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.
Instead, we are told, this week's "discussion" was a follow-up to the May 28 meeting in which the parties were supposed to find common ground for cooperation on security in Iraq. According to our State Department's news release, the purpose of the Baghdad talks is for both sides to find a way to create "a secure, stable, democratic, federal Iraq, in control of its own security, at peace with its neighbors." Unfortunately, in a moment of undiplomatic candor, Ambassador Crocker let it slip that Iranian meddling in Iraq has increased since the most recent soiree. "The fact is," said the ambassador, "that over the roughly two months since our last meetings, we have actually seen militia-related activity that can be attributed to Iranian support go up and not down."
With that kind of "progress," by the time we have the next round of talks with Tehran, their nuclear weapons program will be running full bore, Islamic courts will be sentencing dozens of violators of Shariah law to be stoned to death, and the four American citizens being held hostage by Tehran may well be dead.
Ever since the first drafts of the so-called Baker-Hamilton Report were leaked last year, we have been told by the potentates of the media and the global left that diplomacy is the answer to all our concerns: for Iraq, for Iranian nuclear ambitions, for just about all that ails us. Talking is the magic potion. It's become a panacea. Diplomacy may be an effective tool when dealing with reasonable people. But that's not the case with Tehran. No matter what the Fourth Estate and the liberal pols say, there are no reasonable people in power in Persia.
But hope in "talks" springs eternal in the minds of the media elites and ambitious politicians. This week, an editorial in the Los Angeles Times lauded British Prime Minister Gordon Brown for banning the use of the term "war on terror." The Times editorial noted that a recent public opinion poll by the Pew Global Attitudes Project found that among Lebanese Muslims "only" 34 percent believe "that suicide bombings against civilians (are) sometimes or often justified." Apparently that's down from 74 percent a few years ago. The Times described this as a hopeful trend.
And this week during a bizarre candidate debate in Charleston, S.C., Sen. Barack Obama was asked via the Internet whether he would be willing to set aside all preconditions and meet during the first year of his presidency with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea.
"I would," he replied.
Note to Sen. Obama and the editors of the L.A. Times: Read "Sufferings in Africa" -- and then go do something about four modern American hostages who are suffering in Iran.