The London Telegraph is a conservative British paper with a long history of warmongering. -- In 1908, for example, it published an inflammatory interview with Kaiser Wilhelm that contributed significantly to worsening international tensions that led, ultimately, to World War I. -- In the present U.K.-Iran crisis, the Telegraph is at it again, doing its best to inflame British public opinion. -- Fifteen U.K. sailors and marines were seized on Mar. 23 in disputed circumstances. -- To read the Telegraph, you'd think that the incident had occurred in the English Channel, not the Persian Gulf. -- On Sunday, the paper groused that British sailors had been "sitting ducks" because "today we are perceived as weak." -- The Telegraph had not a word to say about Britain's centuries of imperialism in the region, instead recklessly claiming that the U.K. had become "the easy target for Middle Eastern countries who want to take action against America, but fear that country's military might. The Iranians are typical in this: unable and unwilling to pick a fight with the Americans — the power they call the Great Satan — they pick on the country they have dubbed the Little Satan: us." -- In addition, the Telegraph published, also on Sunday, an outrageous screed by neoimperialist Niall Fegurson. -- Now a professor at Harvard University, Ferguson absurdly claimed Iran had "temporarily enslaved" the sailors, then shamelessly compared Faye Turney to British women who endured "rape and ravishment," cited "James Thomson's immortal lines: 'Rule, Britannia! Britannia, rule the waves: Britons never shall be slaves,'" and fondly recalled the heyday of the British Empire, when after the Indian Mutiny of 1857 "harsh punishments [were] inflicted on actual and suspected mutineers. Prisoners at Peshawar were strapped to cannon-mouths and blown to smithereens. The big tree outside the Cawnpore barracks, whose female inhabitants had been slaughtered after a six-week siege, bent under the weight of the hanged." -- Ferguson is the sort of character Dante had in mind when he placed hypocrites, evil counselors, and other sowers of discord in the Eighth Circle of Hell (there are only nine). -- Another piece depicted Turney as a "[p]lucky Brit" sending "coded messages" and lamented Britain's alleged "military impotence and waning status as a world power." -- The Telegraph posted a "Speakers' Corner" web site where warmongers are posting blood-curdling calls for military action, including the use of nuclear weapons. -- Fortunately, cooler heads are at work. -- British officials are cautioning against hoping for a speedy resolution of the dispute, and the Sunday Telegraph reported that government ministers are "preparing" a plan to "send a Royal Navy captain or commodore to Tehran, as a special envoy of the Government, to deliver a public assurance that officials hope will end the diplomatic standoff." -- Such a figure may present a British "guarantee that we would never knowingly enter [Iranians'] waters without their permission, now or in the future." ...
A WEAK BRITAIN BECOMES A TARGET FOR TYRANTS
Sunday Telegraph (London)
April 1, 2007
The Prime Minister is right about one thing. The kidnapping of 15 British soldiers and sailors by the Iranians is indeed "unjustified and wrong." The question is what to do about it. Tony Blair's dismal foreign policy record over the past decade means that Britain has very few options. But once the release of our captives is secured diplomatically, and Mr. Blair is gone from office, we need a rethink. The aim should be to rebuild British self-confidence and stress to aggressors that we are not to be trifled with.
That the Iranians chose to take hostage British service personnel is in large part a consequence of policy under Mr. Blair. His unquestioning support of the United States has made us the easy target for Middle Eastern countries who want to take action against America, but fear that country's military might. The Iranians are typical in this: unable and unwilling to pick a fight with the Americans -- the power they call the Great Satan -- they pick on the country they have dubbed the Little Satan: us.
They do so because they are confident that they can kidnap our troops without having to face any sort of serious retaliation. Their prediction is regrettably being proved correct. The Americans are not willing to risk their own servicemen to rescue or avenge ours. The almost total absence of the 15 British hostages from the American media demonstrates how marginal a concern their capture is in the United States.
Short of firing nuclear missiles at Teheran, a step which no sane person can want, Britain is not in a position to respond militarily. Our Armed Forces are overstretched, and scarcely able to fulfil their commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan. The budgets of the Navy and the RAF have been squeezed, while billions have been wasted on that futile white elephant, the Eurofighter.
The Prime Minister has made a point of not swaggering on the world stage as if he were the leader of a militarily powerful country, willing and able to use force unilaterally. On the contrary, he has always insisted on his commitment to international law. That is all very well, but as this kidnapping illustrates, the Iranians were able to sail up to the British and capture them without fear. The U.N.-imposed rules of engagement in this case meant our lightly armed sailors could not open fire unless fired upon. To say it made them sitting ducks is an understatement.
Yes, the Government should use all its diplomatic skills to end this crisis. After that we need to become far more robust about defending the national interest and the lives of our own personnel. In comparison to the decade after the Falklands War, when Britain's international reputation was at its height, today we are perceived as weak. The consequence has been the taking of British hostages and their humiliation on Iranian television.
As our poll on attitudes to the Iranian hostage crisis reveals, many Britons, perhaps weary of the failures of military action to produce peace in Iraq, have no stomach for more conflict. Of course that is a sensible view in this specific case.
But the lesson from this great nation's history is that we are more likely to avoid war when we are in a position of strength. We become a target for tyrants when we forget that.
IRAN TARGETED THE SECURITY COUNCIL'S WEAKEST LINK: US
By Niall Ferguson
Sunday Telegraph (London)
April 1, 2007
Let that be a lesson. Even before Britain's politicians and churchmen had finished saying sorry for slavery last Sunday, 15 Britons found themselves temporarily enslaved by the Iranian government. When will our masters ever learn that, in international relations, nice guys finish last?
This is indeed what comes of being too nice. A month before expressing his "deep sorrow and regret for our nation's role in the slave trade", Mr. Blair had announced his intention to reduce British troop levels in Iraq by 1,600 within a matter of months. "The next chapter in Basra's history," he declared, "can be written by Iraqis." Unfortunately, it looks more likely to be written by Iranians. And somehow I don't think they'll be saying sorry afterwards.
Until this crisis, Iran had been on the diplomatic rack. Last weekend, the United Nations Security Council imposed new sanctions to punish the regime in Tehran for continuing with its nuclear program. This reflected growing impatience, even on the part of hitherto indulgent Russia, with the Iranians' persistent defiance. But Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian President, is never to be underestimated. To regain the diplomatic initiative, he targeted the weakest link on the Security Council. This turns out to be us.
There is no serious doubt in my mind that the British sailors taken prisoner on March 23 were in Iraqi rather than Iranian waters. The Iranians themselves initially (and inadvertently) admitted as much. But the key fact remains that, whether through bad luck or negligence, 14 British men and one British woman are now in Ahmadinejad's clutches. Suddenly, the most the Security Council seems able to do -- despite the fact that the captives were on a U.N.-mandated mission -- is to express "grave concern."
Delighted by their coup, Ahmadinejad and his lackeys have been amusing themselves by forcing Leading Seaman Faye Turney to sign bogus letters dictated to her in Borat-ese: "The Iranian people have brought me no harm, but have looked after me well. Even through our wrongdoing, they have still treated us well and humanely, which I am and always will be eternally grateful. Isn't it time for us to start withdrawing our forces from Iraq and let them determine their own future?"
We have been here before, of course. But I do not mean in 2004, when the Iranians briefly incarcerated eight Royal Marines who had strayed into their waters. Nor am I thinking back to 1990, when Saddam Hussein detained 500 British civilians; nor even to 1979, when 66 Americans were held hostage in Teheran by militant Iranian students. I am casting my mind back much further, to the days when the idea of captivity in distant lands loomed much larger in our national consciousness.
Englishwomen in bondage play a central role in Linda Colley's recent masterpiece *Captives: Britain, Empire and the World 1600-1850* (Jonathan Cape, 2002). As Colley points out, it was not only Africans who were enslaved in the 17th and 18th centuries. Tens of thousands of Britons shared their fate if they fell into the hands of the so-called "Barbary Corsairs," the Moroccan and Algerian raiders who infested the Western Mediterranean. The Faye Turney of 1756 was Elizabeth Marsh, seized off the Moroccan coast and subjected, by her own account, to the amorous attentions of the future Sultan Sidi Muhammad. (Incidentally, when is the King of Morocco going to apologize for this?)
Thousands of British settlers in North America also ended up as captives of hostile Indian tribes, like Susanna Johnson of New Hampshire, kidnapped by Abenaki warriors while heavily pregnant in 1754. There were almost as many cases in India, too; often the wives of soldiers, like Sarah Shade, who was imprisoned in the early 1780s by Haidar Ali, ruler of Mysore.
In those days there was little hope of rescue. Britain's armed forces were far too thinly stretched over her rapidly expanding empire for Rambo-style missions to liberate scattered slaves and PoWs. The most the Barbary slaves could hope for was to be ransomed, to which end collections were regularly made in British churches.
It is in this light that we need to understand James Thomson's immortal lines: "Rule, Britannia! Britannia, rule the waves: Britons never shall be slaves." When first set to music by Thomas Arne in 1740 (after which, as if for emphasis, "never" became "never-never-NEver"), this was a forward-looking injunction to Britain's rulers to go ahead and rule the waves, precisely so that Britons would no longer run the risk of being enslaved.
Only gradually, in the period of British imperialism not covered by Colley's book, did the British acquire that kind of power: not necessarily the power to prevent Britons ever being taken captive, but the power to inflict disproportionate retaliation when they were. (And also, let us not forget, the power to abolish the Atlantic slave trade. Had it not been for the policing efforts of the Royal Navy, the legislation passed 200 years ago would have been ineffectual.)
Time and again, the Victorians meted out retribution to those who had the temerity to deprive British subjects of their liberty, the more terrible in cases where the lives and (worse) the honor of Englishwomen were placed in jeopardy. After the Indian Mutiny of 1857, a public that had been appalled by lurid tales of rape and ravishment was delighted to read of the harsh punishments inflicted on actual and suspected mutineers. Prisoners at Peshawar were strapped to cannon-mouths and blown to smithereens. The big tree outside the Cawnpore barracks, whose female inhabitants had been slaughtered after a six-week siege, bent under the weight of the hanged.
An illustration of just how far the Victorians were prepared to go came in 1866, when the Emperor of Abyssinia made the mistake of rounding up the Europeans in his realm and marching them to his mountain fastness at Magdala. In due course, General Sir Robert Napier led an expeditionary force of 13,000 British and Indian soldiers all the way from Bombay to Magdala, where the Abyssinian forces were put to the sword and the captives released.
Nemo me impune lacessit was the ancient motto of the Scottish crown and remains the motto of the Scots Guards: "Wha daur meddle wi me?" in old Scots or, if you prefer modern English: "No one messes with me and gets away with it." In effect, that became the motto of the entire Victorian Empire.
I suppose a remnant of that spirit survived into the 1980s. There was certainly something distinctly Victorian about the Falklands expedition: the scale of the venture, the distance covered and the relatively small number of Britons to be rescued. Yet today, 25 years on, we live in a different world. We could not re-fight the Falklands War if Argentina invaded the islands tomorrow. Nor can we send a raiding party to punish the Iranian government today. If military action is going to be taken against Iran this year, it will not be initiated by Britain, but by the United States. And, to judge by Faye Turney's conspicuous absence from the front pages of the American papers, a British hostage crisis won't be the casus belli.
Which means that we fall back on the tried and tested options of the pre-Victorian Empire. Our captives can either be left to languish, or their freedom can be bought. But what might be the price of saving Seaman Turney? A free pass for the Iranian nuclear program? Or maybe just an Iranian-controlled Basra?
As he approaches the 10th anniversary of becoming Prime Minister, Mr. Blair consciously invites comparisons with Lady Thatcher, the only other premier since Lord Liverpool to endure for so long. Yet this new crisis of captivity, like Mr. Blair's needless kow-towing over slavery, exposes the profound differences between him and her. When it comes to the crunch, Mr. Blair's greatest defect is that he is, despite his undoubted transgressions, fundamentally a nice guy. Margaret Thatcher was neither. Nor, come to think of it, was Queen Victoria. Nor Britannia.
If only you could come back, you iron ladies. Even though you never said sorry -- or precisely because you didn't -- all would be forgiven.
--Niall Ferguson is Laurence A. Tisch Professor of History at Harvard University.
IRAN'S DEFIANCE MAKES BRITAIN LOOK POWERLESS
By Tim Shipman and Gethin Chamberlain
March 31, 2007
Emblazoned on the side of the Cornwall, the Royal Naval frigate at the center of the Iranian hostage crisis, is its call sign: F99, or Foxtrot Nine Nine in military radio parlance.
The capture of 15 sailors and Marines operating from the ship nine days ago started a propaganda war the world over. Politicians and the public reacted with revulsion to the parading of the captured sailors on Iranian television last week.
But it was the use of Cornwall's call sign in an Iranian broadcast that provided one of the few moments of encouragement to officials watching anxiously in London.
"My name is Leading Seaman Faye Turney. I come from England," said the 26-year-old mother, whose treatment has attracted the most criticism, in her first appearance in front of the cameras. "I have served in Foxtrot Nine Nine. I've been in the Navy for nine years."
The stilted nature of her delivery indicated that the words had been written by her Iranian captors. To those watching at the Ministry of Defence, it was clear that Leading Seaman Turney was deliberately sending a message that she was being coerced, but was defying her captors.
"The statement was patently script-written," a defence official said. "She referred to Foxtrot Nine Nine instead of HMS Cornwall. The Iranians clearly don't understand how British sailors refer to their ships.
She didn't correct them. She made a point of getting it wrong. That's what our people are trained to do." The mood was upbeat, the official said: "Plucky Brit sends coded messages home."
For the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign Office it was a rare hopeful moment in a week of secret diplomacy and public grandstanding which began with a series of mistakes and miscalculations that appear to have highlighted Britain's military impotence and waning status as a world power.
Cornwall was engaged in routine operations to combat smuggling in the Gulf on Friday March 23 when officers confronted a vessel offloading cars on to barges, near the mouth of the Shatt al Arab waterway.
British intelligence fears that Iran is using the cover of smuggling consumer goods to ferry weapons to Shia militia groups in Basra.
Two rigid inflatable boats, crewed by eight sailors and seven Marines -- 14 men and one woman -- were dispatched. Hovering overhead was the Cornwall's Lynx helicopter. The pilot watched the Marines board the ship without incident but had to return to the ship to refuel.
Neither the helicopter nor the Cornwall spotted the approach of six fast, heavily armed, Iranian gunboats packed with men, who accosted the British troops as they were climbing back down into their boats.
Officials are reluctant to criticize the kidnapped crew but sources familiar with what happened said that the boarding party approached the smugglers from the blind side, obscuring the party's view of the approaching Iranians. "If you do that, you've got to have air cover so the helicopter can act as your eyes," a military official said.
"It's indicative of the fact that we don't have enough air cover. If you have a helicopter you can put it between your men and the enemy."
The British team, armed only with SA80 rifles, were outgunned and had no choice but to go with the Iranians. Major General Julian Thompson, who commanded 3 Commando Brigade during the Falklands war said: "In my view this is a complete cock-up. I want to know why the Marines didn't open fire or put up some sort of fight."
In fact, the crew of the Cornwall were operating under United Nations rules of engagement which forbid them to shoot unless they are fired upon first. The frigate was more than four miles away and could not come to the rescue because the water was too shallow.
"Cornwall draws about five meters and in water of less than 10 meters manoeuvring a craft of that size is very difficult," a senior defense official said. "In future we should think about using minesweepers, which are smaller, instead. We need heavier weaponry on the light craft, and we must use obscurant smoke."
A defense official said: "The biggest criticism being levelled is one of complacency. They had carried out 66 of these operations without incident. But they should not have become complacent."
Intelligence chiefs now believe that the operation was orchestrated by elements within the Iranian Revolutionary Guards' Council, the military wing of Iran's clerical leaders. Another defense official familiar with the latest intelligence said: "It's the ayatollahs that are behind this. These were clerical troops."
An Iranian opposition group, the National Council of Resistance of Iran, claimed yesterday that it had obtained intelligence from sources in Iran that Khorramshahr, one of three Iranian naval bases in the Persian Gulf, was on a state of full alert the night before the attack in preparation for the operation.
Hossein Abedini, a spokesman for the NCRI, said that a special unit had been moved to the base for the "carefully concocted operation" and that Rear Adml Morteza Safari, commander of the Iranian navy, was kept in close touch by his commanders as the operation took place.
Despite CIA warnings that British forces could be targeted after the U.S. arrested five members of the al Quds force, the intelligence arm of the Republican Guards, in northern Iraq in January, the Government appeared to have been caught flat-footed.
The Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett, at home in her Derby South constituency, said she was "extremely disturbed" by the Iranian action and had asked for an explanation. But some of her civil servants have expressed surprise that she did not rush to London to chair the first meeting of the Cobra crisis committee in Whitehall.
Perhaps the most pertinent criticism of the Government's handling of the crisis has been its failure to read the Iranian regime. "The Foreign Office does not have a clear idea of whom we should be speaking to," the senior civil servant added.
Additional diplomats with Iranian experience, and at least one senior military figure, have flown to Teheran to bolster the British ambassador, Geoffrey Adams. One military figure who returned from Iran's capital early last week had been advising the embassy officials on how to deal with the Revolutionary Guards.
"It's no use talking to their diplomats and government people when it's the Revolutionary Guards who are running their own policy," said a defense official.
Because it was Iran's national New Year holiday, many leading figures in the regime were away as the British group was moved to Tehran. Iran's foreign ministry condemned Britain's "blatant aggression" and claimed the captives had admitted that they knowingly entered Iranian waters.
In private diplomatic exchanges, the Iranians were asked to supply the co-ordinates of the seizure. The first location given appeared to confirm Britain's assertion that its forces were inside Iraqi waters. Then on Monday Iran produced a fresh set of co-ordinates, placing the British crew inside its waters.
On Tuesday, as Tony Blair talked of entering a "different phase," the Ministry of Defence published its own Global Positioning System co-ordinates for the British vessels at the time of the ambush, clearly showing them in Iraqi, not Iranian, waters.
But the tactic backfired. Iran apparently expected the British to negotiate quietly before backing down quietly, as in 2004 when eight British Servicemen were seized in the Shatt al Arab.
They were not pleased to be branded liars and shortly afterwards, Iranian television began running pictures of the captives eating a meal.
First to be identified was Faye Turney, pictured in a headscarf, who was interviewed apparently admitting that the British had been seized because "obviously we trespassed" into Iranian waters.
Mrs. Beckett said she was "very concerned" about the footage but military officials were relieved. "They were alive and well and sending the signals we needed to see," a defense aide said.
The names of some of the others emerged over the following days: Adam Sperry, 22, a Marine based at HM Naval Base Clyde; Joe Tindell, 21, another Marine based on the Clyde; Nathan Thomas Summers, 21, from Cornwall; Paul Barton, 21, Southport, Merseyside; and Danny Masterton, 26, from Muirkirk, Ayrshire.
The next day, the Iranians stepped up the pressure, releasing the first of three letters purporting to have been written by Mrs. Turney in which she again appeared to admit that she and her colleagues had been in the wrong.
The Iranians later produced footage of Nathan Summers, apologizing for trespassing into Iranian waters. Downing Street condemned the videos as "cruel and callous" and "a disgrace."
Privately senior figures at the Iranian embassy in London expressed surprise at the reaction. A defense source who visited for an informal chat on Friday found incredulous diplomats claiming that the 15 sailors were "guests, not hostages." One Iranian diplomat claimed: "Why aren't people pleased that the sailors are happy and well fed?"
But there has been little sign of easing tensions. In Basra on Thursday, British soldiers came under attack from "several bursts of small arms fire," from a dilapidated building near the Iranian consulate.
Iranian officials complained that the British patrol surrounded the consulate and began shooting -- a claim denied by Britain.
If Britain was making little headway with the Iranians, it was not doing much better at the U.N. After five hours of strained talks on Thursday Britain managed to extract a message of support from the Security Council but, crucially, not a call for the immediate release of the hostages after failing to win support from Russia and China.
European Union foreign ministers on Friday condemned Iran but refused to endorse sanctions.
That has left Mr. Blair with few options. One proposal under discussion at yesterday's Cobra meeting is to send a senior naval officer to assure Iran that Britain will never violate its waters, a device that might provide a face-saving climbdown.
All of which leaves the fate of the hostages uncertain. Whitehall officials say military action to snatch them back has never been seriously on the table.
With the news that legal proceedings have begun against the hostages, the fate of Faye Turney hangs in the balance. Her military bosses praised her forbearance last week. Today her friends will gather at her home church in Bicton Heath, near Shrewsbury, to say prayers instead.
• Additional reporting: Philip Sherwell in New York and Kay Biouki in Teheran
MINISTERS SEEK DEAL WITH IRAN FOR CAPTIVES
By Sean Rayment, Tim Shipman, and Patrick Hennessy
Sunday Telegraph (London) April 1, 2007
Ministers are preparing a compromise deal to allow Iran to save face and release its 15 British military captives by promising that the Royal Navy will never knowingly enter Iranian waters without permission.
The Sunday Telegraph has learnt of plans to send a Royal Navy captain or commodore to Tehran, as a special envoy of the Government, to deliver a public assurance that officials hope will end the diplomatic standoff.
The move, which was discussed at a meeting of Whitehall's Cobra crisis committee yesterday, came as Downing Street officials explicitly cautioned against hopes of a speedy outcome and said that families of the hostages should prepare for the "long haul."
The Prime Minister, Tony Blair, and the Foreign Secretary, Margaret Beckett, have been warned that the impasse may develop into a long-term stand-off. Privately, officials are speculating that the crisis could continue for months.
The renewed search for a solution was given greater urgency when a senior Iranian official said that moves had begun to put the 15 British captives on trial.
Iran's ambassador to Moscow, Gholamreza Ansari, announced: "Legal moves to determine the guilt of the British sailors have been launched." In an interview with a Russian television channel, he said: "The legal process is going on and has to be completed and if they are found guilty they will face punishment."
Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad plans to make a formal statement on the crisis on Tuesday. Last night, he denounced Britain's failure to apologize and decision to go to the United Nations: "This is not the legal and logical way."
Mrs. Beckett revealed that Britain has replied to a letter from the Iranian Embassy in London, sent on Thursday, which called on the Government to acknowledge that the sailors had trespassed into Iranian waters and confirm that it would not happen again.
She said: "Everyone regrets that this position has arisen. What we want is a way out of it. We want it peacefully and we want it as soon as possible."
Defense officials emphasized that they were not preparing to concede that the two British boats detained nine days ago were at fault. But one said: "We are quite prepared to give the Iranians a guarantee that we would never knowingly enter their waters without their permission, now or in the future.
We are not apologizing, nor are we saying that we entered their waters in the first place. But it may offer a route out of the crisis."
Details of the strategy emerged as a former Falklands War commander expressed fury at how the sailors surrendered to Iranian gunboats without a fight.
Maj. Gen. Julian Thompson called for a review of the Navy's rules of engagement, dictated by the United Nations, that they cannot open fire unless they are shot at first. "In my view this thing is a complete cock-up," he said.
"I want to know why the Marines didn't open fire or put up some sort of fight. My fear is that they didn't have the right rules of engagement, which would allow them to do this."
A former Iranian ambassador to the U.N., Sayed Rajai Korasani, said that Britain should be more conciliatory and called for a delegation of MPs to seek the handover of the sailors.