April 10, 2007

What If They Had Been U.S. Navy?


Had the British followed the American example, once the sailors and marines were seized, they could have escalated the conflict by pursuing the matter more forcefully at the United Nations or sending additional naval vessels to the area. Instead, the British tempered their rhetoric and insisted that diplomacy was the only means of resolving the conflict. The Iranians received this as pragmatism on London’s part and responded in kind.

The United States, meanwhile, has pursued its policy of coercion for two months now, and one is hard-pressed to find evidence of success. Beyond even the symbolic move of apprehending the British sailors, Iran’s intransigent position on the nuclear issue remains unchanged. To underscore that point, Iran has scaled back cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency and released a new currency note adorned with a nuclear emblem.

More related fare, of the 'thanks, but no thanks' variety, here:

The US offered to take military action on behalf of the 15 British sailors and marines held by Iran, including buzzing Iranian Revolutionary Guard positions with warplanes, the Guardian has learned.

In the first few days after the captives were seized and British diplomats were getting no news from Tehran on their whereabouts, Pentagon officials asked their British counterparts: what do you want us to do? They offered a series of military options, a list which remains top secret given the mounting risk of war between the US and Iran. But one of the options was for US combat aircraft to mount aggressive patrols over Iranian Revolutionary Guard bases in Iran, to underline the seriousness of the situation.

The British declined the offer and said the US could calm the situation by staying out of it. London also asked the US to tone down military exercises that were already under way in the Gulf. Three days before the capture of the 15 Britons , a second carrier group arrived having been ordered there by president George Bush in January. The aim was to add to pressure on Iran over its nuclear programme and alleged operations inside Iraq against coalition forces.

We can discuss the merits of Takeyh's recommended detente policy another day, or the Guardian piece, for that matter. But for tonight, a little mind exercise, shall we? Imagine the 15 kidnapped Brits were U.S. Navy. And then imagine the eruption of incredible indignation, the 24/7 howls of outrage, the 'we gotta go into Teheran right now!' (it's an "act of war", after all, the hyperbolic goose-stepping gaggles would have gravely advised non-stop), the flood-the-zone jingo-banging of the war drums (as Francis Fukuyama quips about one of the more fevered, incorrigible neo-cons: "when has Krauthammer ever not cried “Munich!” in response to an act of diplomacy?").

Who would have had a freak-out and totally lost it first, one wonders: Bill O'Reilly? Glenn Beck? Lou Dobbs, off the Tom Tancredo-ish nativist brew for a second or two? Anderson Cooper, of course, would have started broadcasting live from a British frigate near the Shatt al-Arab waterway--explaining to us what it must have 'felt' like to get nabbed in disputed waters (though, in fairness to him, his reporting, if breathless, would have been more nuanced than any of the above personages). And, just a couple hours before, Wolf Blitzer's Situation Room would have been rife with buzzing electronic maps, on which frantic, 'John Madden Meets Sun Tzu' magic marker scribblings would have feverishly charted the possible invasion paths into Iran to mount the daring rescue.

And in the blogosphere? Well, Glenn Reynolds would have recycled some horse-dung along the lines that bayonets ain't for sittin', and it's time to roll ( 'more rubble, less trouble!'). Meantime, Charles Johnson would have passed out on his keyboard, after a series of post-cycling conniptions (coming on the heels of the "headscarf threat", it would all have been too much). Oh, and Michael Ledeen? Be afraid, be very afraid. Think frothing, at the mouth, rabidly. Here he is again, calling for attacks within Iran (despite his laughable denials that he's not in favor of military action there):

It would be nice if someone in a position of power noted that the Iranians have committed an act of war on a NATO country, and that the other members of the alliance can be obliged to join in common action against the aggressor if the relevant terms of the treaty are invoked, as they should be. That should be the first move, showing the Iranians that the West is united and determined to act. It should be accompanied by the appearance of some vessels from what is left of Her Majesty's Navy, buttressing our own warships and--shhhh!--the French carrier now in the area. If we have actionable intelligence from the recent wave of defectors/prisoners, we should step up the campaign against Iranian officials and agents in Iraq. And we should undertake the legitimate self-defense to which we are entitled, by moving against the terrorist training camps, and the improvised explosive device assembly lines and manufacturing sites inside the Islamic Republic.

Ah, to parachute Michael into the first "assembly line" raid!

Two pluses, though. More Bush as Carter comps might have resulted, though this does the latter a disservice, and, lo and behold, as pointed out hilariously here, we'd just perhaps have gotten more bursts of sanity emitting from the unlikeliest quarters. Hope springs eternal!

Posted by Gregory at April 10, 2007 05:19 AM

The assumption I see is that the US personnel would have resisted if put in that situation. If you are going to post on hypotheticals, I'd be curious to know what your reaction to that would have been.

Posted by: Appalled Moderate at April 10, 2007 02:33 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

It is my understanding the Brits considered resisting until they saw how badly out-gunned they were. Assuming the US sends out lightly armed boarding parties in inflatable dingies without close air support, I would expect a similar result. Either that or a lot of chum floating on the water.

Posted by: jim in austin at April 10, 2007 06:34 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"The British declined the offer..." ah, to be a spider on the wall when that was communicated.

Speaking of hope (color me skeptical, but still...), any word on how the emerging, corrective, fair, balanced, and reality-based triumvirate (Gates-Paulson-Rice) performed in this crisis?

Posted by: Adams at April 10, 2007 07:38 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Working my way through 'The Power of Nightmares' on neocons and al-Qaeda. It's a bit hard not to seethe with anger when seeing these people with blood on their hands deflect criticism with 'whatever' and 'stuff happens'. And here they are again.

So anyway: What do you (Greg Djerejian) think about Fukuyama in general? I can't make up my mind about him.

Posted by: Klaus at April 10, 2007 09:38 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I do wonder why it is that so many will resist the evidence of their own observations. Magical or delusional thinking? Some people, like me, saw the outcome as likely to be very detrimental to our interests, way before the first shot was fired. Not prognosticating just widely read in geopolitics and military history.

Again the hysteria over Iran or DPRK is adverse to our best interests. The real threats we face are all internal, looting the wealth of entrepreneurs, scientists, engineers, and wage earners by capital pirates. The crappification of our schools. And the growth of a radical sectarian religious movement fueled by the lunacy of the leaders and the credulity of the led.

These are all self created problems whose solution is entirely domestic. This period after WW2 gave us an unprecedented chance to finally make a decent society. We are blowing it by stages, fearful when we should be confident and petty when we should be great.

Posted by: Tom Perry at April 11, 2007 03:39 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Actually, the Iranians have been foolish enough to spend gobs of money on some German diesel-electric submarines. One or two of those would have gone missing, I suspect.

Doesn't really matter. The Iranian leadership has made the decision for war anyway. It's only a question of time and means. Most likely in the Levant again, using missiles against the Izzies. Let's see if the hapless Ehud Olmert can get his act together this time.

Posted by: section9 at April 12, 2007 01:03 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

But the utmost form of humiliation has now been piled on the Brit Sailors by their peers.....They are referring to them all as "Mr. Bean".

If you do not know what this Brit TV series is about...google it. Should be understandable.

So their careers and likely Blairs are over.

Posted by: mrbill at April 12, 2007 01:41 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Actually, the Iranians have been foolish enough to spend gobs of money on some German diesel-electric submarines. One or two of those would have gone missing, I suspect.

Actually, the Iranians couldn´t spend any money on some German submarines because they didn´t buy any. Not to mention that Germany probably wouldn´t have sold them any.

Do you mean perhaps the three Russian Kilo class diesel submarines? Bought from Russia in the 1990s?

Posted by: Detlef at April 12, 2007 06:54 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

What if it had been the Iranian navy near our coast? Would we not have sunk or boarded their vessel?

Posted by: Tom Perry at April 12, 2007 10:15 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The obligation to support other NATO members covers a very limited geographical area that does not include the Persian Gulf so the other NATO members such as France and Germany were quite entitled to tell us Brits "not today thank you".

Posted by: blowback at April 13, 2007 12:53 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

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Gregory Djerejian comments intermittently on global politics, finance & diplomacy at this site. The views expressed herein are solely his own and do not represent those of any organization.

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