An Iranian victory? I fear it is so.

Some people are speculating as to why the government of Iran suddenly decided to release the British sailors and Marines it was holding. There are a number of reasons that have been bandied about, and the two leading contenders are that we made some sort of terrible threat, or that we caved in and bribed them. Maybe both.

I think there’s another reason. The big game here is Iran’s program to produce weapon’s grade U-235, and what they need now is time. The big danger, as they see it, is that we’ll get nasty before they have a nuclear deterrent and start bombing.

The political will to do that isn’t there yet; the West hasn’t given up on diplomacy — and that’s a good thing for Iran, because they’ve been extreme adept at stretching negotiations out, making the occasional relatively meaningless concession, sometimes yanking them back again, and in general buying lots of time for the centrifuges to run.

This news report from last September is relevant:

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Thursday that his country’s nuclear standoff with the West can be solved through dialogue, while calling for unspecified "new conditions" in negotiations.


Ahmedinejad, on an hours-long stopover in Senegal en route to Cuba for a summit of the Nonaligned Movement, said the debate over Iranian nuclear enrichment could be solved peacefully.


"We’re partisans of dialogue and negotiation. We believe that we can resolve our problems in a space of dialogue and justice — together," he told reporters.

And the reason why he thinks negotiations are the way to go is that it’s Iran’s best chance of stalling until their first successful nuclear test.

The release of the British tars, especially if there was neither duress nor bribery involved, makes the Iranian government look reasonable and pliable, and it encourages those in the West who think that negotiations can convince Iran to give up its quest for nuclear weapons. That’s a solid victory for Iran.

22 thoughts on “An Iranian victory? I fear it is so.”

  1. It also makes the US look low for not releasing the five Iranians seized from their embassy in Iraq in January. It’s not clear whether those five were actually spies trying to equip Shi’ite militia groups, as the administration claims, or whether they were simply ordinary diplomatic personnel. The Bush administration isn’t very good at telling the difference between spies and non-spies.

    Iran’s smartest plan right now is to not look like a rogue state and to create as strong an impression as possible that they are just another player in the game of international relations, with the same rights and privileges as any other major contender. If this works, it means that they will get the kind of respect that accrues to nuclear club members such as China and India, and not the kind that accrues to, say, North Korea.

  2. There is simply no comparasion to the Iranian agents underming Iraq, and were caught and detained and what Iran did to the UK sailors… other than Iranian was on the “wrong” side in each case.

    Anyone who would look low on the US for seizing those people have a gaze I am not concerned about.

  3. James A Pacella – lots of ‘serious’ people do look low on the US for seizing them, and it’s incredibly frustrating.

    If you look at the comments sections to a lot of British papers/blogs, you see the point being made (unbelievably) that this shows that the US gives you Guantanamo, while the Iranians magnanimously give goody bags to errant sailors. This point is being made with the utmost seriousness and while it may seem insane to you and I, a lot of people who don’t really pay attention to the true nature of the Iranian regime, or who have so thoroughly bought into the moral relativity meme, *do* think this. It not only makes the Iranians look reasonable in comparison, it continues to re-enforce a narrative of oppressor versus oppressed, which so thrills many in the West and the East. It’s political theater, but it’s theater with very serious consequences.

    I don’t know how to counter this, but we have to start thinking very hard about communication and creating counter-narratives here in the West. We are completely out-matched in this information war and it goes beyond accusations of bias in the media. We are not thinking deeply enough about it. I do think, among those that pay attention, the way in which the EU and UN reacted has created some unease. Equally among the comments in British papers and blogs seems to be a shaken realization that while the US may be to ‘blame’ for Britain’s travails (which I don’t particularly agree with), the US is the only entity willing to put pressure on the Iranians.

  4. Hmmmm, that’s all fine and good, but how do we counter such detrimental attitudes? And they *are* detrimental to US interests. Copping an attitude is one thing. Winning is another. I prefer the latter.

  5. James,

    You may not care what gullible Europeans think but there are many Americans who think like them. These people, both Americans and Europeans, are the target audience of the mullahs’ infowar efforts. We have no choice but to take their opinions seriously, because there are so many such people and they have as much influence on govt policy as anyone else does, and because our enemies are assiduously cultivating their opinion. I agree with MD. It seems to me that the difficulties we are having in prosecuting the war result in large part from the ineptitude of our public officials in explaining what the war is about and why we must fight it, and in their ineptitude in using mass media to advance our cause as the mullahs and other Islamists use it the media to advance theirs.

  6. James said: ..their ineptitude in using mass media to advance our cause …

    You are far too generous. ‘Ineptitude’ implies that they’ve at least tried. Thus far, the administration seems oblivious to the concept of a propapagnda war. They’ve forfeited the game as no-shows.

  7. Here comes the payoff:


    Iran’s abrupt release of 15 British sailors and marines is raising hopes the country might compromise on other disputes, most notably its nuclear program.

    The move points to the growing influence of pragmatic conservatives, a faction that backs Iran’s Islamic clerical leadership but is still willing to deal with the West — at least to ensure that the country is not harmed in its confrontations with the U.S. and its allies.

    British media credited the breakthrough to Ali Larijani, Iran’s top foreign policy negotiator who leads its diplomatic efforts in dealing with a demand by the West for a freeze in Iranian uranium enrichment.

  8. Steve, I can’t resist saying — I said the same thing a couple of days ago! To wit:

    Not only that, but the lovefest that will greet Ahmadinejad for this “gesture” — entirely guaranteed in this topsy-turvy moral world of international relations — will actually buy him (and his friends Syria and Russia) tremendous credibility, utterly undeserved, as someone regarding whom patience and of course a lack of harshness can bear fruit.

    In short, he got what he wanted and needed, and is far better off for it than if he had never done it all. A brilliant tactical move, however wicked and illegal.

  9. Petraeus concluded his interview with Lehrer a couple of nights ago:

    GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS: Well, as I mentioned at the outset, Jim, again, I’m conscious of a couple of things. One is that the Washington clock is moving more rapidly than the Baghdad clock, so we’re obviously trying to speed up the Baghdad clock a bit and to produce some progress on the ground that can perhaps give hope to those in the coalition countries, in Washington, and perhaps put a little more time on the Washington clock.

    I’m keenly aware, again, that we’ve got a pretty heavy rucksack of responsibility out here, got a lot of help in carrying that rucksack. We’re doing the very best we can with what we have, and, really, that’s about all that we can do, Jim.

    Any general accepts reality and then work with limitations and variables (as do we all, but not generally with as consequential ones). But the intensity of that “home” time table would put a lot less pressure on him if Bush had more often and more clearly put his case (and, of course, if the msm had been less snarky, more thoughtful).

    No one has posited any kind of realistic scenario in which our pulling out is going to make things better. The “warmongering” point of view has an argument, a stronger one I believe. But it is not argued often nor well. I suspect that is because no one wants to argue for war, for the importance of battles, for the importance of actions that are designed to cause death. For centuries such arguments have been clothed in the words of values no longer respected. But that does not mean that Lincoln’s words did not clothe and communicate a cause greater than those that would compromise with the South or accept the disintegration of the union.

  10. I’m still puzzled by how a few light boats could take the Brits when they had a Royal Navy frigate standing by. An accurate after action report might clear that up, but I haven’t yet found the details. Anyone know?

  11. Jonathan, Europe is gone within the next few decades (IMHO) , I see no value in begging them not to be bigoted toward us.

  12. James,

    In the USA there’s a minority of people who strongly favor appeasement of our enemies under all conditions and a minority of people who strongly believe that we haven’t prosecuted the war aggressively enough. In the middle is a large group of people who are undecided or who only pay attention to geopolitics when something far out of the ordinary occurs.

    This middle group determines what our government does. They sided with the pro-war minority for two or three years after 9/11, and we were able to go to war. Since then, the media and anti-American narratives of the war, which have not been effectively countered by the Bush administration, have gradually shifted the balance of opinion in this group toward the appeasers. The result is that we are treading water in Iraq, because the political will to win the war by (among other things) taking it the Syrian and Iranian regimes no longer exists.

    That is why it matters what people think, and why we will not be able to win the war until there is either a terrible event or series of events that catalyzes pro-war opinion, or we effectively counter the infowar attacks made by the Iranians and others. In this light it seems clear to me that Iran just won a major victory.

  13. This is an interesting discussion, but I fail to see exactly what the Administration can do to “more effectively communicate”. The President has done an admirable job of presenting the case, but the media doesn’t report it. They take every oportunity to present the case for the other side.

    The Europeans are not going to help. They did little to nothing in the Carter “hostage crisis”, when they actually might have been able to do something, and they have less will now, as the trumpeting of the release of the Brits as some kind of victory clearly shows. I fear James is right; they are in a terminal coma, trying to wake them is futile.

    We are a people in the act of falling back to sleep, despite the alarms raised by the Administration. It is a sad and terrible truth that we will not regain the will to do what needs to be done until we suffer more catastrophe.

  14. Well, here are some brainstorming ideas for better communication. It’s just brainstorming, so a lot of it could be completely silly. I’m just trying to sort it out.

    1. Push for more embedding of independent journalists…Michael Yon, whom I know is simply one person and for all I know may be a crank, or could be correct, talks about the difficulty embedding. The point is: More information, more stuff gets out, it’s harder to control the narrative by any one side. Overload people in all directions, good, bad, up and down.

    2. Loads of satellite dishes in Iraq. Mudville Gazette had an interview with a military official (can’t remember who), who talked about them springing up exponentially. How hard are we working this angle?

    3. Strategy Page talked about how CSI is a popular show in Iraq! So, how about free DVD’s of stuff they like which also has messages in it? Messages about the Iraqi constitution, our constitution, how democracy works, etc.

    4. Sponser the popular Iraqi shows and also show them here on C-SPAN or something, so Americans can have some sense of the place beyond the front page.

    5. Monitor, closely, the front page of papers across Europe, etc, and have someone counter mistakes in articles. Set up a page, do it respectfully and not in a gotcha fashion, and just keep pointing out the errors. I know this is done on some of the military websites, but they are clunky and not popular among the general public. It would have helped if the President CONSTANTLY, in all of his speeches, directed people to one and one only, website, with podcasts of speeches, explanations of what we are doing, e-mail alerts about Iraq, etc. One place only! People are busy, people are distracted, people have short attention spans, it must be one central hub that builds itself.

    Lots others, maybe I’ll put them on my site (which I never post to and no-one reads :), but jeez. It’s baby stuff we’re doing. Just rank amateur stuff. Those of us on the right who’ve supported the administration know a lot of this stuff, and people on the left who pay attention, but the vast middle is confused. Because no one’s bothered to consistently tried to pull it together for them. I know the MSM ignores points in speeches, etc. That is why it is important to streamline and constantly bombard people with stuff. Only a bit of it get’s through. The president should have had someone from Soldier’s Angels introduced at his speeches, humanize it. Break it down into something that is tangible.

    I dunno. I think they’ve really tried, I’m really thinking of something much larger than Iraq.

  15. MD,

    Matt Welch suggested something similar to suggestion 5, except IIRC he wanted the State Department to make that their job. SD employees should read news about the US in the media of whatever country they’re in and comment and rebut errors within them. I have no idea if they do that now or what, but it seems like a no brainer for them.

  16. Instapundit links to an answer to MD’s frustration. Would a heroic act be any the less heroic if no one saw it? Yes, but that doesn’t mean that ensuring no one knows about it won’t make a difference in what people think is going on in the forest.

  17. Yes, Ginny, and at the same time the “heroic” British Marines and sailors get a ton of positive press for their perhaps pragmatic, but certainly less than heroic, behavior. This is a pefect example of the MSM’s priorities and prejudices.

  18. I just ran across this blog post about the American air force people’s handling of thier detention by China when thier spy plane was hit by a Chinese Air Force jet and forced to crash into Chinese land. The difference is stark. It’s sad what has become of the UK.

    “We apologize”

    “I’m here to tell you we did it right, no apologies necessary on our part.”
    Lt. Shane Osborn, USN, Commander of EP-3E Mission.
    A reader drew our attention to the incident on 1 April 2001 when Lt. Shane Osborn, USN and his 24 crew were held captive by Chinese authorities for 11 days after a Chinese fighter aircraft had collided with their EP-3E Orion surveillance aircraft near that country’s coast. They had been forced to make an emergency landing on Hainan island in China and endured threats of endless imprisonment and demands for public apologies.

    Reconstructed from a number of reports (here, here, here, here and here), the accounts tell of Chinese soldiers surrounding the aircraft after the emergency landing, the Chinese pilot having crashed into the sea, presumed dead. One crewmember later described the face-to-face standoff with the Chinese as tense, with confusion on both sides about how to react.

    The accounts also have Osborn saying that his crew quickly vowed to resist to the best of their ability, for as long as humanly possible. “The blood was not going thin on my watch,” he said. “We were nowhere near our breaking point. We still had a lot of fight left in us.”

    On the 10th day of captivity, the Chinese even told Osborn he and his crew could go home that day if they confessed to violating Chinese airspace, a fact Osborn and the U.S. denied. He gathered his crew together and shared the Chinese offer.

    “We were all scared, unsure how long we’d be there,” he said. “But I told them that there have been a lot of people who have been through a hell of a lot worse than we had been. I said I’d be old and gray before that [apology] happened. It was clear from the crew’s faces that that was not a deal we were going to make.”

    “You don’t want to be used for propaganda, if you can help it,” he said. “You certainly don’t want to take responsibility for something you are not responsible for.”

    Co-pilot Lt. Patrick Honeck said, “The first day or so, we didn’t know if we were going to be roughed up or anything, but as the time went on, we realized that they were more into the psychological aspect of it, trying to get us to talk,” he said. “And we weren’t really too afraid for our physical being.”

    Throughout the detention, the Chinese warned the US crew that they were carrying out a detailed investigation of the incident and there could be a trial depending on the outcome. Officials pressed constantly for information about the equipment aboard the aircraft, said Navy Lt j.g. Richard Payne. “Every interrogation I was in, they asked about the equipment,” he said.

    Payne said they didn’t know they were being released until they were moments from boarding the chartered jet to Guam. Afterwards, he told reporters, “You all knew before we did.” But, he said, when they (the crew) finally were told, “nobody showed any emotion at all. The first outburst came when the Continental jet took off.”

    A website at the time mocked up an apology for Lt. Osborn and his crew (above). “We returned with honor,” said Osborn. And the US Navy got its aircraft back.

  19. Interesting discussion, particularly after thinking it through and posting on it at Yankeewombat today. I’m a bit more optimistic because I don’t think Ahmadinejad comes off looking good to people generally because I think his reputation is closer to that NK president Kim Jong Il than one commemter above. I’m an American living in Australia but I read mostly US news on the web and I would say that Ahmadinejad gets better press than Kim Jong Il and worse than Chavez. Bluntly I think most people know he is an unstable nut and this incident, with its sudden reversal, enhances that image. I agree that those who constantly project their faith in negotiation on Islamists of all stripes will see this as an example of Islamist reasonableness. They will remain in that state of hopeful illusion in both Europe and America until something catastrophic breaks the spell. Just like they did in the 30s.I agree with Steven den Beste that moderate conservatives within Iran probably forced Ahmadinejad to wind his neck in. I also agree with the posts central point that the real game is to play for time – I just don’t think this incident helped Iran that much.

  20. I dont see a case for the conclusion that Iran was harmed by this.

    The entire situation from beginning to end was under Iran’s initiative. We have no idea what the purpose was but I can assure you, it’s very very evil and harmful, and I believe he was testing the West and the West profoundly failed.

    We are going to regret this very much one day I fear.

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