Muscat, Sultanate of Oman -- WHY ARE hostages being released in Beirut? For the answer to that question, one need only look around this part of the world.
In the wake of the gulf war, Iran has dropped her black robes of secrecy and of seclusion. She is lobbying everyone to regain even some small role in the Middle East's ever-erratic "family of nations" -- and she is having considerable success.
"In our opinion, the moderates are gaining power in the Iranian government," His Highness Sayyid Haitham, undersecretary for political affairs in Oman's Foreign Ministry, commented to me as the Iranian "respectability offensive" gained steam this summer. "They are more and more open to the West. They need the new technology, and that lies in the West. This government in Tehran knows its interests."
Such observations as those were backed up by officials as far away as Beirut. In an interview with Nora Boustany of the Washington Post, the top Lebanese Shiite Muslim religious authority said that he had traveled to Iran in May. "I heard from the most hard-line of oppositionists there that they desire an end to the whole problem," said Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah. "The hostage issue no longer has any great impact on events.
"I imagine that the ploys of hostage-dealing have been exhausted and everyone is looking for a way out, and the climate seems appropriate."
Just as the gulf war clarified a lot of issues, so has time (we can now see) explained many of the deliberately created mysteries surrounding the hostage-taking. In the beginning, this peculiar horror inflicted by the weak upon the strong seemed probably to most Americans to represent the stranger currents of the Iranian psyche.
We got it all mixed up with perversions of religion and "anti-imperialism" and a lot of other stuff that really didn't have much to do with keeping scores of Americans locked in the embassy in Tehran in 1979 or chaining people to filthy beds in Beirut.
We can see now that the Iranian and Lebanese (and Iranian/Lebanese) taking of hostages was always a power move. When the hostages were of no further use -- and when these human pawns were indeed counterproductive to new needs -- they would be let go. That was what began to happen last week; hostages, my friends, do so get in the way of technology transfer and international conferences over oil pricing.
Given this fact -- that hostage-taking was simply another version of the direct power-plays and costly wars that more advanced societies indulge in when they are upset -- it is also clear that President Bush's policy of not responding emotionally and of holding back economic aid and goodies was correct.
The attendant problem, of course, is that it is hard to be patient when one's fellow citizens are being so wantonly abused -- but, if you really want to get them out, you just have to wait until the "revolution" involved moves from its fanatic and transformational phase (used cynically by its leaders) to a status quo stage.
That is what has happened with Iran. And in the wake of all of that fanatic emotion of the first years of the Khomeini revolution, today the new Iranian leaders need to sell their oil and try to act civilized in order to take part in the world's rational economic institutions.
This week showed, as well, that the Bush and Baker thinking about a New World Order is not so hilarious as many critics like to allege. The gulf war did indeed shake up the entire area, particularly coming as it did in the wake of the post-Cold War Soviet withdrawal from the area.
In Kuwait recently, for instance, I heard from both Kuwaiti officials and from Western diplomats how Iran was now taking the initiative, trying to woo the gulf states. The gulf states, however, while they want good relations with Iran, still mistrust Iran enough not to want it in the gulf defenses that are gradually taking shape here.
How sad that these innocent Americans, British and French should have been tormented for so long to satisfy another chess match in the game of nations.