James Forsyth has an interesting editorial in this week’s The Business in which he explains why the British Foreign Secretary is shattering any hope of convincing Iran of giving up it’s nuclear arms ambitions:
To stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons, the West must convince the authorities in Tehran that it is prepared to use force. But one politician keeps getting in the way of this strategy and making it seem that force would never be even an option: Jack Straw, the UK Foreign Secretary, whose words keep reassuring the Iranians that they can do whatever they want.Do read the whole thing. He concludes that Blair should get rid of him, and I agree. The political game Jack Straw is playing is very dangerous and quite despicable. I am convinced that if all Western powers had unequivocally and forcefully threatened Saddam Hussein with military action in 2003 the chance of an actual invasion taking place would have been greatly reduced. It is this (mostly European) attitude, which always opposes the dirty but necessary work - even when done by somebody else - that gave Saddam the (thankfully false) impression that he could get away with anything. Shame on Jack Straw for putting us in a weaker negotiating position with Iran for his personal political gain.
In recent weeks, there have been signs that Tehran was beginning to worry about a military strike.
Straw, though, seems intent on soothing jangled Iranian nerves. In a recent interview with the BBC Persian service he all but dismissed the prospect of military action. “You know what I’ve said about that,” he barked. Sadly, we do. On 28 January, as Iran was rejecting warnings about restarting its nuclear programme, Straw announced: “There isn’t a military option.”
“It doesn’t make any sense to rule out an option that provides you with some degree of leverage in negotiations. That’s just a basic rule of negotiation even if you never have any intention of using it,” says Jeremy Shapiro, a fellow at the centrist Brookings Institution.
What’s behind Straw’s unhelpful outbursts? The answer is internal Labour Party politics. Straw knows that being foreign secretary during the Iraq war hurt his standing in the party and will hurt him even more in the post-Blair era. He needs to contain the damage and his grandstanding on Iran combined with glimpses of his reservations about the Iraq war play well with the Labour base. He also has a keen eye on his shrinking majority in his Blackburn constituency, where over a quarter of the electorate is Muslim.