Sunday, March 25, 2007

Neocons Would Sacrifice 15 UK Seamen For '79 Do-Over

I know it shouldn't, but it still amazes me that the US Right are prepared to tie themselves into knots in their lust for a war with Iran that will redress the perceived mortal insult of the Iranian hostage crisis of 1979. It's like a drug addict wheedling money to buy his fix - any excuse will do. The trouble is that this fetishistic craving for revenge is what is driving not just the chattering pundits but also American foreign policy in the region. The catch phrase always was "real men go to Teheran".

Their latest excuse - the causus belli de jour, if you will forgive my horrible mangling of languages - is the seizure by Iran of 15 British naval personnel in the Shatt al-Arab waterway four days ago. They are now engaged in frantic hyping of this incident, quite willing to sacrifice 15 British seamen if it means they get their OK Corral showdown at long last.

Some of the hysteria is being based on dubiously sourced reports from the British rightwing press. In particular these reports come from the Murdoch-owned London Times, the Daily Telegraph (which has always kept to the neoconservative editorial policy set out by its previous owner accused fraudster Conrad Black), and from a writer at a London based Arab newspaper who has clear links to the deposed Shah, his son who still has aspirations to rule, and a neocon-led US group which advocated Iranian regime change and is known for creating false allegations against Iran.

So it is that, for instance, the London Times has a report which is much talked about on American rightwing blogs today, to the effect that Iran is to try the seized British seamen (and one woman) for espionage. The article cites its source as:

A website run by associates of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president,
Since when has such a thing been a reliable source for any nation's policy? What website? The Times doesn't say or give a url. One has to assume it is not the official Iranian president's website but rather his unoffical blog Yet there is no such thing mentioned on the English pages of that blog. (Anyone read Persian?)

Even so, it was enough of a source to have the neocon Heritage Foundation's blogger, Ed Morrisey, writing:

The Iranians cannot try the men for espionage if they captured the sailors in uniform. Article 46 of the Geneva Convention states this clearly:
2. A member of the armed forces of a Party to the conflict who, on behalf of that Party and in territory controlled by an adverse Party, gathers or attempts to gather information shall not be considered as engaging in espionage if, while so acting, he is in the uniform of his armed forces.
The indictment of British sailors in uniform as spies will violate the GC. Can we expect the same level of outrage over this explicit violation as the supposed violations of the US government?
The trouble with Ed's cite of the GC clause he does, is that strictly speaking it applies only when there is already a conflict i.e. declaration of hostilities. In peacetime. intelligence gathering while in uniform is not designated as illegal under international law, but every nation has its own laws against it. The US statute, for instance, is 18 United States Code 792-798. It makes no distinction between foreign national or citizen, nor does it distinguish between uniformed or non-uniformed persons. The maximum penalty is death.

However, I agree with him that the outrage in either case should be equal - that the Geneva Conventions should apply to its signator countries whether there has been an official declaration of war or not, or even if one combatant is not a nation or not a signator to the Conventions. I'm glad Ed will now be calling for the closure of Gitmo, return to detainees of their habeas corpus rights and an end to the practises of illegal rendition and torture.

Then there's the Telegraph's claim that British intelligence officials had been warned by their American counterparts that something like this could happen, as retaliation "after America detained five suspected Iranian intelligence officers in Iraq". The implication - made explicit by others - is that the UK servicemen were to be hostages against the release of the detained Iranians. Again, much has been made of this by American rightwing pundits - yet curiously none mentioned the last paragraph:

Some sources in Teheran last night suggested that the captured Britons would be released "within a day or two". "Iranians have no intentions of creating another international dispute with the world, and it is not likely that they would allow this to escalate into a bigger diplomatic problem," one source said.
The Telegraph used to be owned by uber-right media mogul Conrad Black. When he was indicted for fraud he sold it to two uber-right British twin brothers who rule their own financial empire from their feudal castle on their private kingdom in the Channel islands, but it has retained its neoconservative bias. It is often used to place stories sympathetic to the neocon cause but poorly sourced into the mainstream media.

Which brings me to the prominent "accepted fact" that Iran intends using the seized seamen as bargaining chips, hostages, to get its own people back. Every single version of this story tracks back to an Arabic language report by Alireza Nourizadeh, an Iranian exile who writes for the London-based newspaper Asharq Alaswat which was then picked up by the Murdoch-owned Jerusalem Post. (Before Murdoch, the Jerusalem post was owned by Conrad Black - anyone seeing a pattern here?) The same report cites as a source a "senior Iranian military official" as saying that there was a high level decision taken on March 18th to make the snatch. As yet, the story hasn't appeared in the English version of Asharq Alaswat.

So how reliable a reporter is Alireza Nourizadeh? Well, he recently came to prominence as the single source for a story about a defecting Iranian general which was picked up first by another Murdoch-owned newspaper, The Australian. The Australian's story then spawned a plethora of echo-chamber copies. In a report that again relied heavily on anonymous Iranian military sources, Nourizadeh wrote that the general's family had been spirited out of Iran in advance of his defection and that he was now helping the West with their enquiries from a location in Europe. However, the general's family quickly stepped forward at a press conference to show that they had not in fact been spirited away, which surely calls into question the rest of the account.

Alireza Nourizadeh keeps some interesting company. He was political editor of Iran’s biggest selling newspaper under the Shah and participated in a BBC hosted reunion of five of the most influential survivors of the Shah’s inside circle. He has close ties, including via Ken Timmerman and Peter Rodman’s neoconservative-funded “Foundation For Democracy In Iran” regime change group, to Reza Pahlavi, the Shah’s son. When Ken Timmerman wrote about the missing general for an article he cited Nourizadeh as an expert. Another expert Timmerman cited in his article - Shahriar Ahy - is Pahlavi’s political strategist, mentor, and speechwriter. However, Timmerman neglected to mention any of these ties between himself and his experts, or his experts and the campaign to restore the Shah's son, in his article. (Then again, Timmerman has been known to "economical with the truth" in pursuit of his cause.)

Why on earth would Revolutionary Guards commanders and senior Iranian military figures talk to a scion of the Shah working for a newspaper which is owned by the Royal House of Saudi? It seems counter-intuitive and should certainly be a question asked and answered before anything written by Nourizadeh can be trusted.

Despite these questions about sources, which should give any reasonable person pause, it only takes one mention of the possibility of Iran taking hostages to arouse the uber-right's ire at the subliminal affront to their manhood represented by a long-ago hostage crisis in Tehran. It's something they have obviously never forgotten or forgiven and now it's payback time. In their zeal to have their proxies (for all of the pundits themselves are safe behind their computers at home) be put in harm's way to redress that decades-old wrong, caution goes to the wind and paranoic conspiracy theories become the order of the day.

Thus we come to the last of today's majorly-linked articles, by Walid Phares for the rightwing neoconservative "Counterterrorism Blog". He writes:

The capture of British Navy servicemen by Iranian forces is not simply an incident over sea sovereignty in the Persian Gulf. It is a calculated move on behalf of Teheran's Jihadi chess players to provoke a "projected" counter move by London and its American allies. It is all happening in a regional context, carefully engineered by the Mullahs strategic planners. Here is how:
The Iranian regime's master plan is to wait out the remainder of Tony Blair's mandate (few more months) and the remaining "real time" of President Bush (till about the end of 2007). For the thinking process in Tehran, based on their Western consultants, believe that Washington and London have reached the end of the rope and will only have till 2008 to do something major to destabilize Ahmedinijad regime. As explained by a notorious propagandist on al Jazeera today the move is precisely to respond to the Anglo-American attempt to "stir trouble" inside Iran. Anis Naccash, a Lebanese intellectual supporter of the Ayatollahs regime, appearing from Tehran few hours ago on the Qatari-based satellite and "explained" that the "US and the UK must understand that Iran is as much at war with these two powers in as much as they support the rise of movements and security instability inside Iran." He added that Khamenei is clear on the regime's decision to strike: "we will be at war with you on all levels: secret, diplomatic, military and other." Pro-Iranian propagandists in the region, via media and online rushed to warn that this movement is part of Iran's counter-strike against any attempt to destabilize the regime. Two major tracks emerge from these statements, the Iranian military maneuvers and the capture of British Navy personnel.
If even half of the conspiratorial nonsense spouted by such as Phares about Iran's "chess playing" in the region was true, then even the neocons would have worked out that, since the entire government of Iraq are Iranian agents by their account, it would be time to pack up US troops and bring them home. That they don't say so is a clear indication of how seriously they take their own propoganda. Yet, incredible as it may seem, Phares' cite of a non-Iranian intellectual with no official position is being taken as a de facto declaration of war by by those who have a tent in their chinos at the thought of blasting Iran back to the stoneage.

Phares himself is hardly a neutral party, being a senior fellow at the neoconservative Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. There, he is joined by such luminaries as Newt Gingritch, Joe Lieberman, Mark Foley, Richard Perle, Victoria Toensing, Clifford May and of course Bill Kristol. The rest of the Foundation's membership is likewise a virtual who's who of neoconservative figures. This, please remember, is the Foundation which blasted “Marvel Comics and other publishers are disseminating comic books that actively promote a destructive cynicism and distrust of the United States government”.

Look, Iran's leadership are not nice people. I know that. There are countless incidents which prove that, amongst them the recent crackdown on protesting teachers which got so little play from rightwingers who normally take every chance to hammer Iran's regime. (One would almost think they approve of using force to break up unions.) But there's a level of Devil's Advocate in me that can't sit idly while such blatantly spurious propoganda is blown up in pursuit of some eagerly-awaited "Gulf of Tonkin" incident to facillitate their bloodthirsty wish for revenge.

These sailors and Marines are my countrymen and I would love to see them home safe. The Commodore on HMS Cornwall got it right the first day - it's more than possible this is a simple misunderstanding. Iran has always tried to stick to territorial limits in the area agreed but never ratified prior to the Iran/Iraq war. Coalition forces in the area use a different criteria for where boundaries lie. Iraqi government statements and statements from fishermen in the area tend to agree with the Iranian account that the Brit seamen had strayed into Iranian waters. The UK govt. has been clear that the reason Cornwall didn't intervene is because the rules of engagement were designed to prevent a shooting war over such trivial circumstances. They worked. No shots were fired. The Commodore got it right, as far as his superiors will see it.

Now British professional diplomats are striving to get their people back as quickly as possible - and they don't need the idiots of the American uber-Right standing on the sidelines and trying to back Iran into a rhetorical corner.

Update This post is already long enough so updates will appear in a seperate post. I've got some stuff on the London Times' mangling of journalistic integrity and some expert testimony on how anyone knows where the lines are in the Shatt al-Arab.

(I've also edited this post to remove a noxious double word use in the first sentence)