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.
Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of War Stories on the Fox News Channel, the author of the new novel Heroes Proved and the co-founder of Freedom Alliance, an organization that provides college scholarships to the children of U.S. military personnel killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. Join Oliver North in Israel by going to www.olivernorthisrael.com.