Carter’s Legacy<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-comfficeffice" /> Jimmy Carter is proud of the mistakes he made in the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis. He brags to this day of how he talked tough to the mullahs, conveying the message quietly that if any of the hostages were harmed, he would blockade Iran’s ports. He froze the Iranian government’s assets in the United Sattes and began what was essentially ransom negotiations with kidnappers. Carter’s resolve not to do anything sent a clear message to Iran: It’s party time with American prestige and power in the world. The 53 hostages came home alive, and thousands of people have died since as a direct result of Iran’s boldness and deceit, including hundreds of Americans murdered in cold blood. Iran did not get the Shah, the original object of the hostage seizure, but it got the gift that just keeps giving. The knowledge it can flaunt international law and push around opponents well over its weight. It has been spreading terrorism throughout the Middle East ever since, sparking and fanning the flames of war. Iran has fallen back on a tried-and-true tactic with the seizure of 15 Royal Navy sailor and Royal Marines who were engaged in security operations in Iraqi waters. There has been some debate about whether this was planned out, at what level, and what the precise objective of this action might be. As the British remain in Iranian custody, under threat of trial for espionage, none of that matters. The opportunity Iran has seized is clear enough. Iran is trying to throw its opponents off balance at a critical moment both in the insurgency in Iraq and in the nuclear debate in the United Nations. Iran is trying to divide and conquer, peeling the British away from the United States. Iran is also engaged in measured brinksmanship, gambling that it can bring about a humiliation in advance of any military action, heightening the western public’s fears and wearing down will for a confrontation. Iran has cleverly recognized that by seizing Brits instead of Americans, it greatly reduces the likelihood of an American response. Tony Blair said yesterday, “I would hope that this is resolved in the next few days. The quicker it is resolved, the easier it will be for all of us.” Hopefully this is the “speaking softly” part of Teddy Roosevelt’s famous line, for public consumption. The Iranians do not appear to be particularly intimidated. Typically in the past, in cases such as the Chinese detention of American naval aviators forced down in a collision with a Chinese fighter in 2000, and the seizure of British soldiers by Iran in 2004, the aggrieved party puts up with some public humiliation and plays it low key in order to get its people back alive. The case here is different. The extent of Iranian interference in Iraq has become clear since 2004. The state of cold war that has existed between the United States and Iran since 1979 has turned into a hot proxy war as Iran floods weapons and cash into Iraq, training terrorists to fight there and even sending its own special forces in to support militias and insurgents. It is on the verge of turning into a direct military confrontation, though arguably with this act against an American ally and other acts against Americans, it already has. Iran is a party to the intentional murder of American soldiers and Iraqi civilians. There is also evidence that Iran is heavily involved in southern Iraq, and may well be responsible for the murder of British soldiers there. The British are our allies in this fight. The seizure of Britons is no different than a seizure of Americans. The Iranians have chosen to pick on them as the weaker party, calculating that Blair as a lame duck, with anti-war sentiment high, will do nothing. Iran calculates that new British leadership will want less to do with the United States in Iraq and may be more willing to deal on terms favorable to Iran. Iran’s timing is impeccable. The question now is whether Iran has miscalculated, and if our leadership has the will to present a strong, united front against Iran in the interest of peace in the Middle East. The United States, conscious of political weakness at home, has been slowly building the case against Iran and acting in a measured fashion with the seizure of Iranian agents well inside Iraq. It has not attacked the supply lines and terrorist training camps in Iran. But it is increasingly clear that security in Iraq relies in large part on Iran’s respect for Iraq’s borders. But Iran has shown no desire to stop meddling violently in Iraq, and it is time for the next step in a measured response to Iran’s aggression. The British crisis is a provocation that provides an opportunity to send a big-stick message to Iran. It is precisely the message Jimmy Carter should have quietly conveyed 28 years ago. You’ve had your fun. If they are not free in two days, we will blockade your country. Nothing gets in or out. Two days after that, we will destroy your oil-producing infrastructure. We then have a very long list of your military, political and civilian infrastructure that supports your terrorist and nuclear ambitions that we will begin destroying. We do not intend to invade you. We have no need nor interest in doing so. When the ships and aircraft are in place and the cruise missiles have been launched, George Bush and Tony Blair can announce that in defense of Allied and Iraqi lives, to prevent further incursions and terrorist acts that are destabilizing Iraq, it has become necessary to reduce Iran’s capacity for causing further mayhem in the Middle East. There may be a perception that Bush and Blair as lame ducks are incapable for forceful action. Bush has already shown that not to be the case, and in wartime, aggressive leadership in defiance of domestic political weakness is often called for. It should not be a political calculation … both leaders are increasingly immune from that concern. It is a military calculation. Do we have the capacity to reduce and contain Iran militarily? If that answer to that is no, then we need to develop it. Quickly. There may be a public impression that precipitous action will endanger the lives of the British sailors and Marines and risk open warfare with Iran, at a time when the public is weary of war. This needs to be countered with the clear illustration that lack of action by the United States, Britain and the rest of the free world against Iran has cost, and continues to cost, thousands of lives, in open warfare from Lebanon to Iraq. Iran can forestall this by releasing the prisoners. They may couch their magnanimous action in any face-saving terms they care to. Should Iran see reason and release the British prisoners, an additional message needs to be quietly conveyed. Any and all incursions into Iraqi territory henceforth will be met with overwhelming force, to include hot pursuit across the border and targeting of terrorist infrastructure there. We might finally then see a formal end to the Carter era of U.S.-Iranian relations and let the mullahs know: The party’s over.