Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Has Cameron failed his Persian exams?

Has Cameron failed his Persian exams?

David Cameron’s comments to the Conservative Friends of Israel dinner that the Iranian regime should be threatened with sanctions, and that the protestors should know that the British are on their side have received something of a mixed reception.  While Iain Dale is impressed, and invokes the spirit of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, Alex Massie is decidedly less so.

Alex, for whom I have a great deal of time, bases his argument – that Cameron has “failed his Persian exam” – on the following point:

In as much as they are concerned with the opinion of foreign politicians, the protestors almost certainly do know that "we are on their side". The point, as any cursory acquaintance with Iranian history should remind any commentator, is that the two countries on earth that should say the least right now are the United Kingdom and the United States of America. This is, as I've written before, a battle for, forgive the cliché, the hearts and minds of the Iranian people. If the authorities can, however implausibly, tar the opposition by associating them with the two countries that orchestrated the 1953 coup in Iran then that benefits the regime, not the protestors.

Fair point.  Except that the authorities are going to be making that case anyway.  Witness Khamenei’s description of Britain as “the most evil of foreign powers”.  Obama has, Massie says, been making “delicately crafted statements” to avoid giving the Iranian regime the chance of tarring the protests as American inspired.  And yet the regime’s response has still been to say:

What happened in this case was that the U.S. and the West were expecting the presidency to be transferred to an element with whom they perhaps felt more at ease. They viewed this as an opportunity to exert pressure on the Islamic Republic. Therefore, behind the scenes of everything that is going on, one sees the same people who have been lying in wait for the Islamic Republic.

So the downside of publicly supporting democratic protests against a military dictatorship (as Iran has revealed itself to be) is that the Ayatollah’s regime will make speeches denouncing the West as a pernicious influence behind those protests.  Which they will do anyway, with the same credibility, whether that public support is forthcoming or not.  So why not follow the example of Daniel Webster?

In 1823, first-term congressman Daniel Webster spoke up in support of the Greek revolution. Responding to critics who said that mere rhetorical support would do the revolutionaries no good, Webster said: "I hope it may. It may give them courage and spirit. It may assure them of public regard, teach them that they are not wholly forgotten by the civilized world, and inspire them with constancy in the pursuit of their great end."

And in any case, Webster continued, support for those fighting for freedom abroad was "due to our own character, and called for by our own duty."

As a final point, I think it is overly harsh of Alex to criticise David Cameron for voicing his support for the protestors, and to draw from it the conclusion that he is unready for office.  After all, other voices echoing this include Nicolas Sarkozy, Angela Merkel and (no! But yes!)  Barack Obama.

What you're seeing in Iran are hundreds of thousands of people who believe their voices were not heard and who are peacefully protesting and - and seeking justice. And the world is watching. And we stand behind those who are seeking justice in a peaceful way. And, you know, already we've seen violence out there. I think I've said this throughout the week. I want to repeat it that we stand with those who would look to peaceful resolution of conflict, and we believe that the voices of people have to be heard, that that's a universal value that the American people stand for and this administration stands for.

Oh, and what has been the reward for Miliband and Brown’s heroic restraint?

Gordon Brown has just told the Commons that two Iranian diplomats have been expelled from Britain - after the Iranians expelled two British diplomats.

This comes just hours after the Iranian administration accused the UK of stirring up dissent among protesters in Tehran and elsewhere - a claim denied by London.

I simply don’t see that the softly-softly approach is achieving any benefits (for Britain or for Iran) whatsoever.  Nor why the fact that David Cameron voiced his support for the protestors in virtually identical terms to Obama should him (or either of them) unsuitable for high office.  Perhaps Alex Massie can explain?


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