So, We've Established That We'll Pay

You know the old joke. A rich man asks a beautiful woman if she would have sex with him for $1 million. She says yes. Then he says, well how about $500? When she becomes indignant, he says, "Look, we've already established that you're a whore. Now we're just dickering over the price."

The West has now established that it will bargain with terrorists. The only question remaining is, what's the price?

Last week, an Iranian agent - a "diplomat" if you prefer, a Revolutionary Guard commander, as you choose -- was released by a shadowy group under pressure from the Iraqi government. The full extent of US involvement in his capture, interrogation and release has yet to be established.

Shortly afterward, the 15 British hostages being held illegally in Teheran were freed. Not without much crowing by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who milked every aspect of the incident for maximum propaganda value. Now, we're told, the Iranians are interested in more hostage-taking. I can't think of any good reason why they shouldn't. Historically, it has been one of their most effective weapons against us, since Jimmy Carter allowed the mullahs to engage in an extended humiliation of the United States, the consequences of which are felt to this day.

Now, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki is making noise about 5 detained Iranian "diplomats" that the US says are in fact Revolutionary Guard agents engaged in supporting the violence in Iraq. Mottaki speaks softly ... if they aren't freed soon, Iran may cut off its aid to Iraq. But he carries a big stick. Who will the Iranians seize next? More Britons? Americans? Iraqi soldiers or government officials? Will Iranian "students" storm the Iraqi embassy? That would be regrettable, but it is so hard for Islamic Republic of Iran to control its students.

Iran has been emboldened by its success in the taking of British hostages, and has been expressing its new muscle in other ways. Iran's guest, the rogue Iraqi cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, had been extremely subdued during the past couple months of surge.

We've learned that Israel is reviewing the list of Palestinian prisoners submitted by Hamas for the release of Cp. Gilad Shalit, being held by an affiliated group. What prevents Hamas from behaving like a mature, non-terrorist government is not clear. Perhaps it is the knowledge, despite Israel's historic insistence that it won't negotaite with terrorists, that Israel does in fact negotiate with terrorists.

In Afghanistan two weeks ago Hamid Karzai went along, against his better judgment, with an Italian demand that he free some Taliban prisoners in order to secure the release of Italian journalist Daniele Mastrogiacomo. The Europeans, the Italians in particular, have a history of coddling hostage-takers with cash payments. Shortly after that deal was cut, two French aid workeers were seized as well as a dozen or so Afghans. The Taliban wanted two senior leaders released into exchange for Mastrogiacomo's translator, Ajmal Naqshbandi. Friday, Karzai said enough. He was sorry he had done it and he won't make the same mistake again.

Naqshbandi was beheaded Sunday. This was a criminal and tragic act. But his blood is not on Karzai's hands. It is on the hands of the Taliban with whom we and the Afghan government are at war. And it is on the hands of the Italians who insisted on a deal to save one journalist. The Taliban is now upping the ante, threatening to behead four Afghan medical workers. And if the French aid workers are murdered, their families may want to take that up with the Italian government as well.

So back to Iraq. Did the Bush administration agree to a deal? Some reports say administration officials did, with a wink and a nod to a proxy group. We are also told the administration offered British Prime Minister Tony Blair another route, aggressive measures against Iran that Blair refused. Did Blair insist on a deal, or did pro-Iranian elements of the Iraqi government seize their opportunity. Hard to tell exactly who played the whore in this bad joke, and what the price ultimately will be.

But in war, it is necessary to move beyond mistakes, and look for one's advantage. Ironically, that could be the emboldenment of Iran. Moqtada al-Sadr, sensing an opportunity, is now urging his militia to fight. This could provide an opportunity they had denied the Americans in their meek response to the surge: the opportunity to kill them.

Overstepping by Iran may provide similar opportunities to do what ultimately must been done with Iran, which is the reduction if not termination of the mullahs' ability to cause trouble abroad.

As a preacher might tell a hooker, you have sinned. But it is never too late to get back on the straight and narrow path.


Jules Crittenden is an editor and columnist for the Boston Herald.

Crittenden's web page is at Forward Movement.