Now the Iranians are saying the British sailors might be tried:
If Britain continued its current approach to the standoff, Larijani told Iranian state radio, “this case may face a legal path. British leaders have miscalculated this issue.”
I think there’s no question the Brits have made some miscalculations, beginning with the lack of firepower at the start of it. The actual details of the situation involved in the sailors’ abduction is unclear, though; I’ve read many conflicting reports.
I hope Iran has miscalculated as well, in its opinion that it has nothing to fear by actions of this sort. They seem to believe the West is, in the old phrase, a “paper tiger— a gargantuan Gulliver bound, tied, and rendered helpless by its own busy internal Lilliputians.
Who’s the audience for the latest show trial? Certainly not the West; all but the fringiest of the fringe is aware of the bogus nature of such a trial. My guess is that they are playing to their own masses, who may or may not be buying what they’re selling.
It used to be that propaganda of this sort had more effect back in the days when it was easier to regulate the dissemination of information to a population. A country such as North Korea still does this quite effectively, but the price North Korea pays is isolation from the rest of the world and economic stagnation. Iran ‘s people have more conduits of competing information through which to judge the truth or falsehood of the antics of their own government.
But of course there’s no need for a show trial to ever happen. Threatening one has another effect—making Iran seem powerful, and Britain and the West weak as we fumble around for the proper response, and as we say things like the following, from Britain’s Foreign Office:
This doesn’t change our position, we have made it perfectly clear that our personnel were in Iraqi waters and we continue to request immediate consular access to them and their immediate release.
Note the polite language: “request.” I can only hope they are doing more than “requesting” behind the scenes. But for public consumption, what we mostly hear is a sort of exquisite politeness from the Brits. Here’s Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett:
I am concerned. [Iran's ambassador to Moscow] is not the first person to have made sabre-rattling noises…The message I want to send is I think everyone regrets that this position has arisen. What we want is a way out of it.
I personally don’t think that’s the right message to send. There’s a sort of wistful wishful thinking here, a refusal to understand the nature of the opposition, a denial that can only be described as potentially suicidal.
Blair has been a little more energized, but not very much more, considering the circumstances:
Blair told reporters in Manchester that the “parading and manipulation” of British service personnel would “fool no one,” and would only “enhance people’s sense of disgust with Iran.”
And another Foreign Office official called the parading “outrageous.”
Outrage and disgust are fine, but they are emotions, and fairly impotent ones at that. What are needed are credible threats of a certain course of events—economic and otherwise—that will be followed by the West if the sailors are not returned immediately. A bit of “sabre-rattling” wouldn’t be out of line, either.
The truth is that the precedent for this sort of thing favors Iran, and Iran knows it. Milk it as much as possible for the propaganda value, and know that the West will probably mouth platitudes while the show goes on.