Sunday, April 8, 2007


The inimitable Mark Steyn, and his conclusion to a piece about the 15 British sailors and marines recently captured, then released, by Iran:

In theory, they still have the ships, the men and the money, but something intangible has been lost. “Jingoism” is not merely a mindless swagger but a kind of assumed national confidence of which the fleet and the sailors and the cash are merely the tangible embodiment. Take away the confidence, and the ships and men and money avail you nought. You want a diplomatic solution? Fine. But, if you believe (as Europe and half America does) in ''soft power,'' it’s important to remember it depends on the world’s belief that you’re willing to use that power. Looking at the reaction to this incident by the United States, European Union, United Nations et al., Iran will conclude that the transnational consensus will never muster the will to constrain its nuclear ambitions.

Europeans and more and more Americans believe they can live in a world with all the benefits of global prosperity and none of the messy obligations necessary to maintain it. And so they cruise around war zones like floating NGOs. Iran called their bluff, and televised it to the world. In the end, every great power is as great as its credibility, and the only consolation after these last two weeks is that Britain doesn’t have much more left to lose.

Most of the lamestream media reporting and opinion pieces (if you can even tell the difference any more!) have declared this entire incident a “victory” for the advocates of soft power. I have not been able to find any way to peer at this debacle and see anything other than, well, a debacle. Mark Steyn — an ex-Brit — seems to hold the same view.

I keep coming back to this: Iran — a third-rate power — has been working hard for years to develop nuclear weapons and to promote radical Islam everywhere they can (but, to be sure, most effectively in their own neighborhood). They’ve threated to eradicate Israel from the map; in their own press they vilify the U.S. (aka “The Great Satan") daily. This underdeveloped, anemic runt of a nation snatches 15 British sailors and marines from Iraqi waters, then starts demanding all sorts of things from Britain (allegedly still a first-rate world power), claims in the face of contradictory evidence that the sailors were in Iranian waters, and then coerces confessions from 13 of their 15 prisoners (two of the prisoners held out).

Pretend for a moment that you didn’t know what has already happened. What do you think should have happened?

Call me old-fashioned, but in my view Iran exhibited outrageous, provocative behavior that is simply unacceptable to the world community. Map that same behavior onto a future Iran with nuclear weapons and the missiles to deliver them, and you’ve got something worse than unacceptable — it’s a real threat. So in my view, the only acceptable response would have been one that punished Iran severely for their actions — some punishment so severe that we could reasonably expect the behavior not to be repeated. This punishment could take any of many forms, only some of which are military. One example of a non-military response: an absolute cut-off of all international trade, until the hostages were returned unharmed and reparations were made.

But instead, what happened? A high-level terrorist commander (euphemistically called a “diplomat” by the Iranians, a description which was mindlessly repeated by the lamestream media) was released and allowed to return to Iran, British sailors and marines were tortured (even if the lamestream media insists on calling it “coercion") into giving false confessions, the President of Iran gets to hold a press conference announcing his “Easter gift” to Britain. And that’s it.

What lesson do you suppose we’ve just taught Iran?

I can only think of one lesson, and I’m certain that they’ve learned it well — because this most recent incident is just one more example in a string of such incidents. That lesson: that they can not only get away with provoking the world’s greatest powers, they can profit by it. Iran accomplished several things with this incident, all of them very good from their perspective — and they have paid no price at all for their gain. First, they got their terrorist boss back. Second, for two weeks they distracted the world’s attention from their ongoing nuclear weapons and missile development programs — and it will take a while for the world to refocus again. Third, they have raised their own status in the estimation of their regional allies and adversaries, for they have tweaked The Great Satan and they got away with it. Fourth, they have scored a tremendous positive public relations coup with a gullible world public and a world lamestream media that behaves as if they were a propaganda machine for the Islamists.

Some might look at these events and worry that all is lost; that we’re doomed to be “conquered” by Iran (or al Qaeda). I have no such worry — I don’t believe for a moment that Iran will, in the end, prevail over the real world powers. What I do fear, however, is that the war with Iran (and the other Islamic powers) will be unnecessarily costly, in blood and treasure — because the non-Islamic world powers (especially the U.S., the E.U., and Japan) will not engage militarily when a victory would be relatively easy and inexpensive. To focus on just Iran for a moment, forcing that country to behave acceptably now would be a far different thing than facing them down when they have nuclear weapons and intercontinental missiles. To any student of history, this is a very familiar pattern. Most well-known, perhaps, is the run-up to World War II in Europe — but that is far from the only such example.

From where I sit, it looks like we’re on the way to learning that lesson yet again — and the debacle of the 15 British sailors is all of a piece with this, very similar to provocations that Hitler made prior to the outbreak of war. Hitler kept testing and testing, with both increasing bombast and increasing actions, to see how outrageous his behavior could be without provoking an unacceptable response from the rest of the world. This pattern of escalating provocations continued until finally he did something that drove the other nations to war — but only after Hitler had built Germany into a formidable power in its own right. The collective behavior of Iran’s government is strikingly — almost eerily — reminiscent of Hitler’s behavior. Barring some miracle that wakes up the rest of the world fairly quickly, I fear we’re headed to a similar end-game. The cost of “fixing” this problem will only increase as time goes by…

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