Hawks for Humiliation: Am I missing something? Why exactly was the resolution of the latest Iran hostage crisis a “success” for Iran and a “humiliation” for Britain, as the hawkish Charles Krauthammer argues (and Geoffrey Wheatcroft insinuates but doesn’t quite come out and say in his own voice, as opposed to John Bolton’s)? 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.
The “humiliation” take on the hostage crisis doesn’t come from a desire to fight or invade Iran. Or at least, that’s not where it’s coming from in my own take on the incident. I would rather several things be tried with Iran first before we get to military confrontation, though the credible threat of our bringing force to bear should always be in the back of the mullahs’ minds. With two carriers currently in the Gulf and a third on its way to relieve one of them, I’m sure the threat of US force is credible enough.
But as to the humiliation, imho the UK was humiliated, first, because the fairly pathetic Iranian navy managed to capture members of Britain’s senior service while they were in Iraqi waters, and without firing a shot, because the British Rules of Engagement apparently don’t allow for proactive self-defense. The UK was humiliated second in its sailors’ and Marines’ apparent haste to offer up confessions and apologies to their captors. The third humiliation came at the end of the standoff, when the sailors and Marines gave Mahmoud a big thumbs up on their way out. Throw in the headscarf, the partying, the goodie bags etc while we’re at it. Iran also got to distract the world from the continuing standoff over its nuclear weapons program for a while, and may have won access to its officers currently held by the US in Iraq.
And then there’s the story that just broke today: The British hostages have been allowed to sell their stories to the media. Nice. The old British stiff upper lip has been replaced with a routing address. (h/t dorkafork)
We’ve learned from the sailors and Marines since their return home that they were subjected to some psychological pressure tactics–separation, mock executions and so forth. That mitigates their behavior somewhat, but not totally and not actually very much. They weren’t in captivity for years, like John McCain and Jim Stockdale. They were in captivity for days. The first confessions hit the Iranian airwaves within 48 hours or so of their capture. If they held out against their captors, it wasn’t for very long at all.
As See-Dub blogged, captured Americans have held out for much longer and under much greater stress then these hostages did. I’m sure that captured Brits of the past have been every bit as stoic as Admiral Stockdale was in Vietnam. And the fact is, military personnel who are deployed to what can at any time become a war zone (if you don’t already consider the Persian Gulf and the Middle East generally to be one) should be briefed on how to behave themselves if they are captured by a hostile power. They should be briefed that they ought not be quite so quick to yuck it up with their captors, even if they’re faking it.
I’m still persuadable that the Royal Navy is more to blame for the hostages’ behavior than the hostages themselves, first because of the Rules of Engagement and second in the code of conduct for captured British military personnel. I just don’t know what the British code is and to what extent it reinforces loyalty, duty, honor and the idea of resistance to one’s captors. After this incident, I suspect that the British code isn’t much like the US code of conduct. If that’s the case, it’s harder to blame the hostages then the Royal Navy itself for the way they behaved, since the Royal Navy apparently doesn’t do much to prepare and harden its personnel against the tactics captors may use.
In the final analysis of this crisis, it’s possible that both Iran and the UK blinked. The UK didn’t want a fight, and Iran may have gotten a little nervous with so much attention focused on them. It’s possible. It’s also possible that the combination of a carrot–access to the Iranians held in Iraq–and a stick–the presence of two US aircraft carriers lurking in the Gulf with a third on the way–got the sticky situation unstuck. It’s not possible that the threat of UK military action made any difference, since no such threat was ever offered. It’s also not likely that UK diplomacy did much good, since the mullahcracy tends to react to normal European diplomacy with scorn. It’s very possible that Hezbollah’s known presence in the UK stayed Blair’s hand. At this point it seems likely that the US played a major though mostly silent role in freeing those hostages, probably to keep Tony Blair from going under for good. If that’s true, then the UK was essentially bailed out by the US against ambitious rogue state Iran.
Humiliating? I think so.
More: For an example of how captive troops ought to behave, head over to IMAO.