San Diego, Calif. -- More than four decades ago, while I was a Naval Academy Midshipman visiting this delightful seaport city, one of my summer reading texts was "Sufferings in Africa." Originally published in 1817 by Capt. James Riley, the book is said to have influenced young Abraham Lincoln profoundly to the necessity for abolishing slavery. The tome ought to be required reading for U.S. politicians and diplomats who insist that meeting and talking with Iranian officials -- as they did this week in Baghdad -- can be a productive endeavor.
Without giving away too much, Riley's account of what he endured nearly two centuries ago as a shipwrecked American merchant sea captain, enslaved by "Mohammedan Arabs" -- as he called his captors -- is still relevant today. His observations are particularly germane to how we deal with modern radical Islamists, the prospect of a nuclear Jihad being waged against us and the fate of westerners in their hands.
Riley's perspective is that of a devout, articulate Christian who suffered terribly in the clutches of men who "performed all the rituals of their religion," but who "set no bounds to their anger and resentment, and regard no law but that of superior force." It's a lesson that's been missed by those who believe we can find common ground by talking with the theocrats running Iran.
Riley would not be surprised at the lack of progress in our discussions with the Iranian regime. The teacups barely had been picked up after this week's Green Zone gab fest between U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker and Iranian Ambassador Hassan Kazemi Qomi before Iran's President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, appeared before the television cameras to declare that Iran's quest for nuclear weapons would continue unabated.
"Iran will never abandon its peaceful (nuclear) work," Reuters quoted Mr. Ahmadinejad saying the day after the Pelosi/Reid-inspired talks between the United States and Iran and a day before U.N. nuclear inspectors were due to arrive in Iran. While some might consider this indicative of Iranian intransigence, our State Department deemed the statement irrelevant because the talks focused on "other matters."
It turns out that the "other matters" for the talks were neither Iranian human rights abuses nor the fate of four American hostages now being held by Iran. If we must "talk," both of these issues should have been on the agenda -- along with the race to acquire nuclear bombs. But these matters apparently are deemed irrelevant to those who believe that simply sitting down at a table for a chat is indicative of progress.
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.