In a piece published Tuesday by Inter Press Service, Khody Akhavi reviewed the efforts of right-wing media to "cast the sailors' 'humiliating' behavior and their government's equally 'bungled' response as an affront to the Anglosphere and its interests in the Middle East." -- The campaign was not without effect, since on Monday Britain's Ministry of Defence reversed itself and banned any further sale by service personnel of their accounts of captivity. -- The interests driving the campaign were apparent from another IPS commentary, published five days earlier by veteran international correspondent Jim Lobe: to squelch the Iranian message to the West that Iran will "engage diplomatically, but without preconditions and on the basis of equality . . . '[S]ee how magnanimous we are; we are a charitable, civilized people. We are reasonable. You can talk with us,'" in the words of William Beeman, an Iran expert at the University of Minnesota. -- Elements in the West bitterly opposed to a so-called "Grand Bargain" with Iran were intent in disrupting what Juan Cole of the Univ. of Michigan saw as an opportunity for diplomatic engagement. -- "The British have now opened a channel," Cole told Lobe. "Although this incident really did constitute a crisis — one that might have escalated to very dangerous levels — the resolution was diplomatic, and that diplomatic resolution could contain the seeds for future diplomacy, if the British and the Americans are so inclined." -- And Iran expert Gary Sick said that the Bush administration calm restraint during the crisis suggested that the much discussed U.S. plans for aggression against Iran may have been exaggerated: "The Iranian capture of 15 (British) military personnel could certainly have been used as .a pretext (for a military strike), since it could easily have escalated to a full-fledged military crisis," said Sick. "I regard the absence of unbridled escalation in this case as a significant indicator that the U.S. desire for a strike may be more muted than it has been portrayed." ...
HEROES OR COWARDS? NEOCONS WEIGH IN ON SAILORS
By Khody Akhavi
Inter Press Service
April 10, 2007
WASHINGTON -- Name, rank, serial number, and your signature on the dotted line. No sooner had Britain's 15 "kidnapped" sailors and marines returned from their harrowing "hostage" experience at the hands of Iran than some were lining up to sell their stories to the British press.
And no sooner had they been accused of "acting like reality-TV stars" than they became a punching bag for neo-conservatives and other right-wing hawks in the United States who cast the sailors' "humiliating" behavior and their government's equally "bungled" response as an affront to the Anglosphere and its interests in the Middle East.
"If there has ever in history been a faster, more humiliating submission to Stockholm syndrome, we're unaware of it," read an editorial in the New York Post, a neo-conservative daily owned by Australian-born Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation. "But aren't British service personnel trained for this sort of thing?"
Mark Steyn, a neo-conservative syndicated columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times, was equally unimpressed when he wrote, "The Queen's Navee had been demobbed. The token gal was dressed up as an Islamic woman, and the 14 men had been kitted out in [Iranian President Mahmud] Ahmadinejad's leisurewear."
The details of training for hostage situations are kept secret, according to Britain's Defense Ministry. If the Iranian government's sophisticated tactics of coercion are any indication, the training would not have made much of a difference anyway.
Iran used the British sailors -- captured last month by members of Iran's Revolutionary Guards as they patrolled the Shatt-al-Arab waterway -- as a propaganda tool. They paraded them in front of Iran's state-run media and coerced confessions from them.
But the British government may have been just as eager to manipulate Iran's tawdry stunt to its advantage. Its first step? Cite "exceptional circumstances" and allow the sailors to sell their version of events to the British media.
However, the window of opportunity to cash in was short-lived, as the Ministry of Defense on Monday banned any more sailors from profiting from their captivity. That was after the lone female sailor, Leading Seaman Faye Turney, 26, reportedly struck deals worth more than 100,000 pounds (about US$200,000) with British channel ITV1 for her story, and after Arthur Batchelor, 20, the youngest of the sailors, told the *Daily Mirror* that he "cried like a baby" in his prison cell.
"A guard kept flicking my neck with his index finger and thumb. I thought the worst. We've all seen the videos," said Batchelor in the same interview, perhaps referring to decapitation videos made by clandestine terrorist organizations such as al-Qaeda, the most notorious of which captured the murders of American businessman Nicholas Berg and Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl.
Iran has not been implicated in the creation or distribution of decapitation videos popularized by Sunni extremist groups in Iraq.
In response to Britain's vigorous defense that the sailors "acted with immense courage and dignity," the same *New York Post* editorial remarked, "That's just icing on the capitulation cake -- adding to a humiliation that will have consequences far into the future."
It's the consequences of Britain's ostensible "soft power" approach with Iran that enrage neo-conservative columnists such as Charles Krauthammer the most. For him, the "humiliation" suffered by the British is evidence that the international community and "its great institutions" are a sham, and that multilateralism is a dead end.
"You want your people back? Go to the [European Union] and get stiffed. Go to the [United Nations] Security Council and get a statement that refuses even to 'deplore' this act of piracy," he wrote in the Washington Post. "Then turn to the despised Americans. They'll deal you some cards and bail you out."
With 136 British servicemen and women killed in Iraq, the British government announced in February a new timetable for withdrawing much of its 7,000-strong force from the war-torn country. Prime Minister Tony Blair told the House of Commons that 3,000 of those soldiers will have left southern Iraq by the end of 2007.
Britain's announcement came as the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush sent 21,100 more troops to Iraq, and the standoff between Iran and Britain over the detained sailors brought a new complication for Blair, who wants to tiptoe out of Basra before the situation gets out of hand.
Other neo-conservative hawks have seized on Britain's "bungled" diplomatic response as an argument for unilateral action and a warning for Iran's future dealings with the international community with regard to its nuclear aspirations.
In an op-ed piece in the Financial Times, former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton excoriated the British Foreign Office: "This passive, hesitant, almost acquiescent approach barely concealed the Foreign Office's real objective: keeping the faint hope alive that three years of failed negotiations on Iran's nuclear-weapons program would not suffer another, this time possibly fatal, setback."
Fox News got in on the act too, framing the debate of the returning sailors in terms of whether they are heroes or cowards.
"There's no way to put a good face on this, the kissy-face with Ahmadinejad, the goodie bags, this was a real failure of leadership," said Lieutenant-Colonel Ralph Peters to Neil Cavuto of Fox. "A U.S. service member would not accept that goodie bag, wouldn't profusely in front of the cameras thank the Iranian president."
Lieutenant-Colonel Bob Maginnis, another Fox "expert" and contributor to a Christian radio program called "Jimmy DeYoung's Prophecy Today Weekly," labeled the British sailors "cowards."
"It looks like 'Holiday in Tehran' . . . They were standing in front of Ahmadinejad, and you know they were thanking him for their kind treatment, for letting them go . . . He was giving them Persian candy and all sorts of souvenirs to take home."
But neo-conservative CNN talk-show pundit Glen Beck summed it up most eloquently when he proclaimed, "Iran played chicken with the West and we blinked."
LESSONS IN CAPTURE, RELEASE OF BRITONS
By Jim Lobe
Inter Press Service
April 5, 2007
WASHINGTON -- The drama surrounding the release of 15 British sailors and marines after 12 days in Iranian captivity was designed to convey two key messages that the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush would do well to heed, say experts here.
First, the Britons' original capture by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard near the entry to the disputed Shatt-al-Arab waterway was meant to demonstrate that, despite its conventional military weakness and diplomatic isolation, Iran retains the ability to strike at Western interests when it feels sufficiently provoked.
Second, when Western powers engage Iran with respect and as an equal, they are more likely to get what they want than when they take a confrontational path designed to bully or humiliate the regime.
While neither message is likely to be well received either at the White House or among the neo-conservative and other right-wing pundits who have tried hard to depict the incident as the latest sign of Islamic or Persian barbarism, properly understood, they could form the basis of a new approach capable of yielding results, according to Juan Cole, a regional expert at the University of Michigan.
"The British have now opened a channel," he told IPS. "Although this incident really did constitute a crisis -- one that might have escalated to very dangerous levels -- the resolution was diplomatic, and that diplomatic resolution could contain the seeds for future diplomacy, if the British and the Americans are so inclined."
The announcement on Wednesday, that the sailors and marines were being released in honor of the Prophet Mohammed's forthcoming birthday and the Christian Easter holiday, was made by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who then met with the captives personally.
"Our government has pardoned them; it is a gift from our people," he said, adding that the gesture had "nothing to do" with Tuesday's release in Iraq of a senior Iranian diplomat who was abducted two months ago reportedly by a special Iraqi intelligence agency that works closely with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). "We approached the subject on a humanitarian basis. It was a unilateral decision on our end," he insisted.
Nonetheless, the diplomat's release, as well as reports that Tehran also just received assurances that it would be given consular access to five alleged Revolutionary Guard officers seized by U.S. forces at an Iranian liaison office in Arbil nearly three months ago, suggested that Wednesday's events were more than just coincidence, although both London and Washington, like Ahmadinejad, insisted there were no quid pro quos.
"I personally believe that the U.S. action (in Arbil) accounts for why Iran chose to stage its capture of the British sailors," noted Gary Sick, an Iran expert at Columbia University who served in White House under former President Jimmy Carter. "Iran appears to have gained something from its pressure tactics."
That assessment was shared by Trita Parsi, president of the U.S. National Iranian American Council (NIAC). "By taking the (British) soft targets, the Iranians put pressure on the U.S."
In addition to collecting bargaining chips, the original capture had other purposes, as well, including rallying nationalist sentiment behind the regime just as it faced the imposition by the U.N. Security Council of a new round of sanctions for rejecting demands to suspend its uranium enrichment program.
As important, however, was the message Tehran wished to convey to the West that it could indeed respond to what it saw as U.S. provocations in ways that could harm or embarrass its allies.
"In seizing the Iranians, who after all, had been invited by the Iraqi authorities, the Americans were seen as behaving aggressively," according to Cole. "Now, the Iranians have demonstrated that the Anglo-American forces are not in a strong enough position to afford to do these things. They can play tit for tat."
"It is a reminder that Iran has quite an array of asymmetrical options available to it to counter indirectly the actions of the U.S. forces in Iraq and elsewhere," Sick agreed.
At the same time, according to Sick, Tehran's behavior during much of the crisis -- including both the seizure itself, the precise location of which remains a matter of dispute, and its use of "confessions" by the British captives and threats to put them on trial -- will probably have cost it much-needed international support.
"I suspect that recognition of this fact accounts for Iran's desire to end this dispute as promptly as possible," said Sick. "For the same reason, I suspect that this ploy will not be repeated any time soon."
"I think the Iranians thought it was better to declare victory and put an end to the crisis before there was any further escalation," noted Parsi.
At the same time, however, Parsi and other analysts said that the point at which victory could be declared was reached because of important changes in the British approach to the crisis.
While London officials have said the turning point came Monday, when Iran's national security chief, Ali Larijani, gave a conciliatory interview to Britain's Channel Four television -- an interview that was followed by a critical conversation between Larijani and Blair's top foreign-policy adviser, Sir Nigel Sheinwald, according to the *Independent* -- Cole points to a shift in the British stance from one of threats and demands to a more diplomatic approach over the weekend, including confirmation by British Defence Secretary Des Browne that London was "in direct bilateral communication with the Iranians."
"These sorts of incidents are always to some extent about face, and apparently the Iranians felt that when Britain agreed to enter into direct bilateral negotiations, Iran had gained enough face to be magnanimous," he said. "On Sunday, they were admitted as equals, not scolded as little children. That created the opening for (Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali) Khamenei and Ahmadinejad to climb down and save face."
"Iranians have been signalling repeatedly, and not just during this crisis, that they will engage diplomatically, but without preconditions and on the basis of equality," said William Beeman, an Iran expert at the University of Minnesota. "So now they say, 'You see, when we have the upper hand, you see how magnanimous we are; we are a charitable, civilized people. We are reasonable. You can talk with us.'"
"The Iranian message is that if you deal with us respectfully, through incentives, then things can get resolved rather quickly," said Parsi. "If you only resort to force or impose sanctions at the U.N. Security Council, then you'll only get stuck, and Iran will respond in kind. They're hoping that the West gets the impression that that is the incentive structure through which it can make progress with Iran. Whether that will be understood in the West is obviously a complete different question."
The Bush administration's relative silence during the crisis may also have conveyed, inadvertently perhaps, another message -- that, despite widespread speculation that its recent military build-up in the Gulf was intended to prepare the grounds for an attack on Iran, it had no wish to do so, at least for the moment.
"The Iranian capture of 15 (British) military personnel could certainly have been used as .a pretext (for a military strike), since it could easily have escalated to a full-fledged military crisis," according to Sick. "I regard the absence of unbridled escalation in this case as a significant indicator that the U.S. desire for a strike may be more muted than it has been portrayed."