Friday, March 30, 2007

Unhelpful in Tehran

After four hours of debate, the UN Security Council has fearlessly issued a press release;

“Members of the Security Council expressed grave concern at the capture by the Revolutionary Guard, and the continuing detention by the Government of Iran, of 15 United Kingdom naval personnel, and appealed to the Government of Iran to allow consular access, in terms of the relevant international laws. Members of the Security Council support calls, including by the Secretary-General in his 29 March meeting with the Iranian Foreign Minister, for an early resolution of this problem, including the release of the 15 United Kingdom personnel.”

An Iranian diplomat described this as “unhelpful”. Well, he’s not wrong.

But nor is it particularly helpful to claim that they were captured not at location X in Iraqi waters but at location Y in Iranian waters, and then when it’s pointed out that location Y is also in Iraqi waters, to say ‘sorry, we meant point Z’.

And it’s really unhelpful to pretend that a UK servicewoman would write this without being coerced into transcribing it verbatim:

“Representative of the House of Commons, I am writing to inform you of my situation. I am a British serviceperson currently being held in Iran. …
“Unfortunately during the course of our mission we entered into Iranian waters. Even through our wrongdoing, they have still treated us well and humanely, which I am and always will be eternally grateful.
“I ask the representatives of the House of Commons, after the Government have promised that this type of incident would not happen again, why have they let this occur, and why has the Government not been questioned over this?
“Isn't it time for us to start withdrawing our forces from Iraq and let them determine their own future?”

Well, I’m convinced.

Surely the Stop the War Coalition has some pre-printed ‘UK troops out of Iran’ placards that would come in handy right now?

Actually, speaking of the SWC, they’ve issued their own unhelpful rant:

“Their detention is a consequence of the illegal occupation of Iraq. Whether they were in Iraqi or Iranian waters is immaterial. They should not be there at all and we demand the withdrawal of all UK forces from Iraqi territory. … The answer is de-escalation of tension and commitment to peaceful resolution of disputes and respect for Iranian sovereignty.”

To reiterate: (1) The capture was a “consequence” of Western policy and not a freely chosen action by Iran. (2) While the US and the UK are to be damned for their “illegal” actions, the location of the capture and therefore its illegality is “immaterial”. (3) The solution to Iran’s holding of UK personnel against their will, following a capture that violated Iraqi sovereignty, is “respect for Iranian sovereignty”.

It’s people like this that give appeasement a bad name.


Jane Henry said...

Sorry Tom, I followed a thread to your blog and am possibly going to upset the applecart here, by saying that in my view (based on a historical knowledge of how completely pointless appeasment was in the thirties) that I don't think there is anything we can do against Iran in the conventional sense. They are playing with us like a lion with its prey, and bleating on about the war being our fault isn't going to help anyone. I do think we should get out of Iraq, and I don't want to see us embroiled in Iran, but I fear if we don't stand up to them today, we might regret it tomorrow. You're probably not going to agree with me about that (its ok, my twin sister's on your side, as is my bil who works for Friendship or Reconciliation).

Couldn't resist posting after i saw your comment about not knowing any history...

Loved the Mexican stand off btw.


Tom Freeman said...

Hi Jane – don’t apologise, that’s what applecarts are for! (I know about a dozen historical facts and I try to use them to good rhetorical effect.)
Although I’m not sure what exactly we disagree about. Obviously the war is the fault of the countries that fought it, and yes, bleating’s never much use.
I doubt that outsiders can stop Iran from going nuclear by any means short of war, which sounds like a disastrous idea to me. But also they are playing their hand on this (regardless of the sailors situation) quite well.
I’m fairly undecided about whether Iraq would be better or worse over whatever timescale if we pulled out, but that’s largely because I think things look pretty bad under any option. Leaving would probably make life easier for us in the short term, but who knows how it would end up.
In a way I think Iran is more promising than Iraq was, as the government is less unitary and the political culture more pluralist (though it’s miles from being a beacon of democracy and human rights). But moderating reform from within sounds like a real possibility. Then again, that’s more a hope than a policy…

Jane Henry said...

I guess perhaps I was thinking you were partly on the side of appeasement? But maybe I read that wrong. I do think the thirties is instructive about how little effect appeasement had on Hitler. I think wotshisface in Iran will pay as little attention to our attempts to appease too. He'll just see it as weakness. I would be horrified about the thought of opening another front and engaging in another war we can't win, but otoh, do we just sit here like sitting ducks waiting to fire? Have you ever read a book called The Old Men at the Zoo by Angus Wilson? It was horribly prescient and imagines a world in which a nuclear bomb is dropped on England by an unnamed middle eastern country. Who gave it to them? is the question. Um - we did, is the answer. How sadly true that might end up being....

Tom Freeman said...

Ah, I think my use of sarcasm ("Well, I’m convinced" and "It’s people like this that give appeasement a bad name") may not have been clear enough. Always tricky on a computer screen.

I'm as unconvinced as you of the approach to foreign affairs that says 'everybody outside the West is just making understandable reactions to what we do, so let's be nice to them and then they'll be nice back'.

Jane Henry said...

Blimey, a lefty who agrees with me!!!

I may have read your piece too fast to pick up on the sarcasm.

I think the liberal intelligentsia (sp??)in the west is incredibly naive when it comes to dealing with islamic fundamentalism. They really really don't think the way we do.

You say you know nowt about history - well here's a little parallel for you. (Sorry if you're still joshing me and I'm teaching you to suck eggs etc) In the sixteenth century a monk you may have heard of called Martin Luther pinned 95 theses onto the church door in Wittenberg in which he pointed out the rather obvious fact of corruption in the catholic church. Due to a variety of circumstances his views got widely circulated and he would have been executed as an heretic had it not been that his plight suited the political purposes of the northern German princes. Luther then set up his own church under their protection. Scroll on to the next generation and a rather unpleasant individual called Calvin developed Luther's ideas into a rather nastier version of Christianity which basically says God chose me, therefore I'm right, you're wrong, and if you lot don't convert I'm going to put you to the sword. By dint of setting up small cells within the city walls of towns like Zurich, he took over the Swiss cantons from within , slaughtering anyone who disagreed with him. His followers then did the same in Holland. Sound at all familiar?

I think Al quaeda is Islam's version of Calvinism.

It is SUCH a pity our lords and masters appear to know no history!


Tom Freeman said...

I'm hazy on the details of the C16th but that sounds interesting - so the early Wahhabis would be the equivalent (ish) of Lutherans and Sayyid Qutb the new Calvin? (Bin Laden as Cromwell?)

It'd be great if the powers that be had a little more perspective and sense of parallels. But of course there are also dangers in taking any historical analogy too far - fighting the last war and all that.

And yes, it can sometimes be a lonely business being a lefty who thinks Bush isn't the root of all evil!