Written by Joe Loconte.
In a halting, contradictory, and ultimately languid speech to the House of Commons yesterday, British Defense Secretary Des Browne seemed to incarnate the nation’s image of prevarication and weakness following the Iranian seizure and release of 15 of its Royal Navy seamen.
Mr. Browne defended the Navy’s order that their boarding party, operating in Iraqi waters, surrender to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard in order to avoid a fight “we could not have won.” He regretted his own decision allowing the freed crew members to sell their stories to the media, but then seemed to rationalize it. “The circumstances were exceptional, and the pressure on the families was intense.” Mr. Browne’s wing man throughout this fiasco, Home Secretary John Reid, claimed it was “courageous to say we got this wrong.”
Opposition leaders aren’t buying the Labour Party’s updated version of Profiles in Courage (John Kennedy’s Pulitzer prize-winning book). Shadow Defense Secretary Liam Fox excoriated the government’s actions as a “humiliating fiasco” that has weakened Britain’s reputation abroad and sown division among the Armed Forces. “Does no one feel responsible for the shame this episode has brought upon Britain at the hands of the pariah state of Iran?” He all but demanded that Mr. Browne resign.
Since the release of the British hostages earlier this month, attention has fixated on the uproar over the soldiers who sold their stories to the tabloid media, and the political fallout of that feckless decision. Most media coverage has zealously avoided the troublesome security issues about Iran and its designs in Iraq. For starters, why didn’t Britain learn the lessons from its encounter with Iranian hostage-taking in the Shatt al-Arab waterway in 2004? Mr. Browne finally announced the formation of an official inquiry into the matter. Yet he also admitted that the Navy has suspended its boarding operations of Iranian vessels. “But this should fool no one,” he claimed. “Serious observers do not believe that Iran has emerged from this in a stronger position.”
A second issue involves the consequences of Iran’s unprovoked seizure of a British crew, operating under a UN mandate in Iraqi waters. Their mission, fully supported by the Iraqi government, was to intercept weapons that are fomenting terrorist violence. BBC editors and their counterparts at The Guardian ignore the problem altogether or treat it with stoic agnosticism. The BBC’s background stories, for example, continue to cite the “UK version of events” alongside the “Iranian version of events”—as if there is any rational doubt about the location of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard vessels and the flagrant illegality of their actions.
For his part, Mr. Brown seems to believe that British diplomacy already has achieved all that was required: the safe release of the hostages. “We therefore galvanized the international community to put pressure on the Iranian regime,” he told the House. “I am in no doubt that this focused minds at the top of the Iranian regime.” Yes, the delusional minds in Tehran are indeed focused—contemplating an American ally that apparently lacks the will to protect its own seamen against a lawless, Islamo-fascist regime.
Finally, there’s little sign that anyone will press the question of what Iran is doing to support terrorist atrocities in Iraq—and what actions must be taken to stop it. On BBC’s Radio 4 last week, host John Humphreys asked Shadow Foreign Secretary William Hague if the British Navy shouldn’t get out of the weapons interdiction business altogether and instead run a customs operation. (Time to get that passport photo updated, Osama.) When Mr. Hague reminded him that Iranian vessels are suspected of smuggling deadly arms into Iraq, Mr. Humphreys dismissed the charge: “There’s precious little evidence of that.”
Rather, there’s precious little evidence that liberal politicians and their media allies have acquired an adult appreciation for the moral complexities of the post-9/11 world. They seem to reserve their skepticism for those democratic leaders willing to confront the nightmarish intentions of radical Islamists. In a meeting in New York yesterday, Labour secretary Hilary Benn—vying for the party’s deputy leadership post—announced that UK officials will stop using the expression “the war on terror” because “we can’t win by military means alone.”
Those must be soothing words indeed to the terrorist enemies of Britain and America, who have repeatedly declared their desire to obtain the most destructive weapons possible to defeat us. For they are in a war with us, a religious war, a war that they—and their allies in Tehran—are desperate to win.
Joseph Loconte is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and editor of The End of Illusions: Religious Leaders Confront Hitler's Gathering Storm. This essay is adapted from an article that appears in today's National Review Online.