trials in our court system. Most do not.

Most detainees were captured on foreign soil. They were taken under arms even though they were not part of a recognized military. This entitles them to very few rights under the Geneva Conventions. We would probably be within our rights to summarily execute them as spies and saboteurs. In no case are these foreign fighters entitled to the protections of the US Constitution.

Detainees are illegal combatants that simply do not fit into our criminal court system. Much of the evidence against them is sensitive to national security. Allowing them to face their accusers would undermine intelligence gathering. Whether at Guantanamo or elsewhere, we should prepare ourselves to hold many of these detainees until they are no longer a threat. In most cases, that will probably be until the radical Islamic jihadist movement collapses and the War on Terror (or overseas contingency operations, if you prefer) is over. Regardless of whether they are held on US or not (although preferably not), their status under the constitution should not change. Their situation is closer to the German and Italian POWs detained in American prison camps during WWII than to prisoners in the criminal justice system.

Finally, I agree with President Obama’s decision not to pursue criminal prosecution of the architects of President Bush’s anti-terror policies. In addition to the fact that there are no grounds upon which to base such a prosecution, it would have been unnecessarily divisive for the country.

There has been much less to like about President Obama’s domestic policy. The one undisputedly good thing that he has done is to allow the passage of an amendment to the Credit Card Reform Act that would allow citizens to carry weapons in national parks. This amendment, sponsored by Republican Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, allows states to set the standard for concealed carry. National parks will match state law.

Media outlets have predicted that families will be harassed by AK-47 toting gun nuts and that killings in national parks will increase. Statistics do not bear this out. In many cases, concealed carry laws actually reduce violent crime. Concealed permit holders are normally law-abiding people. Only a tiny fraction of permit holders commit crimes.

The credit card reform act may also be a good thing. Admittedly, it does have some good features and attempts to address some real problems within the credit card industry. However, under the law of unintended consequences, it may make the credit situation worse for many Americans. Restrictions may make it unprofitable to lend to poor credit risks. Therefore, many Americans may find themselves without credit. Conversely, those with good credit may find their interest rates and fees increasing to subsidize those with poor credit.

While President Obama did allow this bill to pass without a veto, I have no illusions about his views on gun control. He has a long voting record that is not friendly to second amendment civil rights. While this amendment extending the freedom and right to keep and bear arms has become law, it is only because President Obama did not want to veto the entire Credit Card Reform Act and did not have the votes to remove it. At some point, when the Democrats feel that they have the votes to pass more restrictive legislation, they will do so.

I am gratified to see that President Obama is not the mindless party man that I had feared. These recent policy changes have shown that he can be practical and that he can be reasoned with. I believe that, to some extent at least, he does realize the danger that Islamic terror poses to this country and to the world. I am cautiously hopeful that he may also see the light regarding some of his disastrous economic policies.

In summary, there are very few absolutes in this world. Even a staunch conservative can find something to like about President Obama. Many of his good moves have met with stiff opposition from his leftwing base. Therefore, I salute him for standing strong amid this criticism. I also challenge my Democratic readers to look within themselves and see if they can find something positive to say about Republican leaders such as President Bush.


Newark NJ

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Obama and the New Deal

President Obama's economic policies, while vastly different from what most Americans have seen, are not new. Many of the president's policies are very similar to the policies of another American president. Much of what is in the news today is eerily similar to President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal policies of the 1930s.

First, the New Deal focused on heavily regulating the US economy. Many of President Roosevelt's advisors were influenced by the apparent success of communist central planning in the Soviet Union and fascism (national socialism) in Italy. They hoped that an American version of a centralized economy would help lift the United States out of the Great Depression.

The Democratic congress of the 1930s passed a succession of acts that regulated the US economy. FDR's belief was that keeping wages high was the key to restarting the economy. To that end, the federal government enacted laws that made it easier for employees to form unions. As unions formed, they negotiated wages that were above market rates. The federal government also set minimum wages for workers. To help enable companies to pay these high wages, the government also set minimum prices.

Ironically, these policies hurt many of the people that they were intended to help. The price controls kept prices high and made many products unaffordable to the millions of Americans who were unemployed. FDR's administration went so far as to destroy food to keep prices high at a time when millions of Americans were going hungry. John Steinbeck protested this policy in his novel The Grapes of Wrath.

High wages also provided an incentive for companies to automate and eliminate jobs. Minorities such as blacks were hurt because they were not allowed in many of the unions. This kept them out of the highest paying jobs and limited them to unskilled labor at low wages.

While the Obama Administration has not enacted wage and price controls, they are providing employees with incentives to unionize. The Employee Free Choice Act, if passed, would allow unions to form without the traditional secret ballot elections. The United Auto Workers also got favorable treatment in Chrysler's bankruptcy, including a seat on the board and a better settlement than Chrysler's secured creditors.

The Obama Administration is moving in the direction of central planning. Obama is exerting a large influence on bailed out industries such as auto manufacturers and banks. The president's new auto standards requiring auto companies to build cars that are lighter and more efficient are the best example. Consumers have rejected these cars in the past because they are typically smaller and less safe in an accident.

More central planning is likely to come soon. Two pieces of legislation that are coming are healthcare reform and carbon cap-and-trade. Healthcare reform would drastically increase regulation in the medical fields and would likely eventually lead to a government monopoly on health insurance. Cap-and-trade would regulate and tax much of the economy through taxes on carbon use, which would include practically all energy production and use in the United States.

FDR also focused on public works projects as a means of getting people back to work. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and the Public Works Administration (PWA) are two of the best-known New Deal make-work programs. These programs paid above market wages so they directly competed with private employers for labor. Additionally, the PWA primarily used skilled tradesmen, such as architects, and did little to help poor unskilled laborers.

President Obama's stimulus program had a similar goal and only lacked acronyms. The stimulus bill passed February 2009 contained vast amounts of money for "shovel-ready" construction projects. These projects were intended to provide jobs to reduce unemployment.

In reality, FDR's job programs were ineffective. Unemployment reached a high of over 25% in 1933. Even though the unemployment did fall after that, it never fell below 10% until after the entry of the US into WWII ( In contrast, the unemployment rate prior to the onset of the Depression was only 4.2% ( FDR's make-work policies did not appreciably reduce unemployment rates and President Obama's stimulus program will most likely have the same result.

The New Deal also dramatically increased federal spending on entitlements. The Social Security Act created the Social Security program in 1935. This did not help the poor of the 1930s however, since payments were not scheduled to begin until 1942 even though withholding began immediately. The act was later amended to begin payments in 1940. The initial consequence of Social Security was to take even more money from the paychecks of those workers who still had jobs, as well as their employers.

At its inception, Social Security benefits were to be paid from the Old Age Retirement Account. This account was depleted in 1940, however, and Social Security became a pay-as-you-go program where working taxpayers directly supported retirees. As Baby Boomers retire, the trustees of the Social Security program say that its current unfunded liability is greater than $25 trillion. This means that Social Security is expected to have a negative cash flow by 2017 and be insolvent by 2041 (

Medicare, another entitlement began by President Johnson, is in even worse shape. Medicare's unfunded liability is $74 trillion. Medicare's hospital trust fund is already in the red and will be insolvent by 2017 ( To resolve the issues, benefits will have to be cut or the taxes that fund these programs will have to be dramatically increased. The government can do this because there is no contract that guarantees contributions or benefits for either program.

To this debt, President Obama proposes to add a new healthcare entitlement. The cost for this massive new bureaucracy will be added to Obama's already staggering deficit spending. It will also require a large infusion of tax dollars. As government healthcare becomes a reality, it will invariably crowd private insurers out of the marketplace, costing more jobs.

That brings us to another parallel between the New Deal and President Obama. FDR presided over some of the most draconian tax increases in the history of the United States to fund his social programs. The Revenue Act of 1936 included a variety of new taxes including higher income taxes, dividend taxes, estate taxes, and taxes on undistributed profits. FDR also limited the deductions available on corporate and personal income taxes. By the end his term, the top personal tax rate was 91%. The state tax burden also doubled with increases in state income, corporate and sales taxes. The Social Security Act added social security withholding to the tax burden.

Barack Obama has already announced his intention to allow the Bush tax cuts to expire for the wealthiest five percent of Americans. It is unlikely that the other 95% of Americans will escape the taxman unscathed. President Obama has already signed a sixty-two cent increase to the federal tobacco tax. This tax will disproportionately affect lower income people, a segment of the population that Obama had vowed to not tax more " even one dime" (

Congressional Democrats seem intent on raising taxes on all Americans even further. Already there have been proposals to increase taxes on soft drinks, snack foods, employer-paid health insurance, an increase to the estate (death) tax, as well as cap-and-trade tax on energy. Obama has also followed in FDR's footsteps by eliminating corporate tax deductions. This is effectively a tax increase on corporations.

In following the example of the New Deal's increases in both spending and taxes, President Obama is likely prolonging the current recession. Tax increases remove money from the economy that could be better spent and invested by individuals and businesses. Increasing taxes paid to the government will guarantee that consumers have less money to spend and that businesses have less money to expand, hire workers, and keep their doors open.

President Roosevelt's onerous regulations, heavy-handed taxation, and unfriendly business climate prolonged the Great Depression rather resolving it. His methods have been tried and failed numerous times in the years since including in Japan, Michigan, and California. As President Obama repeats these same mistakes, we can only hope for different result.


FDR's Folly, Jim Powell, Crown Forum, New York, 2003.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

California's Tax Revolt

On Tuesday, May 19, 2009, Californians went to the polls in one of the first elections of 2009. On the ballot were five measures that would have allowed the State of California to increase taxes for various purposes. Governor Schwarzenegger and state leaders had billed the ballot measures as a way to keep state services operating and deal with the state’s deficit.

The problem was that the measures would not resolve California’s spending problems. According to the Wall Street Journal, passage of the measures would still leave the state with a massive deficit. If the measures passed, California would face an estimated $15.4 billion deficit in its general fund for 2010. If the measures did not pass, the deficit is estimated to hit $21.3 billion.

By now you may have heard that five of the six measures that were being voted on failed. The five tax increases all failed by two-to-one margins. The sole proposition to pass was a measure that would prevent elected officials from getting pay raises in years when the state ran a budget deficit. This measure passed overwhelmingly with almost 74% approval.

As returns came last night and this morning, California’s leaders must be realizing that they cannot tax and spend their way out of the mess. How did this bluest of blue states get in this fix?

California has a history of high taxes and higher spending. California’s spending has more than doubled in the past ten years. This outpaces both the rate of inflation and the rate of population growth. Much of this spending is considered untouchable. Education, spending on government employee salaries and pensions, debt service, and parks all fall into the politically untouchable category.

As California has increased taxes to attempt to pay for this spending, many of the state’s residents began fleeing to neighboring states with more attractive business environments. California refugees have found the lower cost-of-living in states such as Arizona, Utah, Nevada, and Idaho very attractive. As California’s productive citizens and companies leave, California is left with fewer taxpayers while the number of people on the government payroll remains high. These factors combined with the current recession to create a large decline in state tax revenues.

In the past, many people believed that as California goes, so goes the nation. That might be true in this case as well. Under President Obama, federal deficits have spiraled out of control. Federal budget deficits are expected to average approximately $1 trillion per year for the foreseeable future. President Obama’s plans to start a new healthcare entitlement would increase deficits even more.

To finance President Obama’s borrow-and-spend policies, the United States must find more tax revenue. President Obama has already announced plans to repeal President Bush’s tax cuts on the wealthiest five percent of Americans. Many in Congress believe that more tax increases will be necessary. One of President Obama’s first actions was to increase the federal tobacco tax. Proposals have already been floated to increase taxes on employer-paid health insurance, soft drinks, gasoline, and carbon as well as an increase to the death tax.

If the mood of California voters is any indication of the national mood, any new taxes will not be accepted happily. The grass roots anti-tax tea parties that were held around the nation on April 15 are an early sign that politicians who vote to raise taxes may face an unhappy electorate at their next election.

The federal government should realize what the California state government did not. That heavy government spending is a drain on the economy. High taxes slow the economy even further as well as causing real pain to families. In order to prevent the United States from going the way of California, we need real spending cuts.

“Schwarzenegger Puts Legacy on the Line With Budget Vote,” Wall Street Journal, May 19, 2009

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

What Does Freedom Mean to You?

Virtually all Americans love freedom. The question is what kind of freedom do they love.

To our founding fathers, freedom meant self-determination. The founders were rugged individualists who opposed having a strong central government run their lives. The American opposition to King George began not as an independence movement, but as a group that favored home rule while retaining loyalty to the British crown.

The priorities of the founders can be seen in our founding documents. The Declaration of Independence famously states, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Although not as familiar, the Declaration goes on: “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it….”

What rights our founders considered important can be seen in both the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights. The list of grievances in the Declaration of Independence includes taxation without representation, unfair trade restrictions, making officials of the government above the law, and improperly influencing the judiciary. The common denominator on most of the grievances listed by Jefferson is that are the result of a government’s abuses of power. The fundamental right violated by the English king was the right of the people to have a government that will not interfere with the people’s rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

When our nation was finally established, the founders decided to safeguard more individual rights. The Constitution became the foundation for the federal government, but many believed its lack of protection for individual rights was a weakness. The Bill of Rights is a compilation of ten amendments that was ratified to correct that deficiency.

The Bill of Rights guarantees the rights to freedom of religion, speech, press, peaceably assemble, and petition the government. The second amendment guarantees the right for individuals to keep and bear arms. Other amendments give Americans the right to a trial by jury, protection against unreasonable search and seizure, and limit ability of the government to hold people charged with crimes. Additionally, the tenth amendment specifies that powers not delegated to the federal government are reserved by the people and the states.

The view that our personal freedoms were freedoms to say, do, and possess things without government restrictions or assistance changed radically with the election of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1932. Roosevelt proclaimed a new basic freedom for Americans: the “freedom from want.”

The freedom from want might be stated in today’s terms as a freedom from need. In other words, in Roosevelt’s view Americans have a fundamental right to not need anything. This “freedom” is more accurately described as a right to security or freedom from responsibility. It is akin to reading the Declaration of Independence’s right to the “pursuit of happiness” as a government-guaranteed right to be happy.

Roosevelt’s new basic freedom was a radical departure from traditional American personal freedoms. The freedom from want is the first freedom that takes freedom from someone else. The government has nothing that it doesn’t first take from productive citizens and businesses through taxes. For the government to meet people’s needs, it must first take from other citizens because the government has nothing that it does not first take from someone else. Therefore, FDR’s freedom from want is a transfer of wealth.

The freedom from want is also an anathema to the more traditional American freedoms. One cannot simultaneously give up personal responsibility to the government while maintaining a previous level of freedom. Because the government must take from citizens in order to meet the “needs” of other citizens, a majority of citizens will find that they lose economic liberty and property rights. As the government raises taxes to pay for programs that meet these “needs,” taxpaying citizens will find that they have less disposable income to meet their own needs. They must work longer hours to bring home the same amount of money. Increased taxes make it difficult or impossible to maintain the same standard of living and amount of property.

An additional problem with the freedom from want is that each individual has different wants and needs. For example, a common belief today is that everyone needs health insurance. It is very likely that soon the government will make a determination that everyone does need and must have health insurance. However, many people today don’t believe that health insurance is a necessity.

Many people today choose not to purchase insurance for a variety of reasons. Many people feel that the money could be better spent on other items, such as starting a business or making a mortgage payment. Many uninsured are only temporarily without coverage as they change jobs. Some may eschew health insurance for religious reasons. The freedom to make the choice to not purchase health insurance is a valuable tool in money management that would disappear if the government decides that all Americans have a right to guaranteed health insurance.

Further, as government grows larger in order to keep meeting the needs and wants of the populace, other freedoms are threatened. Government money and programs come with strings attached. Acceptance of government largess requires adherence to government rules and policies. This can be seen today in federal control of banks and auto companies that have accepted government bailout money.

In the future, as the government begins to pay (with taxpayer dollars) for universal health insurance, it will become more and more interested in cutting healthcare costs. One way of doing so might be to enact new restrictions on what are considered to be health risks. For example, we might one day find that our government health plan excludes coverage for smoking-related illnesses. Once the precedent is established, other exclusions related to diet, exercise, weight, or other factors could be enacted.

America is at a crossroads. For the past eighty years we have seen the growth of government and slow but steady erosion of our personal freedoms. Under the current administration, the process is being accelerated. We must make a choice on what freedom means to us.

If we want true freedom, we must accept that with freedom comes responsibility. We must take control of our own lives. We must be responsible for our own safety, our own finances, our own retirement planning, our own children, and our own health. The alternative is to trade our freedom for the illusory security of the “freedom from want.”

As Benjamin Franklin once said, “Those who sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither.” Very often, that is just what they get.


Palm Springs CA

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Hidden Travel Gems of the Southeast

The southeastern United States is home to many well-known tourist meccas. Who hasn’t been to, or at least heard of, Orlando and Daytona Beach? There are also a multitude of lesser-known spots that can appeal to a variety of travelers.

One of my family’s favorite places to get away from it all is Cade’s Cove. Nestled within a valley of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park near Townsend, Tennessee, Cade’s Cove contains an eleven-mile loop road that drives around the valley. As you drive, you and your family will be able to spot a variety of wildlife among the breathtaking mountain scenery. We have seen more deer than my kids can count, along with foxes, turkeys, and even families of bears. One way of determining where bears have been sighted is to look for the “bear jam,” lines of cars moving slowly as people watch and photograph the animals!

Wildlife is not the only thing to see in Cade’s Cove. There are also many historic buildings located near the loop road. Visitors can see old farmhouses, churches, a gristmill, and barns and other farm buildings. The cove also has nature and hiking trails of various lengths. One trail even leads to Rocky Top, the mountain made famous by the bluegrass song. Many visitors also enjoy fishing and wading in the rivers and creeks of the cove. The park also offers horseback tours of the cove and hayrides around the loop road.

Cade’s Cove contains a campground, but people who prefer hotels will find them only a short drive away in Townsend. Pigeon Forge is also nearby. Visitors there can choose from a multitude of restaurants, musical shows, and entertainment, including Dollywood.
In Pigeon Forge, the Holiday Inn Express and the La Quinta are both modern hotels with affordable rates. You can find out more about Cade’s Cove on the national park web site at

A second spot that my family has recently discovered is Sylacauga, Alabama. This little town has a lot more to offer than a funny name! Sylacauga is located forty miles southeast of Birmingham and is a true southern small town.

Sylacauga was first settled by Creek Indians and was visited by Spanish explorer, Hernando de Soto, in 1540. One of the areas claims to fame is the DeSoto Caverns Park. The park offers hour-long tours through the caverns, which feature thousands of natural cave formations as well as light which vary throughout the year.

The park also has many other attractions that range from the tame, miniature golf, to a rock climbing wall, go-carts, and bathtub racers. There is also a chance to pan for gemstones like a prospector from a hundred years ago and Lost Trail Maze that takes up three-fourths of an acre.

Sylacauga is also home to the Blue Bell Creamery. Many southerners know Blue Bell ice cream as a delicious snack. The Blue Bell Creamery offers tours where visitors can see how this treat is made. Additionally, a country store offers ice cream as well as many other craft and souvenir items. Tours are by appointment only. Visitors can call 888-573-5286 to make a reservation.

Located near Sylacauga is the Talladega National Forest. The national forest contains beautiful, mountainous terrain that can be enjoyed without traveling all the way to the Appalachians. The forest contains trails for hikers, horses, and ATVs as well as scenic drives. You can find out about the national forest at

In Sylacauga, the Holiday Inn Express or the Jameson Inn are the primary lodgings. The Golden Rule barbecue is very good and Buttermilk Hill offers formal dining. You can learn more about Sylacauga at

For those who prefer the ocean, Wilmington, North Carolina is destination that offers beaches as well as a sense of history. The area’s beaches offer several piers for fishing, but less of the carnival atmosphere of many beach towns. There is ample public beach access, but most parking is metered.

For history buffs, the area offers many interesting stops. A fun attraction for kids and adults alike is the WWII battleship, USS North Carolina. Visitors can explore the ship as well as visit a museum that details the ship’s service in the Pacific campaigns of WWII where it was damaged by a Japanese torpedo. Fort Fisher State Historic Site is the location of a Civil War battle.

Wilmington also features a vibrant nightlife and many other museums and cultural centers. Visit for more information and a free travel guide.

Depending on what you are looking for, the South has many other hidden gems as well. From snow skiing to water-skiing, from small town life to elegant and fashionable cities, the south has something for everyone. Find your own hidden gem and make some memories with your loved ones!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Waiting for the Mahdi: A Look at Twelver Islam

The Muslim world is separated into two main groups of adherents, the Sunni and the Shiite (or Shia). The Sunnis are the dominant group with Shiites being found predominantly in Iraq and Iran. Of the Shia, the largest group is the Twelvers, or Imami Muslims.

The schism dates back to death of Mohammed in AD 632. The Shia believe that the head of the Islamic religion is passed through the bloodline of Mohammed or imams selected by Allah. The Shia believe that leadership of Islam passed to Mohammed’s cousin and son-in-law, Ali. The word “Shia” is a shortened form of “Shia-t-Ali,” which means “the party of Ali.” Shia leaders are called “imams.”

Sunnis, on the other hand, believe that the legitimate head of Islam is elected from among the qualified Islamic clerics. Sunnis chose Abu Bakr, a close friend and protégé of Mohammed, as the first Caliph of the greater Islamic nation. The word “Sunni” means “one who follows in the traditions of the prophet.” The Shia have always rejected these elected Sunni leaders.

There were a total of twelve imams beginning with Imam Ali. The last imam was Mahmoud al-Mahdi who lived in Samarra, Iraq and was last seen in AD 874. Twelvers believe that al-Mahdi disappeared into “occultation,” hiding in the spirit world, and is still alive. The Mahdi, as the twelfth imam is known, supposedly communicated from the spirit world through intermediaries called Babs, or “gates.” The last Bab died in AD 941, marking the end of the lesser occultation and the beginning of the greater occultation. In the greater occultation, the Mahdi can no longer communicate with earth until he returns to earth shortly before the Final Judgment and the end of the world.

Twelver theology indicates that the twelfth imam will one day return when the world is in a time of great chaos and upheaval. The Mahdi will return to usher in a period of peace and justice under a worldwide Islamic caliphate. They also believe that Jesus Christ will return to rule alongside the Mahdi as his aide.

It is important to note that Sunnis do not accept these teachings about the Mahdi because they do not appear in the Koran itself. Instead these teachings are found in the hadiths, a collection of the sayings of Mohammed and other traditions that were compiled by his followers. The Sunni and Shia branches of Islam each recognize their own separate hadiths.

There are several signs that Shia believe will precede the Mahdi’s return. First is that it will be in a time of fear, violence, and chaos. Second, there will be a battle in the city of Mina, Saudi Arabia. Mina is near Mecca and accommodates many pilgrims making the hajj, or pilgrimage, to Islam’s holy city. The pilgrims will be robbed and many will be killed. They also believe that gold will be discovered along the Euphrates River. The find will provoke a battle in which people are killed. Shia also expect voices from the sky and an angel who will proclaim, “This is the Mahdi. Follow him.”

A major sign is the emergence of the Sufyani. This leader will be linked to Syria and will be a bloodthirsty ruler who will kill women and children. The Sufyani will send his army to capture the Mahdi, but the army will be swallowed up by the deserts of Saudi Arabia.

The hadiths also provide a description of the returning Mahdi. His name will be Mohammed and his father’s name will be Abdullah. He will be of average build and height. He will have a shiny forehead and a high nose. His complexion will be light, but his hair will be dark. He will also have a slight stutter. The Mahdi will appear from the east with an army marching under black banners.

When he appears, some of the people of Makkah, Saudi Arabia will give him bayat, their allegiance. He will be miraculously protected from harm as a Syrian army comes for him. This will inspire other Syrians and Iraqis to give him their allegiance.

The Mahdi’s first battle will be against the army of a Yemeni tribe, which he will win. The Mahdi will also fight a great war against a large number of Christians. Although many Muslims will be killed, the Mahdi will win the war and capture Constantinople (Istanbul, Turkey). The Mahdi will then become Caliph, or ruler, for a period of seven years.

Next, the Dajjal will appear. The Dajjal is a Muslim equivalent of the Antichrist. He is a fat, one-eyed man with a broad chest and sharp teeth. On his forehead is the word “infidel.” The Dajjal will be a deceiver who will trick people into following him. He will be able to spread wealth among his followers. He will fail to take the Saudi city of Medina, and will then turn toward Damascus with his army of 70,000 Jews.

As the Mahdi and his army prepare to face the Dajjal, Jesus will descend from heaven. His breath will kill much of the Dajjal’s army before killing the Dajjal himself with a spear. Afterwards, the Muslim army will kill the remainder of the Dajjal’s Jewish army. When they attempt to hide behind a rock, the rock will call the Muslims to kill the hiding Jew. Jesus will then become a Caliph and spread Islam throughout the world.

While many people, especially in Western countries, reject this Shia theology out of hand, it is important to realize that it doesn’t matter whether we believe it; what matters is that thousands of Muslims around the world believe it. Twelvers have already played a major role in a recent armed conflict: the Iraq War.

Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr led his Mahdi Army against Iraqi government and Coalition forces for several years after the fall of Saddam Hussein. In August 2004, he went so far as to call upon his followers to rise up and fight US troops. The Mahdi Army figured prominently in Iraq’s sectarian strife for several years until the “surge” of US troops. In August 2008, al-Sadr announced plans to have the Mahdi Army’s military operations stand down, largely due to a drop in Iranian funding. The Mahdi Army remains a coherent organization, but is now focused on Shiite spirituality.

Devotees of the Mahdi also figure prominently in the Iranian government. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is widely believed to have been a member of the Hojjatieh Society. This society was banned by the Ayatollah Khomeini after the Iranian Revolution because its members opposed the creation of an Islamic Republic, believing instead that the Mahdi should be the one to establish such a theocratic government. Along with Ahmadinejad, several members of his cabinet are believed to be Hojjatieh members.

Ahmadinejad has a long history as a follower of the Mahdi. In his former role as mayor of Tehran, he built a grand avenue for the Mahdi’s return and, as president, built a rail line from Tehran to Jamkaran, where the Mahdi is believed to have appeared at a wishing well. He also allocated $17 million to renovate the Jamkaran mosque. At his first cabinet meeting, Ahmadinejad required his cabinet members to swear an oath to the Mahdi.

More importantly, Ahmadinejad has also spearheaded Iran’s efforts to build a nuclear weapon. In numerous speeches since his election, he has spoke of his devotion to the Mahdi and his belief that the Mahdi will return soon. For example, he publicly stated that the goal of his administration was to establish a government and society that would be “a platform for the reappearance of the Mahdi.”

On his addresses to the United Nations, Ahmadinejad has also invoked the Mahdi. He ended his 2005 speech with a prayer: “O mighty lord, I pray to you to hasten the emergence of your last repository, the Promised One, that perfect and pure human being, the One that will fill this world with justice and peace.” He was not referring to Barack Obama.

Ahmadinejad later recalled, “One of our group told me that when I started to say ‘In the name of God the almighty and merciful,’ he saw a light around me, and I was placed inside this aura. I felt it myself. I felt the atmosphere suddenly change, and for those 27 or 28 minutes, the leaders of the world did not blink... And they were rapt. It seemed as if a hand was holding them there and had opened their eyes to receive the message from the Islamic republic.”

Ahmadinejad has also stated his intention to wipe Israel “off the map,” but he doesn’t stop there. He also says that “the Imam gave him the presidency for a single task: provoking a ‘clash of the civilizations’ in which the Muslim world, led by Iran, takes on the ‘infidel’ West, led by the United States, and defeats it.”

For those who take Ahmadinejad’s apocalyptic statements seriously, it is disturbing to think that a man who believes that he is called by Allah to sow chaos and destruction in the world may one day soon have nuclear weapons at his command. As Ayatollah Khamenei said, “It is the mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran to erase Israel from the map of the region.”

Ahmadinejad’s meteoric rise to power from Tehran mayor has fueled his belief that Allah has a special role for him. In reality, it appears that Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei helped to pave the way for Ahmadinejad. While Iran does have elections, the outcomes are heavily influenced by the Supreme Leader and his Revolutionary Guards.

It is also striking to note that belief in the Mahdi also has several parallels in Biblical end-time prophecy. The most obvious is that the Mahdi will appear as a militaristic savior during a time of fear, violence, and war. This closely resembles the Biblical Beast who will appear to lead a world government amid a time of God’s judgment on the earth.

In the theology of both religions, the end-time ruler will unify the world under a single religious and economic system. Both rulers will make war on Christians and Jews as well. Finally, both leaders will marshal their forces for apocalyptic end-time battles. As with the Mahdi, the Beast, or Antichrist, will also rule for a seven-year period, referred to by Christian theologians as the Tribulation. Also in both cases, Jesus will return at the end of the seven-year period. In Christian theology, He will return to judge the Antichrist and his minions. In Twelver theology, He will be a deputy to the Mahdi.

If Iran is allowed to obtain nuclear weapons, it is extremely likely that Ahmadinejad and Khamenei will use them to stoke the fires of fear and chaos in the world. It is likely that these weapons would be used against either Israel or the United States in an attempt to create a suitable environment for the return of the Mahdi. With the Iranian government convinced that they are doing the work of Allah, diplomacy is unlikely to convince them to shut down their weapons programs. It also likely that any attempt to destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities would touch off a holy war as well. At this point, a war with Iran is extremely likely regardless of the West’s course of action.

Rosenberg, Joel C. “Inside the Revolution,” Tyndale House, Carol Stream, IL 2009.,2933,397483,00.html

Ft. Worth TX