The Hostage Crisis (The Remake)

Anyone reading a newspaper today would be forgiven for thinking that the world’s media were conspiring to create the ultimate April Fool’s joke.

Another “hostage crisis” with Iran as the bad guy again, reprising 1979. But all the fuss isn’t really about fifteen British sailors. Western hostages have been held and frequently executed in hostile parts of the world, by the dozens in Iraq. That isn’t going to happen to the crewmen from the HMS Cornwall, and in the normal way of things they would be released as soon as something else more important (perhaps another sex scandal involving a rock star) drives them off the front page. Pretty small potatoes.

Or, it would be if it weren’t played out against the backdrop of a possible US-Iran war. Investigative journalists and intelligence professionals have been sounding alarms about a looming confrontation between these two for nearly a year and a half now, and informed opinion is universal in prophesying regional and perhaps global catastrophe should it occur. To repeat what you all have heard: yes, such a war would set the whole of Western Asia on fire, result in civilian deaths in the high six figures or maybe more, possibly lead to nuclear escalation, and drive the price of oil high enough to tank the global economy. You’d have to be delusional to do it, and therein lies the worrisomely high probability that it will happen.

Historically, if two feuding nations are led by viciously competing factions almost totally divorced from reality, war is extremely likely. And that would seem to describe the US and Iran right now. All that holds the US back from attacking right away is its own military’s understanding of just how overstretched it is, and what a Pandora’s box it would open. The four-stars are leaking that the US could not deploy even a paratroop brigade elsewhere given the total fixation with Iraq. But the US constitution says that Bush out-ranks them, and Congress has been taken out by the Israeli lobby.

All that separates us from “August 1914” are the valiant efforts of the nations that stand to lose the most if things go pear-shaped. That’s a big crowd, but by far the largest and most powerful are Russia and Turkey. They are both caught in a vise: if war breaks out, they can’t afford to intervene, and they can’t afford not to. These two biggies have divided up the job.Russia is using its Security Council role to ramp up the volume, while its government-controlled media has become nearly hysterical in its “intelligence estimates” of an American attack. Turkey has taken the quiet job. It can play the NATO card in Washington and London and quote the Koran in Tehran.

Who would have thought these two historically bellicose semi-dictatorships would be the last, best hope for peace? Reminds me of Eric Idle singing “The Galaxy Song” at the end of Monty Python’s “Meaning of Life”: “pray that there’s intelligent life somewhere up in space, ’cause there’s bugger all down here on Earth!”

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