Tuesday, April 10, 2007

An excuse for war: Neocons and the Iranian hostage crisis

By Michael J.W. Stickings

As Libby mentioned yesterday, neocon leader Bill Kristol has argued that Iran should have been threatened with war over its capture of 15 British sailors and marines. Although he talks about avoiding war -- the only way to avoid war is to be tough, he suggests -- what he actually supports is a policy of threat-based engagement with Iran that could, and perhaps should, lead to war. Does Kristol think the U.S. should go to war with Iran? How could such reckless engagement not be taken to be a prelude to war? If he supports being tough, he must support following through on the threats and going to war.

Regardless, Kristol thinks that the hostage crisis, including apparently its diplomatic resolution, was "a real humiliation for the British" that also "strengthened the worst forces in Iran by making them think they can push the West around". And he's not alone. Others on the right, the neocon right, have made that very same point. One of them is noted Kristol cause célèbre John Bolton.

In a piece in the Financial Times, also published at the AEI website -- I will mention a few points here, but do check it out for further insight into the neocon mind -- Bolton argues that the release of the hostages, Iran's "gift," was "a political victory" for Iranian President Ahmadinejad and other Iranian hardliners: "Against all odds, Iran emerged with a win-win from the crisis: winning by its provocation in seizing the hostages in the first place and winning again by its unilateral decision to release them." He claims that "the incident was deliberate and strategic," "a low-cost way of testing British and allied resolve".

In Bolton's view, the British and the allies failed that test. Bolton blames the British for "surrender[ing] without a shot fired in self-defence". He blames Prime Minister Blair for not being confrontational and for pursuing "discussions" with Tehran. He blames the United Nations and the European Union for doing nothing. And he blames the U.S. for remaining silent, though it did so, as he acknowledges, "at Britain's behest".

The result is an "emboldened" Iran -- "it probed and found weakness." And "[t]he world will be a more dangerous place as a result". After all, "it is even less likely there will be a negotiated solution to the nuclear weapons issue," and Iran now "has every incentive to ratchet up its nuclear weapons programme, increase its support to Hamas, Hizbollah and others and perpetrate even more serious terrorism in Iraq".

Let me make two points in response:

1) Iran may or may not feel "emboldened," but the fact remains that the 15 sailors and marines were returned safely to Britain. Either diplomacy ("discussions") worked or Iran realized it couldn't hold them indefinitely without suffering the consequences of what could be deemed an act of war. Either way, Britain achieved its desired outcome without resorting to the threat of war and consequentially to an escalation in its already tense relationship with Iran, or to another act, such as the threat of further sanctions, that could have contributed to escalation.

Kristol and Bolton, inter alia, may argue that Britain (and, with it, the U.S.) should have been tougher with Tehran, but what would this have meant? Aside from risking the lives of the 15 sailors and marines, a tougher response would have contributed to an escalation of the situation. Yes, Iran started it -- the capture of the sailors and marines was a blatant act of escalation -- but it hardly follows that a reckless act should be followed by a reckless response. If that's the game, then war is inevitable. And, indeed, that seems to be precisely what Kristol, Bolton, et al. want. But, again, what should Blair have done? Should he have threatened a military strike on Iran? Should he have made the first move? It's one thing to threaten -- and it ought to be remembered that many of those pushing for war have never actually been to war, hence the term "chickenhawk" -- it's quite another to follow through on threats. What if Iran hadn't blinked in response to a threat? Or what if Iran had responded to a threat with yet more escalation?

And yet I have no doubt that Britain considered all options, including the ones that would have appealed to Kristol, Bolton, and their ilk, before choosing to pursue "discussions" and asking the U.S. to back off. It presumably chose a course of action that it deemed to be most likely of success (the release of the hostages and the peaceful resolution to the crisis). It may be easy to second-guess world leaders like Blair from the cozy confines of the AEI or PNAC, but the real world, which neocons tend to see as some sort of lab experiment for the realization of their armchair ideology, is rather more complex than their worldview can handle.

2) Bolton argues that Iran will now be less likely to accept "a negotiated solution to the nuclear weapons issue". He qualifies this, however: "not that there was ever much chance of one." This is revealing.

Kristol, Bolton, and their warmongering allies do not think that a diplomatic resolution to the Iranian nuclear crisis is possible. They may talk about peace, but they envision a future, a near-future, of war. The U.S. "came closer to war with Iran this week," as Kristol put it, but they do not lament that fact -- if indeed it is a fact. They see war with Iran as inevitable and they desire war sooner rather than later. Which is to say, they have every interest in promoting escalation. They wanted Britain and the U.S. to be tough on Iran in response to the hostage crisis not because such toughness would prevent war in the long-run but because it would accelerate the escalation to war in the short-run.

In short, they want an excuse for war. This is why they played up those unsubstantiated allegations that Iran was arming Iraqi insurgents and militias. This is why they play up the threat of Iran's nuclear program. And this is why they find such fault with how the Iranian hostage crisis was handled and resolved. It was just the sort of excuse they were looking for.

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  • Title: Baiting Iran into War

    News media around the world gone into overdrive the day when those 15 British sailors were taken by Iranian Revolutionary Guard.

    In short, 15 British sailors were in Shat al Arab waters, supposedly checking dhows for possible arms smuggling into Iraq. Then Iranian Revolutionary Guards surround them and detain them for being in Iranian waters. Then they were taken to Teheran, detained pending diplomatic solution between British and Iranian governments. Tony Blair insisted that they were in Iraqi waters, and demanded that they be released. Iranian government insisted that they were in Iranian waters, demanded apology before their release. Days later, still no apology, and Bush waded into the fray, saber rattling and demanded that they be released. Faye Turney, the only female sailor in the group was seen on Iranian TV giving press conference, saying that they were treated well, smoking and wearing head scarf. Still no apology from Tony Blair, but he said parading the detainees in TV is inhumane and contravenes Geneva Convention. Bush and Blair’s saber rattling continues.

    On day 13, Mahmoud Ahmedinijad announced that the detainees will be released and sent home as a season gift to Britain. So its all over.

    Some questions remains;

    1. What were those sailors doing? Reports from some news media from Iraq BEFORE they were detained indicate that the Navy was gathering intelligence in Iran over there. But the same news media conveniently don’t say anything, not a word soon as those sailors were detained.
    2. Tony Blair, instead of finding solution to the crisis and try to secure the release those sailors, was ratcheting up the crisis further, refusing to issue apology and saber rattling, issuing tough words and demanding that those sailors be released, pronto. Why didn’t he apologize, all he has to do is just saying that the sailors didn’t realize they were in Iranian waters? Iranian media said that their GPS equipment did indicate that they were in Iranian water. The crisis could have been solved in the first day!
    3. Bush joined the fray by saber rattling and demanding that they be release. Effectively threatening Iran. What Bush and USA has to do with this?

    A colleague from the Gulf wrote that USA and Britain have a timetable for invasion of Iran. 6 April was the deadline for the invasion. Planeloads of arms equipment has been shipped to Iraq through Dubai. The ruler of UAE made a statement on prime time television saying that UAE will not allow its territory, airspace and waters to be used as a base for invasion of another country. What other country?

    We all know that Iran is one of the axes of evil according to Bush and Blair. UN has problem lately with Iran, regarding nuclear facilities inspection. Or shall we say that Bush and Blair used UN to force Iran to allow inspections of nuclear facilities. Iran has never yielded to UN demands so far.

    Bush and Blair are desperate to find an excuse, any excuse to invade Iran. To invade Iran without UN resolution is illegal. But being illegal has never stop Bush and Blair. Remember Afghanistan? Mullah Omar was asking for the proof if Osama really did organize that plane crash into the twin tower. “Bring me the proof, and we will hand over Osama to you.”

    Didn’t Saddam acquiesce and let UN team search for the elusive WMD? If there is such thing as WMD, the US Army could have collected by the truckload already.

    I am not saying that Saddam was an okay person, but there is a precedent here. ‘Damn with UN Security Council and international law, we will just invade and secure that oil supply one way or another.’

    Are those sailors purposely strayed into Iranian waters?

    To make an invasion look legitimate, and get the support of US allies, they need a reason. Those sailors being detained by the Iranians would be just what they are looking for. Soon as they are taken to Teheran, the news media goes into overdrive; everyone is reminded of American embassy occupation for 444day back in 1980. Blair start demanding their release, always insist that they were in Iraqi waters.

    News reports start demonizing Iran, grooming American and British public opinion and conditioning them to approve war with Iran. Blair’s speech start to sound like saber rattling, then Bush join in, pouring petrol to Blair’s fire. If Mahmoud Ahmedinijad didn’t release the sailors and sent them home, opinion polls in Britain and USA would start to sway to Bush and Blair’s favour. Given time, a couple of week or so, then it would be ripe for rescue mission. Yeah just like in 1980. The public would have support it, who want their countrymen/woman rot in Iranian jail, of all places.

    The rescue mission would be designed to fail, so that the public opinion would be whipped up, people would get angry and start baying for Iranian blood.

    When the sailors appear on TV, Blair lambasted Iran, saying it’s wrong to parade the detainees, against the Geneva Convention. But the truth is it softened public perception of Iran, and told the truth what actually happened. That worked against Tony Blair’s script!

    If Iran still keeps the detainees, the tanks and the B52 would get oiled and cranked up. I was dismayed that Iran kept the detainees that long. They could have simply told the sailors to go away, regardless whether they were gathering intelligence or not. Or Iran could have put the sailors on the first plane bound for London as soon as they arrive in Teheran.

    Iran shouldn’t have taken the BAIT. But I am glad that they let them go.

    Noor Yahaya Hamzah

    Email: nooryahaya@yahoo.com


    By Blogger nooryahaya, at 3:40 AM  

  • Only weak people obsess about weakness.

    By Blogger Capt. Fogg, at 10:50 AM  

  • You're right about that Fogg and weak people tend to be the toughest talkers but if Kristol and his ilk were the ones captured, one might think they would change their mind about how it should have been handled.

    By Blogger Libby Spencer, at 11:40 AM  

  • There was such an obvious push for war in sectors of the blogoshpere - even before the facts were in about the circumstances.

    Glaringly lacking was (and is) any assessment of consequences. It was all about being tough and having pride and the call for glory, in very operatic tones.
    Considering the tragic consequences of the Iraq war, the absence of reasoning stuck out like a strobe light in a pitch black night.

    The consequences I foresaw included the elimination of a dissenting faction within Iran and uniting Sunnis and Shia in commor antagonism toward the West. The ME would change with the first shot and that for much the worse.

    Voices like Kristol are the stuff of nightmares.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:35 PM  

  • In 2005, Kristol caused controversy by praising President George W. Bush's second inaugural address without disclosing his role as a consultant to the writing of the speech. Kristol praised the speech highly in his role as a regular political contributor during FOX's coverage of the address, as well as in a Weekly Standard article, without disclosing his involvement in the speech either time.

    hahaha funny

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:44 PM  

  • By Blogger haydar, at 10:13 AM  

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