You remember the U.S. sentinel drone that went down over Iran in December? President Obama asked Iran to send it back. According to the Russian RT news site, Iran — via the Swiss embassy, which represents U.S. interests in Tehran — is now sending President Obama a toy model of the American drone, colored bright pink.
Stories about this mocking gesture have been bubbling up for a while. In January the Christian Science Monitor reported that an Iranian toy-maker had begun turning out these model U.S. stealth drones in vivid hues. They come mounted on stands engraved with one of Ayatollah Khomeini’s slogans, still a pet sentiment of the Tehran regime: “We will trample America under our feet.”
Mockery is of course nothing new in these realms, and the Christian Science Monitor story included some details suggesting that this mockery of the U.S. could backfire on the Iranian regime itself. The toy models have been selling for the equivalent of about $4, which is no small sum for many Iranians, in a country where the oil-fed tyranny of the mullahs has warped and stunted the economy, and sanctions are now applying added pressure. The Monitor quoted one unnamed resident of Tehran complaining about the “toy shop tactics” of the Iranian government, saying they are “annoying” when “we have such serious issues to confront.”
What worries me, though, is less the effect of this mockery inside Iran itself, than the message it sends to Iran’s pals about the extent to which it is safe to defy and deride the U.S. The RT story — let’s reprise that link — “Iran sent pink drone to Obama,” ran on the English-language version of a Russian news site. Especially in any Russian context, toy tools of foreign policy evoke the embarrassing red “reset” button that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton presented in 2009 to the Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov — complete with the mistranslation with which the State Department labeled the toy button with the Russian word for “overcharged,” rather then the intended “reset.” Photos of Clinton and Lavrov show them laughing together over the toy button. But the real laugh has been Russia’s, at U.S. expense, as the U.S. has ceded one important policy position after another, from dropping the promised missile defense for Eastern Europe, to bowing to Russia and China, over Syria, by taking the issue to the United Nations Security Council.
Iran’s regime has specialized from its 1979 inception in mockery of America and America’s allies — from parading American hostages blindfolded before the cameras, to kidnapping British sailors from international waters, holding them hostage and returning them in leisure suits bestowed by Ahmadinejad. And Ahmadinejad, in his yearly visits to the opening of the UN General Assembly in New York (for seven consecutive years now), has taken visible delight in taunting the UN’s host country, abusing diplomatic privilege to bring vast retinues to U.S. shores, and using his time in New York to wine and dine the U.S. media, and recruit support at huge receptions and private meetings (his most recent visit, last September, came during the same stretch in which Iran’s Quds Force was allegedly preparing to bomb the Saudi ambassador in Washington).
All this Iranian mockery put me in mind recently of the magnificent scene at the opening of Shakespeare’s Henry V, in which the dauphin of France sends a taunt to the newly crowned English King Harry, in the form of a gift of tennis balls. The king gazes upon this mockery, and tells the French envoys:
We are glad the Dauphin is so pleasant with us;
His present and your pains we thank you for:
When we have march’d our rackets to these balls,
We will, in France, by God’s grace, play a set
Shall strike his father’s crown into the hazard.
(Henry V goes on to say rather more than this; you can find the full passage here.)
How President Obama might respond to Iran’s latest taunt is part of the bigger question of what the U.S. actually plans to do, as Iran’s “unacceptable” acquisition of nuclear weapons approaches high noon. Whatever Obama does or doesn’t have in mind, it would be a good thing if he were to publicly give the entire world to understand that when he says all options are on the table for dealing with Iran, he has not remotely ruled out the option of, say, an American strike on facilities of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps — and, if it would help drive home the message, he would be quite willing to consider embellishing such an occasion by painting select items in the arsenal a vibrant shade of pink.