'We' are not the world

According to the newspapers, the international community is putting pressure on Iran over nuclear weapons. This is very bad news.

Consider the Monday New York Times story that the U.S. wants new sanctions that "could include a cutoff of investments to the Iranian oil-and-gas industry and restrictions on many more banks than those currently blacklisted."

I'm sure that has Tehran shaking. But with laughter, not fear. The same day the Globe and Mail editorialized in favour of "sanctions with real teeth" because an "end to Iran's nuclear-weapons ambitions must ... be a priority for the world."

But life is not a Coke ad (or a Globe editorial) and we are not the world.

Remember Qaddafi and Ahmadinejad at the UN? That's "the world". So is Robert Mugabe. And 56 members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, many strongly favouring Tehran's atomic-death-to-Jews policy. That's the world, not the fictitious entity in the Globe's Tuesday headline "Will the world get tough on Iran?"

Too many journalists share the delusion of politicians like German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Britain's Prime Minister Gordon Brown and U.S. President Barack Obama that Western leaders are moral superpowers some of whom just happen to have nuclear weapons. (Canadian politicians even think relinquishing nuclear arms increased our global influence.)

And they are further dangerously convinced their virtue is irresistible, provided nothing remotely savouring of consequences taints their nobility.

Thus the American president, on the weekend, spoke of sanctions as an alternative to diplomacy rather than a component of it. As for Frederick the Great's "diplomacy without force is like music without instruments," it's a tune they cannot carry.

Last Thursday, the hapless Gordon Brown uttered two revealing fatuities. First, "The level of deception by the Iranian government and the scale of what we believe is the breach of international commitments will shock and anger the entire international community." Second, there is "no choice but to draw a line in the sand."

By "the entire international community" he means not actual governments but high-minded post-modern liberals like himself who think words are deeds and therefore use them in highly inappropriate ways. For instance calling vacuity "pressure." And using "line in the sand" in the opposite sense to the original.

According to Livy's History of Rome, when Seleucid emperor Antiochus IV invaded Egypt with a massive army, a solitary Roman official named Gaius Popillius Laenas confronted him with an ultimatum from the Roman Senate: withdraw or fight.

Antiochus (whose realm included modern Iran) offered to discuss it with his advisors but Popillius drew a line around him in the sand and said "Before you cross this circle I want you to give me a reply for the Senate." Antiochus sweated a bit then promised to withdraw, and did, because Rome had the capacity and demonstrated will to act.

This time the legions will not come, and Ahmadinejad knows it. Besides, he doesn't care. He thinks if he and we die in a nuclear exchange, he will go to heaven and laugh at us eating Zaqqum berries in hell. (Koran, Sura 37: "We have made this tree a scourge for the unjust. It grows in the nethermost part of Hell, bearing fruit like devils' heads: on it they shall feed, and with it they shall cram their bellies, together with draughts of scalding water.") Against which we threaten further restrictions on banking, unless China says no.

Gordon Brown disposes of considerable conventional and nuclear forces. But he plainly lacks the will to use even the former against Iran. So Ahmadinejad did not just cross his line in the sand but danced all over it hooting death to Israel. And Western leaders stood there pretending not to notice, the exquisite crowning touch in their ghastly public shaming.

When Iran tested its newest missiles on Monday, Britain's Foreign Secretary brushed it off as "part of an annual provocation" while Javier Solana, the European Union's babbler-in-chief, said in talks with Iran starting Thursday: "'Failure is clear -- if there is no more meetings it's failure ... Success is more difficult to judge." We want meetings, they want missiles. If both succeed, it will go ill with us.

So let me translate those newspaper stories into real world language. The Iranian government is building nuclear weapons so it can blow the Jews off the face of the earth, and our leaders have neither the spine to act nor the wit to perceive their own shameful paralysis. It's that bad.

[First published in the Ottawa Citizen]

ColumnsJohn Robson