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This Will Play Big In Tehran

According to the Daily Telegraph, British Foreign Minister William Hague told reporters that the military option for dealing with Iran remains “on the table”.  (In British English that expression may be slightly more forceful than in the US.  When our Congress ‘tables’ an issue, it postpones it indefinitely.  When they ‘table’ something in Britain, it means they plan to get right on it.)  Hague’s emphasis remains on a peaceful rather than a military process of coercion, but the sabre is visible at his side even if he isn’t rattling it at the moment.

This will be big news in Iran, where Britain continues to hold an outsized place in the public imagination.  Britain has been seen as Iran’s arch-nemesis for more than one hundred years, and Iran is the last place on earth where some argue that Britain is the subtle string puller manipulating the stupid Americans.  (Of course, in common with many of their neighbors and a couple of anti-anti-anti-Semitic political scientists in our own happy land, the Iranians believe that the Elders of Zion have a major role to play.)

Britain messed with Iran’s head in the 19th and early 20th century.  Iranians thought Britain would protect them from Russia, and felt both angry and foolish when they inevitably discovered that Britain was thinking of its own good and not Iran’s.  British commercial penetration of Iran in an age of crude imperialism and overwhelming western superiority was profoundly destabilizing, and as British investment and British interests grew, British political influence in the country became both pervasive and hard to analyze.  Meanwhile, the British helped establish the Gulf monarchies in ways that reduced the traditional role of Shi’a groups and merchants in those societies.  The Iranian penchant for conspiracy theories did the rest; decades of Iranians have lived and died in the belief that Britain was actively and continuously conspiring against them.

Nothing as trivial as the rise of the United States to world power could defeat so deeply held a belief, and there are people in Iran today who argue that the Lion still counts for more than the Eagle.  And those who do not share this belief still think (with much reason) that the two powers still act in concert, especially on matters affecting Iran and the Gulf.

There are a few places in the world where Britain’s actions are still scrutinized as closely as they were before World War Two.  Iran is one, and Argentina is another.  In Argentina, there has been gnashing of teeth over Prince William’s temporary assignment to the British force protecting the Falklands from stray Argentine ambitions.  In Tehran the problems are more serious, and Hague’s words will be carefully weighed — as indeed in this case they should be.

[Note to VM readers looking for good books: William Hague is one of those British politicians who writes well about history.  His lives of the younger Pitt and William Wilberforce are well worth reading.]

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  • Haim

    You’ll be surprised, but there many Russians that believe the same, still.

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