Sunday, April 08, 2007

Yep, That Diplomatic Strategy Worked Soooo Well

As I discussed yesterday, President Bush offered the British our military help in the recent British hostage crisis with Iran. Blair turned that help down and asked President Bush to turn down the rhetoric.

The idiots at KOS took this to mean that diplomacy won out and boy, don't the Americans (President Bush specifically) look like neanderthal stooges. Because diplomacy worked oh, so well.

Well, not so fast. According to this Telegraph article, the Iranians are planning to take more hostages (via Memeorandum).

Hardliners in the Iranian regime have warned that the seizure of British naval personnel demonstrates that they can make trouble for the West whenever they want to and do so with impunity.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: a PR bounce

The bullish reaction from Teheran will reinforce the fears of western diplomats and military officials that more kidnap attempts may be planned.

The British handling of the crisis has been regarded with some concern in Washington, and a Pentagon defence official told The Sunday Telegraph: "The fear now is that this could be the first of many. If the Brits don't change their rules of engagement, the Iranians could take more hostages almost at will.

"Iran has come out of this looking reasonable. If I were the Iranians, I would keep playing the same game. They have very successfully muddied the waters and bought themselves some more time. And in parts of the Middle East they will be seen as the good guys. They could do it time and again if they wanted to."

Americans also expressed dismay that the British had suspended boarding operations in the Gulf while its tactics are reassessed.

advertisement"Iran has got what it wants. They have secured free passage for smuggling weapons into Iraq without a fight," one US defence department official said.

It is also clear that the Iranian government believes that the outcome has strengthened its position over such contentious issues as its nuclear programme. Hardliners within the regime have been lining up to crow about Britain's humiliation, and indicated that the operation was planned.

Conservative parliamentarian Amir Hassankhani, a former member of the country's Revolutionary Guard and supporter of the president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, told the country's semi-official Fars news agency: "The arrest and release of the British sailors proved that if Iran's issues and demands are overlooked at the international level, the Islamic republic can create different challenges for the other side."

Westerners tend to forget what such tactics look like in a culture that admires strongmen. While I said Iran blinked (and, indeed, from a western perspective, they did), to other Middle Eastern countries, Iran came out of this smelling like a rose.

Britain was in a damned-if-they-do/damned-if-they-don't situation anyway. Had they reacted militarily, they would have been accused of bullying. But by not reacting militarily, they look weak and vulnerable. As Captain Ed points out:
People keep insisting that the Iranians didn't win anything in this confrontation. The Telegraph quotes other British sources that conclude that the Iranians lost ground with other nations that may have supported their right to the nuclear cycle. That analysis figures that Iran may have a more difficult time making enriched uranium if more nations disapprove of the mullahcracy.

That's simply ludicrous. Iran committed an act of war on the United Kingdom. It then violated the Geneva Convention on several occasions. For these acts, it received no negative consequences whatsoever. Britain pressed the US to reduce its military profile in the Gulf, and the British themselves stopped their interdiction patrols. In return, Iran released the hostages and made themselves look like moderates in doing so, and strengthened the political position of the hardliners at home.

Did the Iranians earn the disapproval of the global community? Hardly. Even the EU, of which Britain is a member, refused to stop trading with the Iranians. The UN offered a finger wag at Teheran and nothing more, and even that took a Herculean effort by Tony Blair and the US. Has anyone stopped trading with the Iranians as a result of their act of war and GC violations? Has any nation taken a new position against Iran's nuclear program?

People who think Britain won anything in this standoff need to re-read Winston Churchill's first volume of The Second World War and the first half of The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William Shirer. The West has given the hardliners in Teheran a tremendous boost in their reaction to this hostaging, and they can expect more of it in the future.