Well, you have to admit it, watching Iranian President Ahmadinejad play politics with the West is like watching Tiger Woods: he’s so far ahead of the game he makes the rest of the line-up look like a bunch of bozos in silly pants. The latest in the Royal Navy prisoner crisis is that the UK is now considering a proposal from the Iranian Government that the sailors will be released if London agrees to not violate Iranian territorial waters in future — a tacit admission that they’ve been doing so for years.

London knows it can do nothing about it, of course. Military intervention is out of the question, with the retreat from Basra half-completed, and Britain desperate to get out of Al-Dodge city. Sanctions have little effect now that Iran has a non-Western customer — China — that will take all the oil it has. Tony Blair went to the extraordinary step of muzzling George Bush, asking the boss to hold back on any comments that might inflame the situation.

Easy to see why. After five years of the Blair government failing to condemn torture at Gitmo, no one apart from foaming-at-the-mouth Sun editors take seriously the ‘outrage’ at the treatment of the British prisoners — Python Terry Jones caught one prevailing attitude in the Guardian , noting that the torture seemed to amount to wearing headscarves and being allowed to communicate with their families, certainly not standard Guantanamo practices.

The timing of this event — right on top of the Hicks ‘confession’ — can’t be coincidental. Ahmadinejad’s speciality is making the West trip over its own feet. A newspaper publishes a bunch of cartoons taking the piss out of Mohammed and the West lectures the East on free speech? Ahmadinejad starts a Holocaust cartoon competition at which point the West clears its throat and says, well, er, some things can’t have the piss taken out of them. The West says the ‘war on terror’ demands the suspension of the usual rights and rules of international relations, and then can’t do much more than splutter when other states adopt this recipe for global anarchy as their own.

The West is going to have to get used to it. From Taiwan to Kashmir, every nation now has the right to claim pre-emption as a forward defence. This little incident was just a curtain-raiser to an exciting few decades.