David Calling

This Is a Test

The case of Roxana Saberi is extremely troubling. She has dual American-Iranian nationality, and in the eyes of the Iranian authorities that fits her up perfectly for a political experiment. According to press reports, she was freelancing for the American broadcaster National Public Radio until 2006 when she had her credentials revoked. Since then, she has been in Tehran preparing for a master’s degree and doing research for a book. Earlier in the year she was arrested, charged with buying a bottle of wine and, of course, being a spy. At a one-day trial she was found guilty, and is now in the dreaded Evin prison awaiting her sentence.
This is an issue with precedents in other totalitarian settings. In 1935, for instance, a British nurse on secondment to a hospital in Frankfurt was walking home after duty. Uniformed Nazi storm-troopers waylaid her in the street and beat her up. Informing the British government, the British consul, Dr. Max Auwe, spelled out how serious this episode was. The fact that the storm-troopers were in uniform showed that they wished to be identified as acting for the Nazi regime. The Nazis wanted to find out whether the British would react strongly to such a provocation or cave in. When Dr. Auwe insisted on a policy of strength, he was fired from his post. Months later, the British government signed the Anglo-German Naval Treaty that gave Hitler his fleet and became the stepping-stone for the disastrous policy of appeasement. The failure to defend a British nurse who had been deliberately attacked, the Nazis rightly judged, signified that the British were in no frame of mind to defend the national interest, but could be pushed to make huge and devastating concessions.
So it is exactly with Roxana Saberi. The Iranians are testing the frame of mind in Washington. They have heard President Obama lamenting over past American policy, and offering change, indeed pleading for friendship. Negotiations are in the air. It is even being suggested that in the event of agreeing to negotiations the Iranians need not suspend their nuclear development, hitherto a condition for proposed talks. The mullahs are in the process of discovering whether Washington might be willing to make further concessions. Hillary Clinton has expressed “deep concern” over Roxana Saberi, and if weasel words of the kind are the sum total of Washington’s response then the conclusion will be that the United States can be pushed into abandoning its national interest and instead pursuing a policy of appeasement of the mullahs, in spite of their warmongering quite as evidently as the Nazis.

David Pryce-Jones is a British author and commentator and a senior editor of National Review.

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