In a recent NYT op-ed, entitled appropriately, “Iran the Vicious Victim, Max Hastings correctly identifies the psychology of this fundamentalist country in the context of Iran’s seizure of British marines:
The United States and Britain have suffered a disastrous erosion of moral authority in consequence of the Iraq war. The Blair government has been dismayed to perceive the indifference, or worse, with which its European partners have treated the seizure of its naval personnel. Britain has been obliged to water down the draft resolution that it is circulating at the United Nations Security Council, because some members rejected its original tough wording.
What should be regarded as an unanswerable case of armed aggression by a rogue state is instead being viewed by many nations as the sort of embarrassment the British should expect, given the dubious legitimacy of their presence on the Shatt al Arab.
The Iranians know all this, of course, and it fortifies their intransigence. The game they play with considerable skill is to project themselves at once as assertive Islamic crusaders, and also as victims of imperialism. They crave respect and influence. Their only claims to these things rest upon their capacity for menacing the West, whether through international terrorism, support for Palestinian extremists, or the promise of building atomic weapons.
It is often suggested that support for President Ahmadinejad is waning amid his disastrous economic stewardship. Yet whatever Iran’s internal tensions, there is little prospect that people committed to normal relations with the West will gain power any time soon.
In my view, this is a reasonably accurate assessment of the situation. Many countries in the ME play the role of “assertive Islamic crusaders” while at the same time wailing about “victimization,” and they do it very well. But why do they succeed when they apply this ridiculous behavior?
The answer I think is the target of their “assertive Islamic crusade.” Have you ever noticed that their crusade avoids targeting any nation (e.g., China or Russia) who might respond in an unconstrained fashion. Instead, they focus on Western democracies who are limited by self-imposed constraints. Western countries increasingly shun the use of coersion of any kind and would prefer to kick the can down the road, hoping against hope that Iran will change. Even Hastings admits that “there is little prospect that people committed to normal relations with the West will gain power any time soon.”
But maybe we can wait them out. Maybe a miracle will happen, Maybe their “assertive Islamic crusade” will abate once they gain access to WMD. Maybe.
But what if none of these things come to pass? It appears that Western democracies, the US included, are willing to wait and see, perfectly willing to avoid a confrontation now and risk a major (possibly world-altering) conflagration a decade from now.
Hasting reflects this view:
The only realistic course, even after the latest insult represented by the British sailors’ seizure, is to sustain the policy of engagement, however thankless this seems. Privately most European governments, including the British, assume that around the end of the decade Iran will achieve its purpose of building nuclear weapons. Even the so-called moderates in Tehran are committed to this objective.
In the eyes of many Americans, such words represent characteristic European pusillanimity, indeed appeasement. But some of us suggested when the 2003 Iraq invasion was launched that it could result in a drastic diminution of the West’s ability to address graver threats from Iran and North Korea. So it has proved.
We must keep talking to the Iranians, offering carrots even when these are contemptuously tossed into the gutter, because there is no credible alternative. Even threats of economic sanctions must be considered cautiously. Their most likely consequence would be to feed Iranian paranoia, to strengthen the hand of Tehran’s extremists. A state of declared Western encirclement could suit President Ahmadinejad very well indeed.
So we wait and watch, we talk, we apply meaningless UN sanctions, we try diplomatic initiatives that are bound to fail. In essence, we do nothing, except kicking the can down the road.
There is, of course, a certain political cunning in this approach. By doing nothing, domestic criticism in Western countries is muted. There is, after all, no armed conflict, no crippling sanctions, no tough talk, nothing that can be criticized by the MSM and the political opposition. No demonstrations by “anti-war,” “anti-imperialism” activists, just relative calm as the storm gathers.
But that’s someone else’s problem, way down the road. For now, we'll keep talking and try to "negotiate" with Iran. Wretchard of the Belmont Club offers a comment on these engotiations:
The kidnapping of fifteen British sailors by Iran has inadvertently given the public a glimpse of what it means to "negotiate" with the Ayatollahs. It is also an illustration of how safe it is to stay on "your" side of the border, such as for example within the sovereign territory of a United States embassy, or manning an outpost on the Israeli side of Lebanese border, sleeping in a housing unit in the Khobar towers, visiting a friendly Yemeni port, keeping a watch on smugglers in Iraqi waters while in a British naval vessel and -- in case anyone still remembers -- going to work in Manhattan on an autumn day.
Oh don't worry, all of those were just isolated instances. Just keep kicking the can.
It’s ironic that the same people who worry so ardently about climate change 100 years from now and demand immediate action -- not talk, mind you, action, to remedy the climate “crisis,” tend to be the very same people who are perfectly willing to ignore a very real crisis that is likely to be precipitated by Iran 10 years from now. For that crisis, continuous talk is the only approach. Yeah, and a fervent hope that it will all go away. Maybe it will, but history seems to indicate that doing nothing rarely derails those bent on regional or global domination.