Friday, February 10, 2006

There are always bellicose journalists who urge us to bring on the bombers

"Perhaps I may say a word about the use of force. There are always bellicose journalists who urge us to bring on the bombers. But I think that everybody, including those in Washington, is fully aware of the grave risks involved. It may be tempting to speculate on a focused attack just on nuclear installations. However, we know from Iraq that there is no such thing as an attack that is so focused that no innocent people are killed. Any such attack involves killing considerable numbers of innocent people. I am not qualified to comment on the technical possibilities of a focused attack on nuclear installations, but such an attack would leave an untouched, angry and revengeful government in Tehran with probably a united people behind them. That would be true whether the United States or Israel launched the attack. An attack by Israel would be regarded—accurately, to a large extent—as a joint effort with the United States.

I have not seen the next point made before. However, Britain would be vulnerable in the above situation. We have chosen to station our troops, in modest numbers, whether in southern Iraq or southern Afghanistan, where we are uniquely vulnerable to this kind of retaliation from nearby Iran. We cannot realistically and for ever rule out the use of force. If the regime in Iran or its successor moved from words and piled up an unmistakable danger, I do not think that we could entirely rule out the use of force. But we should not deceive ourselves that we can have some sort of strike without a war, or some sort of war that does not involve huge dangers and damage and many, many thousands of casualties, our own and Iranian.

I should say something about democracy and the attitude and appeal of the President of the United States. In a way his appeal to the Iranian people was similar to the appeal to the Iraqi people. But there is a difference. Saddam Hussein and his family were corrupt and self-seeking and built palaces as part of the parade of power. In Iran we are dealing with puritanism as well as patriotism. President Ahmadinejad appeals to the poor, dresses simply and behaves simply. He has the same sort of appeal as Hamas on the West Bank and in Gaza and as the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. We should not neglect the importance of the puritan appeal in an area of the world that is marked by such glaring inequalities.

Patriotism is also important. Iran is an ancient country with a huge history of which it is very conscious. This is more than simply a platitude for after-dinner speeches; it is a relevant political fact. We have forgotten so much of our history and, in a way, the Iranians remember too much of theirs. They remember past glory; they remember humiliation—at our hands, Russian hands and American hands; and the coup of 1953 against Mossadeq—things which we never knew or have forgotten. Out of this comes a deep reluctance to be told by other people how they should behave."

Douglas Hurd Hansard text.

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