Sticks and stones might hurt Iran

Our government is weighing its options with regard to Iran. Against a feather, I suspect. It's not necessarily an indictment of our foreign policy. There are some 200 nations in the world and they can't all be important. Besides, Iran is heavily armed and far away, so even if we had maintained a more robust military capability and a more assertive role in the western alliance we might not be able to do anything in this case anyway. But we did not. Instead, we threw away our guns and pushed away our allies.

Worse, we didn't do it knowing it meant becoming geopolitical bystanders. Instead we, and by we I mean they, that elitist, well-connected group of academics, public servants and politicians the press calls the "foreign policy community," convinced themselves that in the last decade our influence in the world increased enormously, from middle power to moral superpower. Not, it appears, if you measure influence by capacity to achieve results. Rudyard Kipling said if you go into the jungle you must know what size beast you are. And David Warren wrote recently, "Canada's own 'angry gerbil' response to the insulting handling of the (Zahra) Kazemi trial is, obviously, not going to influence Iranian behaviour." Perhaps nothing would. But why were we so unprepared?

I am not lashing the Canadian government for failing to take more vigorous action. I am lashing it for failing to see that soft power is all soft and no power. Of course I deplore the Iranian government's behaviour. But I never expected my indignant stare to burn holes in its armour.

Our government, by contrast, has forcefully sprung into committee with its habitual, tragicomic rhetorical rolling thunder. An aide to new Foreign Minister Pierre Pettigrew said he "understands the need for quick and decisive action in this matter." Perhaps. But did he understand its impossibility? Not judging by his written statement of "dissatisfaction" at the Iranian court's decision (oooooh; that'll cause sleepless nights in Tehran) which then plumbed the depths of fatuity with "I hope that the Iranian judiciary will have the courage to act." He got his wish: It acquitted the accused, then a prosecutor closed down two Iranian newspapers that dared report on the trial. A Canadian government source said Mr. Pettigrew hadn't ruled out any options. Indeed. First he'd have to have some.

The Globe and Mail ran a "foreign policy community" headline -- "Pettigrew puts Iran on notice" -- and quoted rolling thunder from "an official close to the minister" ("We're looking at different options") and "a senior Canadian Foreign Affairs Ministry official" ("The Canadian government is reviewing its options, but the general view is that one way or another, Iran should be sanctioned") and added editorially that perhaps "Canada should downgrade its permanent relations with the Islamic republic. The next step would be to curtail trade relations. At the same time, Canada should bring the case to other international bodies, from the United Nations Human Rights Commission to the European Union." Yeah. Stop or my sissy friends will shout stop again.

The editorial made one valid point, that European nations and the International Atomic Energy Agency as well as the United States are very worried about Iran's increasingly blatant nuclear weapons program. The Europeans made a deal with Iran in October that it would stop working on nukes and another in February that it would really stop. But when they foolishly insisted the deal be honoured, Iran repudiated it instead. How weird is it when European appeasers make solemn compacts with dictators who don't honour them? Oh, right. Not weird at all. Canada's not the only one holding a busted flush. The Europeans' sophisticated alternative to America's cowboy ways has, um, yes, well ...

The mullahs in Tehran are not frightened of effete liberals throwing hissy fits. They consider us decadent perverts and, as David Warren also recently noted, make no secret of preparing our demise. Like the Soviets, the reason they claim repeatedly not to share our values and act repeatedly as if they did not is ... But no. It cannot be. No one could disagree with sophisticated postmodern liberals, so it must all be George Bush's fault. And since we all scorn and despise Mr. Bush, a few frown beams from us and they'll be begging for mercy.

If arrogance were a source of leverage in diplomacy we would be a colossus. Instead, a nuclear-armed Iran would be stronger than Canada. Yes, stronger. Despite our shining armour of fatuous self-satisfaction. Our only real hope is that the United States will think it mean of Iran to beat up unarmed nerdy Canada. So having weakened America's foreign policy at crucial moments, we are now down to a policy of "Morons. Bastards. Help!"

Call it the gerbil's last squeak. But why is anyone surprised?

[First published in the Ottawa Citizen]

ColumnsJohn Robson