The UK's dream world, Jimmy Carter's legacy

Melanie Phillips:


... in its response to these events, Britain seems to be in some kind of dreamworld. There is no sense of urgency or crisis, no outpouring of anger. There seems to be virtually no grasp of what is at stake.

Some commentators have languidly observed that in another age this would have been regarded as an act of war. What on earth are they talking about? It is an act of war. There can hardly be a more blatant act of aggression than the kidnapping of another country’s military personnel.

What clearly does belong to another age is this country’s ability to understand the proper way to respond to an act of war. When his Marines were seized by the Iranians, the commander of HMS Cornwall, Commodore Nick Lambert, did nothing to stop them and later said it was probably all a misunderstanding. If Nelson had been such a diplomat in such circumstances, Trafalgar would surely have been lost.

Our Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett said the Government had been ‘disturbed’ by the incident. The Prime Minister took three days to say that the seizure was ‘unjustified and wrong’ and mouthed platitudes about the welfare of the detainees. Yesterday he talked severely of ‘moving to a new phase’.

My goodness, the Iranian regime must be shivering in its shoes. With what contempt they must regard us — a country that stands impotently by while its people are kidnapped and then does no more than bleat that it is ‘disturbed’.

What on earth has happened to this country of ours, for so many centuries a byword for defending itself against attack, not least against piracy or acts of war on the high seas?

Twenty-five years ago, we re-took the Falklands after the Argentines invaded. Faced with an act of war against our dependency, Mrs Thatcher had no hesitation. Aggression had to be fought and our people defended. It was the right thing to do.

Can anyone imagine Mrs T wringing her hands in this way over Iran’s seizure of our Marines?


In 1979, Ayatollah Khomeini declared war on the West. We took no notice. In the years that followed, Iran repeatedly attacked western interests. The response was always muted for fear of something worse.

Iran became a major sponsor of world terrorism. It is behind Hezbollah and Hamas and is a principal source of war and instability in the Middle East. Its current president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, believes that if he brings about an apocalypse he will hasten the return to earth of the Shia messiah, the Twelfth Imam.

Now Iran is racing to develop nuclear weapons with which it threatens to wipe Israel off the map and with which it would hold us to ransom. Just imagine the position we would be in if our Marines had been kidnapped by a nuclear Iran.


We just don’t seem able to grasp the true nature and scale of the Iranian threat. Indeed, there is a distinct air of irrationality about a Britain which tells opinion pollsters that it believes President Bush is a greater threat to world peace than Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. What terrible moral confusion.

She goes on to offer some actions that need to be taken. One of the most important is to change the rules of engagement. Had the navy blown the Iranian ship out of the water that was involved in the kidnapping, the victims would have been saved and the Iranians would have huff and puffed and done nothing. By doing nothing they have made the situation worse. It should be noted that the Iranian act of war was exactly the same as the one Hezballah used against Israel to start the latest war in Lebanon. Hezballah's Nasrallah has said that if he had know the Israelis would react the way they did he would not have done it. The Iranians know know that the Brits are not as tough as the Israelis.


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