While watching the spectacle of fifteen British servicemen kidnapped, apparently with impunity, by the Iranians and held hostage while Prime Minister Blair fumed impotently, I began to wonder what other British statesmen would have done. What Margret Thatcher, the Iron Lady, would have done is obvious. The Royal Navy would have imposed a blockade of Iran almost certainly. There might even be landings on the Iranian coast by commandos to cause mayhem and perhaps to do a little kidnapping of their own of Revolutionary Guards. Iran’s sole refinery would have been blown up, cutting off supplies of gasoline and other petroleum products. But it is another British Prime Minister, one who lives only in fiction and on TV, that I am having guilty but delightful thoughts of. His name is Francis Urquhart.
Who is Francis Urquhart? Back in the nineties several miniseries were produced featuring this fictional British politician, played by the late Ian Richardson, who was a modern combination of MacBeth and Richard III. In the first series, House of Cards, he starts as Chief Whip of the British Parliament just after the supposed fall of Prime Minister Thatcher (the series was produced before the actual event and aired just after.) Through political maneuver, skulduggery, guile, and even murder, Urquhart manages to become, by the end of the series, Prime Minister. In the middle series, To Play the King, Urquhart butts heads with King Charles III (the Queen having died earlier than she will in real life) over his harsh domestic policies. Urquhart manages to maneuver the King into abdication and elevate his son William, then a child, to the throne presumably under a regency run by Princess Diana. In the final series, The Final Cut, Urquhart runs into trouble as he searches out a legacy and thinks he has found it on Cyprus. Throughout the series, Urquhart is utterly ruthless, yet much of what he does is for the benefit of Great Britain. By the turn of the century, Urquhart’s Britain is more capitalistic at home, more powerful abroad. And yet it is a country run by a monster.
Though The Final Cut ran in 1995, it imagined Urquhart around the year 2001, but obviously not our 2001. So let’s imagine that Francis Urquhart has been residing at Number 10 for over a decade in real life, his premiership substituting for those of John Major and Tony Blair (except for a few months of someone named Collinridge). As at the beginning of The Final Cut, Urquhart is casting about for a legacy before he retires to the House of Lords and a well deserved retirement.
Then, September 11, 2001, the second day of infamy occurs. Urquhart has his answer.
Britain’s national security establishment is already powerful under Urquhart, directed mainly at the Irish. There is no peace accord under Urquhart. This establishment will now be directed with full force upon British Muslims, whom will be assumed to be all but enemy aliens. There will be no tolerance of Imans preaching violence and martyrdom in British mosques. British Muslims might even find themselves thrown into relocation camps, just as Japanese Americans were during the Second World War. If weapons and bomb making material are found in mosques and homes of British Muslims, so much the better.
Domestic opposition to the War on Terror will not be tolerated and will be treated as sedition. George Galloway, the fiery MP who proved to be so radical that he was thrown out of the British Labour Party, will find himself brought up on charges including treason.
Under Urquhart, it is suggested that the British military establishment is much larger than it is under real life. The British Army, as well as the Royal Navy and Air force, will be loosed on the Islamo-fascists in larger contingents than in our history. They will not be gentle to either the Taliban in Afghanistan or the insurgents in Iraq.
Fascism you suggest? Well, this is how we fought World War II. Back then we set entire cities on fire.
Now imagine, under this climate, Iran actually attempts to seize British servicemen on patrol off the coast of Iraq. One difference is that these servicemen will be more heavily armed and will be under looser rules of engagement and therefore would be able to resist more effectively. But let’s suppose they are now guests of the mullahs. What would Urquhart do?
One suspects that a blockade or series of raids would be just the beginning. It would be war between the Islamic Republic of Iran and Great Britain. Not that there would be a land invasion of Iran. Urquhart’s mind does not run that way. It would be an asymmetrical war with assassinations, bombings, and aid to domestic opponents of the mullahs.
Britain will have been spared the humiliation of having to swallow the making of their servicemen hostages and Iran would have been denied a propeganda victory. A lesson will be taught about the cost of pulling the Lion’s tail that the world will be long in forgetting.