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.
Much of the rest of Ahmadinejad's letter is devoted to portraying Mr. Bush as an infidel. Given that Mr. Bush is not about to convert to Islam, what the letter presages is, if anything, an Islamic attack. So the thing to think about is what this implies for American policymakers. For one thing, no step short of converting to Islam will avert the planned attack so long as the regime in Tehran remains in power. All the "carrots" that the doves in the American foreign policy establishment want to offer - abandoning Israel, offering Iran "security guarantees" and economic and political relations - fall short of what Iran's president demands. He demands that America "follow the true path," that is, convert to Islam. Short of that, America will not receive peace from the Iranian regime.
Mr. Bush has been clear that America wishes the Iranian people well and supports them in their quest for freedom from their clerical regime. He needs to do everything he can to help the Iranian people oust the regime in Tehran before the regime has a chance to launch its offensive against America. Such an offensive by Iran would be dangerous enough with conventional weapons; we certainly don't want to permit a nation that is about to attack us to have nuclear weapons. And our president would do us all a service by telling Americans about this Iranian declaration of war. When Al Qaeda issued its February 1998 fatwa, only a few Americans recognized its significance as a declaration of war. That took until September 11, 2001. This time around, let's not miss the warning.