I first met him at the Pentagon in February 2007.
At the time, William G. “Jerry” Boykin was a three-star Lieutenant-General in the United States Army, serving as Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence. As such, he was responsible for overseeing the gathering and analysis of all military intelligence related to the Global War on Terror. He had read my first non-fiction book, Epicenter, and had invited my wife, Lynn, and me for lunch to discuss my research and conclusions.
After taking us and some mutual friends on a tour of the E-Ring – the building’s innermost corridor of offices, reserved for the Secretary of Defense, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and their top assistants – General Boykin took us to a private executive dining room where we began to chat. We talked about his family and his years in the military. We talked about his thoughts on the on-going battles in Iraq and Afghanistan, and about the rising Iranian nuclear threat. He asked me about my assessment of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and why I believed the president’s Shia eschatology, or End Times theology, was driving Iranian foreign policy. It was not a subject that was being discussed inside the Pentagon’s higher echelons at the time, and he was curious. It was the beginning of a friendship that would soon deepen between two our families.
As I was already doing research for my forthcoming non-fiction book, Inside The Revolution (due out March 2009), I found myself intrigued by Boykin’s first-hand knowledge, and perspective, both as a high-ranking general, and as a devout evangelical Christian. Few men I had ever met in Washington better understood the mindset and mission of the Radicals better than he did. Boykin had, after all, been hunting them for nearly thirty years. When the Iranian Revolution erupted in 1979, for example, Boykin was a 31-year old commando training with the U.S. Army’s newly formed and highly classified counter-terrorism unit known as Delta Force. No sooner had Radicals seized the American Embassy in Tehran and took dozens of America diplomats and Marines hostage in November of that year, Boykin and his boss, Col. Charlie Beckwith, the legendary Delta commander, were ordered to the Pentagon. There they were briefed on the latest intelligence and were ordered to begin planning a rescue.
This was America’s first direct confrontation with Radical Islamic Jihadists. No one in Washington had ever encountered a crisis quite like this. In the months that followed, Boykin and his colleagues studied everything they could on the Ayatollah Khomeini, the nature and loyalty of his followers, the students that had stormed the Embassy compound, and the religious and political beliefs that drove them to wage Jihad against the West. When President Carter finally ordered the ill-fated rescue of our hostages, Boykin was one of the Delta team leaders penetrating Iranian airspace in the dark of night. The mission, sadly, was a disaster, not simply for the failures of equipment and training, but because it emboldened the Radicals, giving them a sense of divine choosing and invincibility.
Now, Boykin has just released his memoirs – Never Surrender – and they are absolutely fascinating. In an almost thriller-novel-like-read, he describes what led up to the ill-fated rescue mission, and just what went wrong. He also takes you inside his world as he and his special forces compatriots liberate Grenada from pro-Soviet Communist forces, and later hunt down Manuel Noriega, the drug-running, Satan-worshipping Panamanian dictator. By the early 1990s, Boykin was commander of Delta Force, including during the whole Black Hawk Down episode in Somalia. In his book, he takes you inside the operation and provides details and analysis of how events really played out in a way the movie never did. As I wrote in my endorsement: “Never Surrender is a phenomenal book by a man of great courage and an inspiring faith. Boykin takes us with him inside some of the most intriguing special operations in modern American history. He explains the magnitude of the threat posed by rogue states and radical leaders who don’t simply want to frighten us but to annihilate us. I loved every page. You will, too.”
I asked the General if I could interview him both for the release of his book, and in doing research for my own. He graciously agreed, having also been our keynote speaker at the Epicenter conference in Jerusalem. Here are a few excerpts from our conversation:
“With all your years experience in the Pentagon, commanding Delta Force, hunting jihadists around the globe,” I asked, “in your judgment, how serious to US national security is the threat of radical Islam in the 21stcentury?”
“When I came into the army in 1971 we were focused on the Soviet Union,” Boykin replied. “Even though we were fighting in Vietnam, our real threat was the Soviet Union. But I would say to you, Joel, that the threat that Radical Islam presents to not only America but to the world today is an even more serious threat than when we were in a nuclear standoff during the Cold War. And it’s more concerning to me because this is an enemy that is hard to understand, it is an enemy that is easy to ignore, and it is an enemy that is absolutely relentless.”
What’s the mindset of the Jihadist movement? What do they want? What’s driving them?
“Well, first of all I think that it is very clearly based on their own manifesto that they are adhering to a very radical, an extreme interpretation of the Qu’ran. They clearly believe that infidels – infidels defined as those that do not serve Allah – must either be converted or killed.”
What, then, is the worst case scenario?
“I think the worst case scenario is that they continue in their pursuit of weapons of mass destruction,” he said without hesitation. “Weapons of mass destruction are available to them now, particularly chemical and biological, [and] those are not hard to make. But the worst case scenario is, I think, that they have nuclear capabilities that within these terrorist organizations, within the Jihadist movement; that they intimidate Europe to the point that Europe is no longer capable of standing against them as they have done historically; and that they take their extremism to the entire world and people start to buckle under the intimidation and pressure of really what I would see as a huge Islamic movement.”
How close is Iran to having nuclear weapons?
Boykin told me that based on everything that he had seen and heard during in his tenure at the Pentagon, he believes that “within two years, maybe three” the Iranians will “develop a nuclear weapon, a deliverable nuclear weapon.” Translation: 2010 or 2011. “We know that he [Ahmadinejad] has centrifuges spinning. We know that he has the technology. He has the scientists, and he certainly has the determination…. Ahmadinejad is a very, very dangerous man, in my view. I believe that the world should pay close attention to what he has said. Some would say, ‘Well, that’s just rhetoric.’ But let’s go back and look at Hitler’s rhetoric in 1933 and what ultimately occurred.”
Given all that you know about the Ayatollah Khomeini and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, I asked, which one is more dangerous? For Boykin, it was not a close call. “I think Ahmadinejad is far more dangerous than the Ayatollah Khomeini because given that he now has more resources,” he told me. “Certainly has more money as a result of the oil in Iran. He has greater weapons capabilities. He has a more sophisticated army and military in general. And regardless of what the  National Intelligence Estimate says, he is developing nuclear capabilities.”
In your view, I asked, do you believe the West can successfully deter or negotiate with Ahmadinejad and his regime in a classic balance of power approach that worked with the Soviets?
“My view is that negotiating with Ahmadinejad is a waste of time,” Boykin replied. “I don’t think there’s anything that you can appeal to in Ahmadinejad’s [view of] geopolitics, of life in general, that would result in any kind of meaningful agreement with the West….I think Ahmadinejad sees himself as a man who is [supposed] to hasten the arrival of the Mahdi. He has even indicated that in his speeches….Ahmadinejad believes that the Madhi will come as a result of his efforts, part of which includes destroying or at least subjugating Israel. And so I think that the threat goes beyond just nuclear weapons. I think the threat really is a threat of growing Radicalism within Iran which is influencing much of the thinking in the rest of the Islamic world….And ultimately, when a man is that driven – when a man is that convinced that Allah is holding him accountable to do that [destroy Judeo-Christian civilization] – I think to believe that we could negotiate with him in any meaningful way is just inane.”
Never Surrender — a must read from a true American hero.