Tony Blair was at pains to point out that the hostages were released ”without any deal, without any negotiation, without any side agreement of any nature.” But he’s missing (or artfully sidestepping) the point: Tehran didn’t want a deal. It wanted the humbling of the Great Satan’s principal ally. And it got it. Very easily. And it paid no price for it. And it has tested in useful ways the empty pretensions of the U.N., the EU and also NATO, whose second largest fleet is now a laughingstock in a part of the world where it helps to be taken seriously.
Even if there is more going on than meets the eye, what meets the eye is so profoundly damaging to the credibility of great nations that no amount of lethal special ops could compensate for it. Power is only as great as the perception of power. The Iranians understand that they can’t beat America or Britain in tank battles or air strikes so they choose other battlefields on which to hit them. That’s why the behavior of the captives gives great cause for concern: There’s no point training guys to be tough fighting men of the Royal Marines when you’re in a bloody little scrap in Sierra Leone (as they were a couple of years ago) if you allow them to crumple on TV in front of the entire world.
So in 2007 the men of the Royal Navy can be kidnapped and “the strong arm of England” (in Lord Palmerston’s phrase) goes all limp-wristed and threatens to go to the U.N. and talk about drafting a Security Council resolution. Backstage, meanwhile, deals are done: An Iranian “diplomat” (a k a Mister Terror Kingpin) suddenly resurfaces in Tehran after having been reported in American detention, his release purely coincidental, we’re told. But it’s the kind of coincidence that ensures more of your men will be kidnapped and ransomed in the years ahead. And, just to remind the world who makes the rules, six more British subjects were killed in southern Iraq even at the moment of the hostages’ release. The Iranians have exposed America’s strongest ally as the soft underbelly of the Great Satan.