Mark Steyn, the "columnist to the world" according to Hugh Hewitt, has an interesting and thought-provoking essay in the new issue of City Journal -- Myron Magnet and the Manhattan Institute's conservative/libertarian political quarterly. The topic is Iran: what threat it poses to the world, what the US should do now, what the failure to act against it in the past 27 years has wrought.
The Steyn piece is long and intricate, but the most notable conclusion he reaches is this: Iran announced in 1979 that territorial sovereignty of the nation-state is meaningless when it conflicts with the needs of the Islamic Revolution. Here's an excerpt:
. . . The signature act of the [Ayatollah Khomeini] regime was not the usual post-coup bloodletting and summary execution of the [deposed] shah's mid-ranking officials but the seizure of the U.S. embassy in Tehran by "students" acting with Khomeini's blessing. Diplomatic missions are recognized as the sovereign territory of that state, and the violation thereof is an act of war. No one in Washington has to fret that Fidel Castro will bomb the U.S. Interests Section in Havana. Even in the event of an actual war, the diplomatic staff of both countries would be allowed to depart.
Yet Iran seized protected persons on U.S. soil and held them prisoner for over a year--ostensibly because Washington was planning to restore the shah. But the shah died and the hostages remained. And, when the deal was eventually done and the hostages were released, the sovereign territory of the United States remained in the hands of the gangster regime. Granted that during the Carter administration the Soviets were gobbling up real estate from Afghanistan to Grenada, it's significant that in this wretched era the only loss of actual U.S. territory was to the Islamists.
Yet Iran paid no price. They got away with it. For the purposes of comparison, in 1980, when the U.S. hostages in Tehran were in their sixth month of captivity, Iranians opposed to the mullahs seized the Islamic Republic's embassy in London. After six days of negotiation, Her Majesty's Government sent SAS commandos into the building and restored it to the control of the regime. In refusing to do the same with the "students" occupying the U.S. embassy, the Islamic Republic was explicitly declaring that it was not as other states.
We expect multilateral human-rights Democrats to be unsatisfactory on assertive nationalism, but if they won't even stand up for international law, what's the point? Jimmy Carter should have demanded the same service as Tehran got from the British--the swift resolution of the situation by the host government--and, if none was forthcoming, Washington should have reversed the affront to international order quickly, decisively, and in a sufficiently punitive manner. At hinge moments of history, there are never good and bad options, only bad and much much worse. Our options today are significantly worse because we didn't take the bad one back then.
Read the whole thing.