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Sunday, April 08, 2007

Blurred vision about who blinked

Mickey Kaus suggests that the British actually just scored a huge coup against the Iranians:

The hostages were released in a one-day propaganda stunt, maybe in exchange for the release of an Iranian we were holding and Iranian visitation rights for some others. But the Iranians were also looking at an awful lot of aircraft carriers steaming around their neighborhood. Didn't they blink? If that's humiliation, it's not far from what a U.S.-U.K. victory in the crisis would look like.

I enjoy reading contrarian points of view as a general rule, and Mr. Kaus is often a deft and funny contrarian. But this bit is just remarkably silly, and it's certainly the most naïve thing I can recall ever having read from Mr. Kaus. I wrote on Friday that I will not mock the Brits, but neither will I turn reality on its head to make their humiliation look like triumph.

A "victory" isn't when your opponent — a fourth-rate military joke of a country — has committed an act of war on you and then completely gotten away with it, without any consequences to itself and while leaving you looking entirely impotent.

Genuine "victory" would have been Iran never daring to commit an act of war against any NATO member or American ally to begin with.

Short of that — if we take as a given for our analysis of various hypothetical scenarios that Iran already has committed this act of war — then "victory" would have been (a) an ultimatum from the Brits issued in the first 72 hours of the crisis (b) giving the Iranians another day or so to immediately return its personnel and their gear, unconditionally, with (c) a groveling apology from the Iranians, (d) upon penalty of a full-scale shooting war were the deadline ignored. Can anyone doubt that Ronald Reagan or Margaret Thatcher would have done exactly that? Can anyone doubt that it would have worked? In this scenario, the Iranians would indeed have "blinked," it would have been their country who was humiliated, and Britons could continue to walk proudly and with heads held high.

Nobody — anywhere — ever! — can imagine that in an actual military conflict, Iran could stand up to the U.K. and the U.S. acting together. It's true that the U.K.'s own military capabilities now are even less than they were at the time of the Falklands War; fighting Iran alone now would have been harder for the U.K. than fighting Argentina alone was then. But even so, there's not much serious doubt about whether the U.K. could, all by itself, ultimately whip Iran if given enough time and motivation. More to the point, however, surely the U.K. would not have been acting all alone. And during a long weekend, any single American carrier group could accomplish specified military objectives ranging from the destruction of Iran's single gasoline refinery, to the practical destruction of Iran's entire air force and navy, to turning Tehran into the proverbial green-glass parking lot.

So this wasn't like, say, the Berlin Airlift in 1948-1951 or the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1963, when two military giants stood toe-to-toe, nose-to-nose, menacing and growling at one another before one finally blinked. Mr. Kaus seems to be using that kind of frame of reference, and it just doesn't fit.

No, this was about a wicked, dangerous, and juvenile country that was misbehaving in a fashion it carefully calibrated and calculated to be as outrageous as practicable. "As outrageous as practicable" is a relative concept, but here, it meant "very outrageous indeed": Iran calculated, correctly, that its target would react as though drugged with self-doubt and paralyzed by self-restraint. Iran could rely, after all, on some substantial portion of world public opinion, even within Britain and the U.S., to blame George W. Bush for whatever Iran did.

And Iran undertook its outrageous behavior not out of even feigned or pretended military confidence, but rather out of its conviction — now shamefully confirmed — that the two vastly more powerful, mature, and decent countries who could and should have done something to punish it, wouldn't. Iran's reward is not just in "getting away with it," but in having been seen by the entire world to have "gotten away with it" — and Iran's cool and successful calculation to pull that off was quite the opposite of "blinking."

The matador who taunts and escapes the bull is not bigger, stronger, or faster, but the fans don't cheer for and throw roses at the bull. It's true that the nimble and ghastly Mr. Ahmadinejad has danced out of the center of the bullring for the moment, blowing back kisses to the crowd, with the bull yet unslain. But John Bull and his faithful American cousins are wounded, maddened, saddened, embarrassed, perhaps confused. And our joint will for future fighting has been bled down a goodly amount — even though our fights with Iran, military or diplomatic, are neither over yet nor, truly, well begun.

Mr. Kaus finishes his analysis with: "Would [conservatives] have been happier if the Iranians hadn't caved so easily? Just asking!"

Well, Mickey, I'm glad you asked. We'd be happy if the Iranians had stayed the hell away from even a small British boarding team, and if the Iranians had instead been deterred effectively because they knew that committing an act of war, even against so relatively few military personnel, would be treated as an act of war with the likely consequence of — yes — war. (To switch my animal metaphors again abruptly:) That the Iranians felt free to beard the British lion is an outrage. But the larger outrage is that the Iranians have gotten away with it — and have therefore been encouraged to commit more such behavior in the future. That encouragement actually makes full-scale war ultimately more likely than would be the case if small but deliberate provocations had genuine adverse consequences. Precisely because we'd rather we not have to someday fight that war, conservatives are very disappointed in this result. We understand that appeasement ultimately leads more certainly to war.

The obvious prescription for the complete cure of Mr. Kaus' blurred vision is that he immediately read any decent biography of Theodore Roosevelt — who was himself famously myopic but geopolitically clear-sighted, and who would have reacted to the sort of political analysis Mr. Kaus has engaged in here with eye-watering, lip-foaming apoplexy. Failing that, Mr. Kaus might read this TR-like op-ed from Fred Thompson.

Posted by Beldar at 03:19 AM in Global War on Terror | Permalink

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Comments

(1) Mark L made the following comment | Apr 8, 2007 8:50:12 AM | Permalink

The Iranians "blinked" in the same way that a man who bets on double-zero at roulette wheel "blinks" if he pockets his winnings and walks away rather than continue playing in hopes of breaking the bank.

(2) Tom made the following comment | Apr 8, 2007 9:26:22 AM | Permalink

In 1757, a Royal Navy Admiral named John Byng was court-martialed and executed by firing squad on the quarterdeck of a warship for the crime of "failing to do his utmost" against the enemy. (The ship's famous log entry reads, "At twelve Mr. Byng was shot. I remember vividly studying about the event at the Naval Academy nearly fifty years ago. I kept thinking, Jeez, they not only shot him, but they referred to him as "Mister" instead of "Admiral.")

It would appear that attitudes in Her Majesty's Navy have eroded somewhat in the ensuing 250 years. This event has been a terribly demoralizing one for us Anglophiles, and I think it will have some disastrous consequences sooner rather than later. I'm not sure how it's going to play out with the Blair government and the folks at home, but thus far I haven't seen anything encouraging at all. The performance of the two officers--one navy, one a marine--on television was simply beyond belief.

Among the many questions in my mind are, what the hell was the skipper of HMS Cornwall doing and thinking? I have seen nothing definitive concerning what rules of engagement were in effect, and I understand that this mission was in some sense under the aegis of the UN. That should not matter one whit. I can promise one and all that the US Navy would never operate under any rules of engagement that affected in any way the right--and the absolute duty--of its sailors to defend themselves on the high seas. This whole thing is appalling.

(3) David Blue made the following comment | Apr 8, 2007 3:19:36 PM | Permalink

You shouldn't make "me too" comments, but "me too" to every word above.

Part of leadership, part of teaching, is just to be around people and be the right sort. You communicate the right spirit, or the lack of it, unconsciously. It's not something confined to a single topic, it's not a page of lecture notes on what to do if you are taken prisoner.

The officers in this case were so thoroughly wrong that it's no wonder only two men didn't break.

One of the hostages, Dean Harris, 30, an acting sergeant in the Royal Marines, told a Sunday Times reporter yesterday: "I want £70,000. That is based on what the others have told me they have been offered. I know Faye has been offered a heck more than that. I am worth it because I was one of only two who didn’t crack."

He's right. When your officers are the wrong sort, and above them the captain that put you in a hopeless position is worse, and above him the admiral saying well done chaps has abandoned all standards, then basic courage and loyalty become outstanding, a triumph of the individual over his environment.

This needs fixing.

Till it is fixed, it's weakness, and as Comrade Putin said, those who are weak get beaten.

(4) David Blue made the following comment | Apr 8, 2007 3:28:27 PM | Permalink

Also, if the Iranians blinked, how come it's the British not the Iranians that suspended their naval operations? (Iranian smuggling continues, British boarding is paused.)

It's obvious who tested who, who was publicly proven weak, and who needs to fix a glaring weakness.

(5) JS made the following comment | Apr 8, 2007 6:34:12 PM | Permalink

Report out of Britain that ship inspections will continue. Please advise if Iraq map (boundary) or Iranian map (boundary) will be used. Also, enquiring minds would like to learn the ROE.

(6) TCO made the following comment | Apr 29, 2007 3:17:48 PM | Permalink

As a Naval Officer, I think there should be a formal inquiry and than most likely court martials. In addition to being warranted on its own, this will have the added benefit of changing the ethic within the Brit Navy.

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