Friday, April 06, 2007

Why all the handwringing over Britain and Iran?

The 15 captured British sailors and Royal Marines are home from Iran, and while many people are simply glad to have them back, already the blame and handwringing has begun.

I haven't written about this previously because I had limited time to post, and if there was one thing I was sure of it was that the Brits would be returned home unharmed sooner or later. Iran may be crazy, but they're not stupid. Or is that stupid, but not crazy? Anyway, there was no way they were going to hurt the prisoners, and the whole situation was just one more black eye for Iran, internationally speaking.

However, the reaction in some quarters now that the situation is over just ticks me off.

First, the blame.

Some commentators said the captured personnel must explain the apparently easygoing demeanor with which they admitted entering Iranian waters and made public, televised apologies after their March 23 detention by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.

It's perfectly fine to ask questions about how the sailors came to be captured -- that's classic after-action review procedure. But it takes a lot of ignorance -- not to mention a complete lack of empathy -- to question what the prisoners did while in captivity.

During Vietnam, we had a hardline "name, rank and serial number" expectation of our POWs. What we discovered in the course of that conflict is that such an approach merely increased the psychological pressure on our captured soldiers, leading them to endure extremely harsh treatment for no good reason -- they had no sensitive information to protect -- and heaping guilt on them if and when they finally "broke." The result for many returning POWs: a lifetime of physical and psychological problems incurred for zero benefit to our war effort.

Based on those experiences, the U.S. military changed its mindset. When I was in the Army, the guidance was simple: If you find yourself in enemy hands, your sole duty is to survive and return home. Yes, if you have truly sensitive information then you have a duty not to divulge it if at all possible. Other than that, you simply do what you can to get through. If that means cooperating with your captors in transparently coerced dog-and-pony show, so be it. If that means signing "confessions" and telling them anything they want to hear, so be it. You do what you have to do.

There's an additional twist when you consider that the chain of command remains intact during imprisonment. The ranking officers or noncoms in a group are responsible for the well-being of everyone within that group. They set the standard for behavior, and as far as possible make decisions about when and how the group members will cooperate with their captors. That also, of course, makes them susceptible to psychological pressure that takes advantage of that responsibility. I may be quite willing to endure torture without cooperating. But am I willing to let them torture the 18-year-old gunner's mate who was captured along with me? And even if I am willing -- should I be?

As a general rule, no. My only responsibility in that situation is to get me and my troops back home in one piece, both mentally and physically.

So to those criticizing the British captives: knock it off. No harm was done, and be glad you didn't have to walk in their shoes.

Now, on to the handwringing, courtesy of Charles Krauthammer:

Iran has pulled off a tidy little success with its seizure and release of those 15 British sailors and marines: a pointed humiliation of Britain, with a bonus demonstration of Iran's intention to push back against coalition challenges to its assets in Iraq. All with total impunity. Further, it exposed the impotence of all those transnational institutions -- most prominently the European Union and the United Nations -- that pretend to maintain international order.

Okay, so he's not really wringing his hands -- though his main alternative would have been to immediately freeze European trade with Iran, a move that would have hurt Europe as well. But he's expressing the general sentiment of the handwringers. To which I have one response:

Give me a break.

This was not a "humiliation" of Britain. Iran seized sailors; Britain and the world denounced it; a few weeks later, Iran released them. Krauthammer sees a quid pro quo, but even if there is one -- and the evidence for that is so thin as to be ghostly -- it's incredibly tiny compared to the harm Iran caused to its own position with the seizure. So Iran proves it can defy the West -- whoop-de-do. Did anyone doubt that? Every time they do that they violate some norm of international behavior, which further isolates them and adds another ring to the target they're methodically painting on themselves.

Honestly, how is Iran stronger -- or Britain weaker -- for this event having happened? Self-serving neocons like Krauthammer claiming it is so does not make it true. With the dust settled, Iran is more isolated, not less. I fail to see how they benefited in any but the shortest of short terms.

So knock off the handwringing and the blame. This was a minor, if dramatic, event in a much larger dance, and it did nothing to change that dance in Iran's favor. It was a move that carried with it a whiff of desperation on Iran's part. The important thing now is to demonstrate how justified that desperation is, by keeping the screws on them to give up their enrichment program.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

IMO, the reason Iran suddenly decided to release them was hearing that the USS Nimitz was steaming towards them!

The prisoners are talking today....and telling of being blindfolded against a wall and hearing guns cocking. (Same thing that was done to the hostages in 1979; EXACT same thing) They were isolated in cells 8x6 and the woman was told all the others had been released except her. They were interrogated and threatened that if they did not cooperate they would spend about 7 years in their prison. The prisoners also said the "goody bags" and tea served them was a "media event" done for the people of Iran and some parts of the world. It seems Iran's prez is trying to fool the world into thinking he's a nice guy and didn't deserve what happened to him at the UN.


4/06/2007 4:55 PM  

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