In Thursday morning’s Guardian, Timothy Garton Ash appealed for European solidarity with Britain in the face of the Iranian seizure of fifteen British naval personnel. “Fourteen European men and one European woman have been held at an undisclosed location for nearly a week, interrogated, denied consular access, but shown on Iranian television, with one of them making a staged ‘confession,’ clearly under duress. So if Europe is as it claims to be, what’s it going to do about it? Where’s the solidarity? Where’s the action?” asks Garton Ash.
He notes that “the EU is by far Iran’s biggest trading partner. More than 40 percent of its imports come from, and more than a quarter of its exports go to, the EU. Remarkably, this trade has grown strongly in the last years of looming crisis.” This commerce is not purely in the private sector but is sustained by European government subsidies. “The total government underwriting commitment in 2005 was €5.8bn, more than for Russia or China,” Garton Ash reports.
Garton Ash asks whether “Britain’s European friends—and Germany, France, and Italy in particular—might be prevailed upon to convey to Iran, perhaps privately in the first instance, the possibility that such export credit guarantees would be temporarily suspended until the kidnapped Europeans are freed.”
When I read this, I took pen in hand to point out the insipidness of Garton Ash’s remedy: that the words to Iran would be spoken “privately,” that they would only allude to a “possibility” of suspending credits “temporarily.” Presumably, then, when the fifteen were freed, Europe would resume subsidizing the Iranian economy while Iran went on building its nuclear bomb. In short, I thought Garton Ash rather namby-pamby.
Until, that is, I read the replies to his column posted on the Guardian’s blog. Then I saw that by contemporary European standards—or at least the standards of that part of Europe represented by the left-leaning Guardian—Garton Ash might as well be the second coming of Winston Churchill. Scores of comments are posted. Out of a randomly chosen 25, I counted one who grudgingly supported Garton Ash’s position, two who called for stronger action against Iran and 22 (i.e., 88 percent) who denounced him as a jingoist, imperialist, war-mongering puppet of Uncle Sam.
Here is a sample (not including any whose comments or screen names suggested that they might be Iranian or Middle Eastern):
“Timothy Garton Ash [is] a pompous tub-thumping twat who gets his meal-tickets from the Americans these days. . . . It ill behooves pundits like Mr. Garton Ash to bang the table about who can detain whom, when the ‘Alliance of the Willing’ is illegally holding 450+ detainees in Guantanamo Bay.”
“If the prisoners confessed to being in Iranian waters, they probably were.”
“Britain is now no better than Stalinist Russia, with regard to certain media in so far as taking the government line.”
“We have the hullabaloo about supposed mistreatment, possibe torture, etc. Complete propagandistic bullshit. Once again, no proof at all.”
“A simple apology to the Iranians (i.e., sorry fifteen sailors got lost by a kilometer) would have diffused this crisis completely in a single instant.”
It is said that in the land of the blind, the one-eyed is king. Mutatis mutandis, in the land of the eunuchs.