Alex Massie

David Cameron Fails his Persian Exam.

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Iain Dale, however, thinks Cameron passed with flying colours. I suppose it was merely a matter of time before the "Why Won't Obama Come to the Aid of the Protestors?" meme spread to this side of the Atlantic and now, courtesy of the good* Mr Dale, it has. And apparently Gordon Brown and David Milliband havel also failed to help the Iranian regime by offering sufficiently forceful denunciations of their behaviour. That's not what Iain wants, but it's what would have happened if the President, Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary had followed his advice.

Iain's post is headlined "What Would Thatcher & Reagan Have Done About Iran?" which is itself a giveaway in as much as any time you see that question asked you know that dubious historical analogies and desperately simplistic, knee-jerk assumptions are bound to follow in swift order. Sure enough, Iain's post is no exception. Here's his commentary:

Over the last week I have been perplexed, and a little appalled, at the response of both the British and American governments to what has been going on in Iran. Their attitude has been totally 'hands off' on the basis that they don't want to interfere in the internal affairs of another country. And yet Britain and the US are supposed to be beacons of democracy and free thought - countries who have been known for spreading the gospel of freedom all round the world.

Think back to the early 1980s. Did Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan stand on one side when Solidarity was in its infancy? Did they think that uttering words of support might be damaging? No, not a bit of it. They recognised the importance of sending a clear signal that those who were fighting oppression and dictatorship were in their thoughts.

I thought of that when I listened to David Miliband's weasel words last week. And when Barack Obama couldn't bring himself to say what the leader of the free world should have said.

And then on Thursday David Cameron uttered the words I was expecting to hear from Obama: "The protesters should know this - we are on their side". Well, hallelujah.

At least one politician said what others were too weak to.


I don't suppose Iain really wants to hand the regime a propaganda victory - in that sense he's not in the same category as some of Obama's domestic critics - but that is what he is calling for. This is foolish and dangerous foolishness at that.

Now it's also true that what David Cameron says doesn't matter very much - at least in this instance. But this isn't the first gauche or misguided foreign policy gaffe Cameron has made. One need only think back to last year's Russo-Georgian conflict and his rush to Tblisi to be reminded that, in foreign policy at least, Cameron still seems prone to reckless interventions. Like John McCain he was quick to wrap himself in the Georgian flag and, symbolically at least, pretend that "we are all Georgians now". But we weren't then and aren't now. Nor, despite the heroism of the protestors (and for the record, I really, really hope they succeed) are we "all Iranians today".

There are many things that can be said about what's unfolding in Iran, but glib sermonising from the countries held responsible  - and not unfairly so - for ending Iran's previous democratic experiment are hardly in that category. It's not about us, it's about them. Cameron's comments, in contrast to the delicately-crafted statements from Obama and Miliband, suggest he has not yet grasped this elementary but essential point. Nor, alas, has Iain Dale.

Ayatollah Khamenei said on Friday that "Some diplomats from the west are showing their real face and that they are enemies. The worst are the British."  We may know this to be nonsense and much of the Iranian opposition may know it to be nonsense but in as much as we inject ourselves into the drama we are a distraction at a time when this ghastly Iranian regime needs all the distractions it can find. So why help them?The situationin Iran still seems fluid and uncertain. There may be a time when more forceful interventions from foreign governments prove more helpful than counter-productive but I'm not convinced we've reached that stage yet.

As has been explained elsewhere in the blogosphere, the comparison between what's happening in Iran and what happened in Eastern Europe 20 years ago is, I'm afraid, simply facile. The Poles, Iain must remember, were rebelling against an occupying and foreign power. What we see in Iran is scarcely comparable. Equally, I rather think that Thatcher and Reagan might, had they been confronted by such a situation, have reacted in ways rather different from those supposed by their most ardent cheerleaders today. For one thing, Reagan was quite happy to deal with the Iranians if that advanced the prospects of freeing American hostages in Lebanon. Nor does it dim the lustre of Ronnie and Maggie's resolute anti-communism to observe that each was prepared to parley with the Soviets and that each was less than wholly consistent in their professed admiration for the universal cause of democracy and the fundamental rights of men.

They were, then, mere politicians constructed from mere flesh and blood. They were neither paragons of virtue nor of consistency (Hello Nicaragua! Hello General Pinochet!) and it borders on the infantile to suppose or pretend they were.

Not talking, of course, can be a sign of strength and talking can be a sign of posturing. As Daniel Larison says, this is no time for denunciation,in part because such denunciation is superfluous. It's easy for opposition politicians to say the "right" things but that doesn't mean they always should. David Cameron made this mistake this week. We should - and it's not often I write this - be thankful that Gordon Brown and David Miliband did not do likewise. In fact, this brouhaha raises some rather uncomfortable questions about Cameron's fitness for office. The sentiments are fine, the judgement is lacking. And while this is scarcely the most important lesson of this Tehran drama, it's a notable and troubling one all the same.

At least that's how it seems right now. As with everything else Persian this may change and change quickly. We shall see.

*Not meant sarcastically.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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