William Hague, the curate’s egg

Our Foreign Secretary’s photograph should appear in dictionaries to illustrate the concept of curate’s egg. Yesterday the good part warned of the dangers inherent in Iran acquiring nuclear weapons. But then the bad part took over and things went downhill all the way.

Mr Hague warned that we’re risking a ‘new cold war’, this time with Iran. Yet nothing can be further from the truth. We’re not risking a new cold war, we’re smack in the middle of it. What we are risking is nuclear war, which is as hot as they come.

Considering that I’m-a-Dinner-Jacket doesn’t even bother to conceal his aggressive intent, the West clearly can’t allow his regime to affix nuclear warheads to the long-range missiles it has already, those that can reach not only Jerusalem but even London. What we need, and have a right to expect, from our leaders at this time is clear thinking, resolve and courage. What we get is platitudes.

Such as Hague’s yesterday’s contributions: ‘We support a twin-track strategy of sanctions and pressure and negotiations on the other hand.’ [We’re no doubt encouraged by the resounding success this strategy has produced so far.] ‘All options must remain on the table’ because a military attack would have ‘enormous downsides’.

What happened to ‘look before you leap’ and ‘a rolling stone gathers no moss’? Why didn’t they make it into this glossary of clichés?

We know war is nasty business, Mr Hague; no reminder necessary, thank you very much. We also know, however, that sometimes it takes small wars to prevent big ones. Craven appeasement of tyrants — pardon me, I meant ‘a twin-track strategy’ — has been known to produce nothing but disasters.

Hitler, for example, could have been stopped dead with a minimum of fuss at any time until his westward thrust. Even after the Nazis attacked Poland they were there for the taking, what with not a single tank covering their western border (where the French and the British had about 1,400 tanks safely parked, with handbrakes on). Hague’s predecessor in the job, Anthony Eden as he then was, objected bitterly but was overruled by Neville Chamberlain, whom, at Maastricht time, John Major acknowledged as his role model. And then bombs came down on England, but at least their yield wasn’t measured in megatons, and there was no radioactive fallout.

Considering that Iran’s bombs are likely to be different from Luftwaffe’s blockbusters, the military option is the only one ‘on the table’. All others have been blown off the tabletop — the risk is too high to shilly-shally.

Rather than putting pressure on Israel not to take preemptive action, Hague should be in Washington, working out the diplomatic specifics of a coordinated attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities and infrastructure — and then in Saudi Arabia, making sure the consensus in the Arab League doesn’t go against us. Time is running out and, to put it into the kind of idiom Mr Hague seems to be most comfortable with, a stitch in time saves nine.

But at least Hague is aware of the danger. Shashank Joshi, of the defence think tank the Royal United Services Institute, isn’t. ‘If we could live with nuclear weapons in the hands of totalitarian, genocidal states like Stalin’s Russia or Mao’s China,’ he said, ‘Iran in contrast… is far more rational’. If that’s the level of strategic thinking coming out of those tanks, they should all be decommissioned and broken up for scrap.

Stalin’s Russia and Mao’s China were indeed totalitarian and genocidal regimes, but they didn’t rely on terrorism as their primary tactic in confronting the West. They were suspended in a global (or, in China’s case, regional) standoff with the West, and their aggressive ambitions were held in check by the certainty of nuclear obliteration by an American counterstrike. The American strategy behind this Mexican standoff was called MAD (Mutual Assured Destruction), and, say what you will about it, it worked.

Today’s ‘rational’ Iran, on the other hand, isn’t at all like the Soviet Union — it can’t harbour any hopes of matching up to the West in a mano a mano situation. It’s more like an Al Qaeda with national borders, and it’s with Al Qaeda that Iran is reported to be coordinating its forthcoming actions. There wouldn’t be a swarm of bombers and ICBMs darkening the sky over London, Paris or Tel Aviv. But there well may be one nuclear missile hitting home, or one nuclear charge surreptitiously delivered in a suitcase by a foreign student of the LSE.

That’s why Iran’s leaders are indulging in the kind of brinkmanship that’s positively goading the West into an attack. They aren’t really scared of the hell that could be unleashed by the three US carrier groups in the region. They are prepared to take massive casualties in the hope of then inflicting them with plausible justification. The only action they would be afraid of is one that would wipe out their evil regime, but they think the West is likely to stop just short of it. They are prepared to gamble on the West’s cowardice and indecision, and they must feel the odds are good.

‘If they feel their regime is under existential threat, if they feel they face a Libya-like situation, they would have the option of building a bomb,’ explains Mr Joshi. And doing what with it? Putting it up on a pedestal and worshipping it from afar? ‘Building a bomb’ is precisely the option the likes of I’m-a-Dinner-Jacket must be denied. Whatever it takes. Before it’s too late.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.