An American friend asks what I, as an Englishman, think about the hostage affair. My answer is that words cannot express how sickened, humiliated, soiled, contaminated, and ashamed I feel.
I feel sickened by the fact that a ship in the navy of Nelson could be captured without a shot being fired, and that British sailors and marines could participate in propaganda stunts that go far beyond the old rubric of giving name, rank and number only, and finally parade before Ahmadinejad to beg his forgiveness.
I feel humiliated by the impotence of our government and armed forces in the face of naked aggression, a humiliation compounded by the disloyalty of our European partners and the refusal of Russia and China to support British forces kidnapped while carrying out a UN mission.
I feel soiled by the apologists for Iran who pervade our airwaves and press, led by the former Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer Norman Lamont, now chairman of the British Iranian Chamber of Commerce. Lamont claims that Tony Blair’s support for American policy is to blame for Iran’s hostility, and that the release of the hostages proves that “neocons” were wrong to urge a tough line.
I feel contaminated by the sight of Ahmadinejad posing as a benefactor even as he orders yet more terrorist attacks in Iraq. One of the most recent: a bomb that killed four British soldiers and an interpreter in Basra just as the hostages were being released.
I feel ashamed of Patricia Hewitt, our health secretary, who criticized the woman sailor held hostage for smoking a cigarette, but said nothing about the indignity of her being deprived of her uniform, forced to wear a Muslim headscarf, and patronized by Ahmadinejad because she was a mother.
Tony Blair waited until the sailors and marines were safely home before reminding the British people that Iran is arming, financing, and inciting terrorism throughout the region while defying the will of the international community in its pursuit of nuclear weapons. The BBC’s Middle East editor, Jeremy Bowen, reported the prime minister’s remarks as responding to a gesture of friendship from Iran with “a slap in the face.”
In reality, Blair has been frustrated by his inability to respond more robustly to the Iranian provocation. America’s former ambassador to the UN, John Bolton, told the BBC that the Iranians were testing the British to see if there would be any price to pay for their outrageous behavior. Now they had their answer, said Bolton: “Softly, softly.” I don’t think he meant it as a compliment.
The Iranians will be emboldened, realizing that the media’s sentimentality in hostage crises imposes a crippling handicap on Western leaders who, like Blair, wish to avoid appeasement at all costs. Negotiations with Tehran almost certainly made no difference to Ahmadinejad’s decision. (They may even have been counter-productive in their bestowal of a spurious legitimacy on Iran.) Such negotiations were nonetheless demanded by the arbiters of public opinion in preference to other diplomatic or military responses.
In the U.S., Democrats such as Nancy Pelosi are demanding similar negotiations with Syria. Wrong for Iran; wrong for Syria. To jaw-jaw may, as Churchill said to Eisenhower in 1954, always be better than to war-war, but not if the guy you are jaw-jawing with is quietly war-warring behind your back.