What are Britain’s options?

The week's news at a glance.

Hostages in Iran

Britain has been “reduced to humiliation,” said Fergus Shanahan in the London Sun. Iran’s unhinged president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, otherwise known as “Ahmad Dinnerjacket,” has kidnapped 15 British sailors and marines and forced them to falsely confess that they had trespassed on Iranian territory. We can only guess “how many threats were needed” to force Faye Turney, the one female captive, to wear a head scarf “and grovel for a mistake the world knows she did not make.” You’d think we would all want to see Ahmadinejad “boiled in a barrel of his own stinking oil.” Remember how Brits reacted when Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands in 1982 and forced British soldiers to surrender? “The crushing sense of national shame at pictures of them lying on the ground minus their guns was overwhelming.” The foreign secretary resigned, and the nation went to war—and won. Yet now, as our captive soldiers are humiliated and “paraded before the cameras,” we do nothing.

How would you have us behave? asked Ronan Bennett in The Guardian. We certainly don’t have the moral high ground. The U.K., remember, abetted the U.S. in the heinous and illegal policy of “extraordinary rendition” of terror suspects to countries that torture. Turney may have been “forced to wear the hijab,” but “as far as we know she has not been forced into an orange jumpsuit.” Nor do any of the captive Britons appear to have been “shackled, blindfolded, forced into excruciating physical contortions for long periods, or denied liquids and food.” Sadly, our complicity in such crimes has robbed us of any credibility when we express outrage about the fate of our sailors and marines.

“Quite simply, Iran is holding most of the cards,” said The Independent in an editorial. The “catastrophe in Iraq” has destroyed any diplomatic leverage we may have had in the region. Then, too, we “played it wrong diplomatically” by rushing to the U.N. Security Council too soon and demanding that it censure Iran. The council had just passed a full sanctions resolution against Iran for failing to stop its nuclear research; Russia and China weren’t prepared to pile on more criticism. So on the kidnap issue, all we got was a weak resolution expressing “grave concern.” Still, that was enough for Iran to take back its promise to release Turney. The U.N., then, is not the way forward. Perhaps the European Union could be. The E.U. still has diplomatic links with Iran, and what’s more, it has impressive economic clout as Iran’s largest trading partner.

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Simon Jenkins

The Sunday Times

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