In central Tehran the police stood by and watched while hundreds of protesters simultaneously broke into the British embassy and the residency compound in Qolhak to the north of the city. They seized seven of the 26 members of the staff, and for a while a replay of the 1979 hostage crisis seemed in the making. Dominick Chilcott, the ambassador, was to say afterward that he “had no idea how it was going to end.” One historic building is 135 years old, and in it Roosevelt, Stalin, and Churchill held their conference in 1943. The protesters systematically vandalized both sites, setting fires and parading in the streets the royal portraits and the embassy crest they had looted. Such incidents in the region follow a well-defined course that serves as a political statement. At the prompting of increasingly anxious Western powers, a new round of sanctions had just been passed to discourage Iran from finalizing its nuclear program. The Iranians would no doubt have preferred to take reprisals on Americans or Israelis, but in the absence of these favorite Satans they had to make do with voting to expel the British ambassador and sending in the official wrecking crews. Once the ambassador and his staff had touched down safely in London, the British gave the Iranians 48 hours to close their embassy and get out of the country. An embargo on oil purchases might make a point about the importance of more civilized behavior in Iran, and Britain is pressing for it.
The Obama administration has pursued a policy of “reset” with a Russian regime that, according to the State Department’s own reporting, runs a “mafia state.” Now the people of Moscow are denouncing that government. Our excuse for engaging a corrupt regime has been that Vladimir Putin enjoyed the support of the Russian people, but when the oil-and-gas boom came to an end in 2008, the population’s commitment to Putin collapsed with it. All it took was the latest manifestation of electoral fraud, following recent parliamentary elections, to bring them out into the streets. (Sensing an opportunity, the oligarch Mikhail Prokhorov, owner of the New Jersey Nets, has announced his candidacy for president of Russia in next year’s contest.) The United States can continue trying to engage the Russian leaders, or it can do what it should have done in the first place: base U.S. responses on U.S. principles, and react to Russian behavior realistically. The authors of “reset” will be inclined to defend their brainchild, but the Obama administration should bear in mind that Russia is no longer just the Putin-Medvedev tandem. The people of Russia have stepped out onto the stage as well.
Last year, the Norwegian Nobel Committee gave its peace prize to a Chinese dissident and prisoner of conscience, Liu Xiaobo. This piqued the Chinese government, which created its own peace prize in response. In this, the Chinese were following the Nazi government and the Soviet government, both of which created peace prizes when piqued at Oslo. The Chinese award is called the Confucius Peace Prize. And this year it was given to Vladimir Putin, boss of Russia. Why? In the words of an Associated Press report, “for enhancing Russia’s status and crushing anti-government forces in Chechnya.” Say this for the Chinese Communists: They know what they like.
Last year the South Korean government allowed a Christian group to set up a Christmas tree near the Demilitarized Zone separating their territory from North Korea. This year, they have announced, three trees will be erected, with a lighting ceremony scheduled for December 23. The Norks are not happy. A state-run website hissed that the tree-lighting plan is “a mean attempt at psychological warfare.” The website further threatened that lighting the trees would lead to an “unexpected consequence.” What will that be, we wonder — a carol-singing concert from the North Korean side? Why not? Kim Il Sung, father of the current North Korean dictator, was raised a Presbyterian, and liked to relax by playing a church organ.
Who would have known it: One in ten people is a war criminal. Or at least they might be if the International Red Cross gets its way. The organization has suggested that video gamers who play violent games could be violating the Hague Convention. Never mind that the Hague Convention applies only to states; not to mention to the real world. One can only stand and wonder where this all ends: Should the police storm the stage at performances of Julius Caesar after Brutus’s betrayal? Speaking in defense of the Red Cross’s position, Australian professor of international law Anthony Billingsley warned that “there are concerns about the blurring of fantasy and reality.” On that much we agree.