SAN DIEGO -- "Where is the outrage?" Those are the words of one of five former U.S. hostages I have spoken with since March 23, when 15 British sailors were taken hostage by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Another previous victim of the mullah's malice inquired, "Doesn't anyone realize that the Iranians will continue to seize Westerners until they have to pay a price for doing so?" And a third American, held captive in Tehran by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his colleagues back in 1979-80, asked: "Why, after all these years, hasn't anyone stopped them?"
The answer, in a word: oil.
No Western leader -- not Tony Blair, not George Bush, certainly none of the leaders of "Old Europe" and surely no one at the United Nations -- dares risk the wrath of the ayatollahs and the possibility that Iran might shut off 20 percent of the world's oil. Just the chance that the most recent hostage crisis might worsen pushed the price of oil over $66 per barrel -- a 7 percent rise -- in less than a week.
Here in California, where we have been shooting interviews for an upcoming episode of "War Stories" for FOX News Channel, the headlines read: "Crisis Fuels Oil-Supply Fears" and gasoline prices hit $4 per gallon before the potential calamity was resolved. "Experts" -- there are always experts -- said that if the situation had escalated, the price of crude could have soared to "$100 per barrel, plunging the world into a depression."
If ayatollahs laugh, the tin-horned theo-despots ruling Tehran must be chortling in their beards. For nearly two weeks, the Islamic radicals running the world's pre-imminent terrorist state once again had leaders of the civilized world cowering and cutting backroom deals. But the clerics are confident there will be no consequences, all because of oil.
Other than terrorism, Iran has no ability to project power -- yet. Its air force is hardly worthy of the name. The United States has the capacity, in the words of one senior retired military officer, now a Pentagon consultant, "to eliminate the entire Iranian Navy in less than an hour." But Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's hollow threat, "If the Americans make a wrong move toward Iran, the shipment of energy will definitely face danger," is taken seriously in capitals around the globe, because the United States set the gold standard for how to appease terrorists during the first Iranian hostage crisis.
On Jan. 19, 1981, the day before he left office, Jimmy Carter accepted the conditions of the so-called Algiers Accord -- a secretly negotiated agreement between the Iranian regime and the U.S. government that gave Tehran everything they asked for in exchange for the release of 52 Americans who had been seized 444 days before. Later that day, while White House stewards and ushers prepared the Executive Mansion for Ronald Reagan, Carter was a very busy man -- signing no less than 10 executive orders implementing the onerous provisions of the Algiers pact. Among them: E.O. 12283, prohibiting anyone subject to U.S. law from ever bringing a claim against the Iranians for sacking our embassy or taking hostages. It was total capitulation. And it taught the Iranians a lesson about appeasement they have never forgotten.
Though they do not share it, the ayatollahs in Tehran understand the value Westerners place on human life. They grasp the power of images in our media, and the willingness of a pliant press to show our citizens in peril. And they know that we will do almost anything to save our countrymen. Been there, done that.
Equally important, the Islamic radicals running Iran have just reaffirmed that by threatening the world economy by hazarding the supply of oil, they can be lawless with impunity. They use their own oil -- about 2.5 billion barrels a day -- to fuel their apocalyptic nuclear weapons program, with certainty that no one will act against them because Western governments are afraid of energy supply disruptions.
Speculation as to why the Iranians precipitated this most recent seizure is meaningless. Tehran's penchant for prisoners has nothing to do with the Shatt al-Arab being a "disputed waterway," or "hostage swaps" or even fomenting a split between the United States and the United Kingdom. The Iranians take hostages because they get their way by doing so.
Now that the most recent hostage incident is over, there are the usual calls for action against the brutal, corrupt Islamic radicals ruling in Tehran. Though concerted covert support for regime opponents ought to be at the top of the list, Western leaders will settle for more negotiations -- ignoring the need to back up diplomacy with the credible threat of force.
The Iranians have learned much from our inaction and appeasement. But they shouldn't be the only ones to learn something from this most recent "hostage event."
Between 1942 and 1945 the United States launched the Manhattan Project to build a bomb that would end World War II. At the time, it was the largest, most expensive scientific and engineering project ever undertaken, costing about $2 billion -- roughly $20 billion in today's dollars. To stop hostage taking as an instrument of Iranian state policy requires freeing the world from bondage to oil. A Manhattan Project to develop an alternative energy source would make appeasing radical Islamic hostage holders unnecessary.