There has been no clearer example of the capacity of politicians for wilful self-deception than the recent rapprochement with Iran. Last August, Philip Hammond, then the foreign secretary, defended the West’s willingness to ditch sanctions and embrace the world’s largest sponsor of terror: “Iran is too large a player, too important a player in this region, to simply leave in isolation.”
The logic of that position is that no large nation, however grotesque its behaviour, should ever be ostracised. And when it comes to grotesque behaviour, Iran is a world leader.
This week it emerged that a 19-year-old secondary school pupil, Hassan Afshar, was hanged on July 18. He was found guilty of raping another boy when he was 17, after a trial in which he was allowed no legal representation. It seems clear that the “rape” was in fact consensual gay sex.
There are at least 160 other children on death row in Iran. Thirteen were executed last year. This is despite Iran being a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, under which the death penalty for juveniles is forbidden.
And yet the likes of Mr Hammond speak with a straight face about new agreements signed by the Iranian regime justifying the rush to hug Iran close. In January a cargo plane carrying $400 million arrived in Tehran from the US, part of a settlement over the sale of military equipment in 1979. By the purest chance, according to officials, on that same day four Americans seized by the Iranians were released (in exchange for seven Iranians held in the US). But according to the Wall Street Journal, Iranian negotiators made clear that the cash was a prerequisite before they would release the hostages.
Yes, hostages. You may have thought that the association of the words Iran and hostages ended in 1981. But how else should we describe Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the British-Iranian woman detained since April in Iran on a supposed charge of spying?
As for the nuclear deal, Ayatollah Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, said on Tuesday that it was a lesson in the folly of dealing with the West. “Is any tangible effect seen in people’s life after six months?” In other words: why are we sticking to it?
We have smiled sweetly and said how happy we are to be friends again. Meanwhile, the Iranians have played us for the fools we are.
Stephen Pollard is editor of The Jewish Chronicle.