What's wrong with this picture?
It's not a wedding. Or a reunion. It's an Iranian publicity photo of the majority of Royal Navy sailors and Royal Marines just after their nearly giddy meeting with Iranian president Ahmedinejad. (Hat tip to the three on the right at least look uncomfortable.)
Toby Harnden, chief Washington editor of the UK Daily Telegraph and a former officer on the now infamous HMS Cornwall has a number of scathing posts about the debacle. Some excerpts:
"Two new guys in suits arrived. They didn't shout like the others. One said he had come to make me an offer. If I confessed to being in Iranian waters and wrote letters to my family, the British people and the Iranian people, I'd be free within two weeks. If I didn't, they'd put me on trial for espionage and I'd go to prison for 'several years'. I had just an hour to think about it. If I did it, I feared everyone in Britain would hate me. But I knew it was my one chance of fulfilling a promise to Molly [her daughter] that I'd be home for her birthday on May 8th. I decided to take that chance, and write in such a way that my unit and my family would know it wasn't the real me." [comment by Leading Seaman Faye Turney]
I don't know what to say.
"I missed Topsy [LS Turney] most of all. I really love her, as a mum and a big sister. Not seeing her and not knowing if she was safe was one of the hardest parts of the whole thing."
"They led me down a corridor and into a room, where I saw Topsy in a corner. I can't describe how that felt...just every emotion rolled into one. I ran up to her, threw my arms round her and cried like a baby.
"When I'd calmed down, she asked, 'Do you need another hug, a mother hug?' and I said, 'damn right'."
"A guard was saying, 'smile, smile, smile for camera'. We felt it would help if we obliged." [comment by Operator Maintainer Arthur Bachelor]
Topsy? A 'mother hug'? What is this? A nursery school?
I've already written about humiliation of the Navy and Marines and the spinelessness of the Defence Secretary, Chief of Defence Staff and First Sea Lord. Is too much to expect any of these will resign or be sacked? Probably.
Judging by the hundreds of blog comments and emails I've received on this subject, there is a widespread sense that something was terribly wrong about the way the personnel from HMS Cornwall behaved.
And - more fundamentally - about the way the Government and armed services dealt with them in terms of training, tasking, rules of engagement, leadership and example, the lot really.
Some have concluded that Britain has become "Dianafied", terminally sentimental, a nation that needs a collective "mother hug" (Princess Diana, by the way, launched HMS Cornwall). I fear there is something in this but the reactions I've received, and heard and read elsewhere, offer hope that all is not lost.
Wobbly? Puddly is more like it. Unmistakeable sign of the decline of the West? Just deeply, deeply distressing.