Thursday, April 05, 2007

UK Sailors Sequel - The Right Upset By Success

The 15 Brits detained by Iran are now home safe - an end to a diplomatic crisis which came sooner than many thought it would (myself included) and without the armed conflict many feared it could help engender. That has to be seen as a success for British diplomacy, doesn't it?

Not if you're the editors of the Daily Telegraph. Britain's most rightwing broadsheet newspaper has always been known as the "Torygraph" in the UK and has likewise always been thought of as the daily reading of the Colonel Blimps who hanker for the glory days of Empire and wog-bashing in the colonies. With such a mindset, the Torygraph can't see it any other way but that Britain was "humiliated" by its success:
Yet the satisfaction of a diplomatic challenge eventually handled with skill is soured by the string of psychological humiliations that Britain has suffered.

First, there is the apparent incompetence of the Royal Navy in providing insufficient protection to lightly armed inflatables, at a time when relations between Iran and the West were particularly volatile following the imposition of UN sanctions. Second, the seized personnel lost no time in admitting to having trespassed and in apologising for their mistake. The old military practice of giving name, rank and number, and no more, has obviously been abandoned.

Third, the dénouement of this crisis showed Mr Ahmadinejad in the most favourable of lights, whether in "pardoning" the 15, pleading on their behalf with Mr Blair, admonishing this country for separating a mother, Leading Seaman Faye Turney, from her child, or shaking hands and chatting with the newly besuited Servicemen after his press conference.

The Iranian president has rightly been demonised in the West for his call for Israel's destruction and his pursuit of a nuclear weapons programme in defiance of the UN. Yet yesterday he was able to adopt the moral high ground, admonishing the Government while treating graciously those who had been acting on its behalf at the head of the Gulf.

This bodes badly for the West's relations with Teheran over a number of acutely difficult problems during the coming months...
Iran's nuclear weapons program is a chimera, a non-fact that "everyone knows". There's absolutely no proof there is any such program. Ahmadinejad's supposed call for the "destruction" of Israel has been described by some who actually speak Farsi as a translation error but is yet another non-fact that 'everyone knows". The whole notion that Iran's president has been "rightly" demonized over non-facts should be ludicrous on the face of it - and the notion that the West lost simply because the "demon" looks human close up would only make sense to someone who wanted war with Iran on any pretext available. To the rest of us it gives hope - because you can't possibly negotiate with a demon but you might with a human being.

As to the Telegraph's second charge, its a thinly veiled accusation of cowardice and the release of information in the face of an "enemy" with which the UK isn't actually at war. I'll leave it to Air Chief Marshall Sir Jock Stirrup, who greeted the 15 on their arrival in the UK, to put them in their place. His view is that "they did exactly what they should have done and we are extremely proud of them." If the two nations had actually been at war, instead of this being a diplomatic incident over territorial boundaries, the rules would have been different and I'm cartain none of the 15 would have broken their military code for such circumstances. The Colonel Blimps should be ashamed to even utter such a canard.

Finally, the "rules of engagement" were designed to keep as many incidents as possible low key and resolvable by diplomacy instead of provoking a full-scale war. The Iranians din't fire on or near the Brits as they approached and detained them, so HMS Cornwall's commander took the right decision to do likewise. If he hadn't we would now be in a shooting war with many more than 15 dead over an arbitary line that neither side can substantiate. The result of the incident is itself a vindication of those rules of engagement.

The reactionary old war-dogs of the Torygraph are upset about living in a world where they aren't allowed to just go bombing wogs and flogging punkah-wallahs whenever they want to anymore. That's their real problem, not anything particular about this incident or its handling.

(As for the Essex Boys over at the Daily Mail. Their only beef is with Blair and any other Labour leader. It doesn't matter the actual events - if Blair had started a war with Iran the mail would now be shouting about his belligerence when he should have used diplomacy. If Blair was to announce that baby-eating was a bad idea, they would want to defend the right of every Brit to munch infants.)

The new Imperialists of the American extreme right are mostly peeved at not getting their war with Iran, a war which is more about their own dreams of hegemony than anything Iran can be proven to have done, and so are happy to give credence to the meanderings of the Blimps at the Telegraph and the Essex Tories at the Mail. They are also perpetuating a couple of tall tales of their own, because to them everything is about them and their American Empire.

The first is that the Iranian's actions were "pre-meditated". It's yet another of those non-facts "everyone knows". Even the New York Times gets caught by it. But the Guardian has a report that says, now the crisis is over, Iranian figures are willing to reveal a rather different story:
A source close to the Revolutionary Guards gave a different account. The fate of the Irbil five was not a motive for the capture, he said, but it did become a negotiating point after the event. "Officially there is no swap. But there should not be a double standard. You want access [to your prisoners]. We want access [to ours]."

He provided the first comprehensive Iranian version of events on March 23 when the 15 Britons were captured by Revolutionary Guard sailors on the shallow seas of the northern Gulf. Not only had the British patrol strayed into Iranian waters, he claimed, but it was at least the fourth such incursion in three months.

"They came to our waters before ... at least three times," the Iranian source said. "We gave them notice that you shouldn't be. We didn't use aggressive methods. We didn't shoot [across the British bows]. Both sides know the sensitive atmosphere."

The source explained that the Britons had been captured by low-ranking Revolutionary Guards, but once arrested, their release required intervention on a higher level. That was delayed by the No Rouz (new year) holidays which only ended on Tuesday. "Junior people got them, but only senior people could let them go, and they can only let them go after an investigation," he said. During No Rouz, he added, "everyone is in the villages and mobile phones don't work there."

The US refusal to exclude the use of military force against Iran to stop its nuclear programme, together with a series of separatist attacks in Iran's border regions had put the Revolutionary Guard on alert for incursions. "They are on a yellow state of readiness," the source said. "We don't believe the British intent is to start a war, but America has said it is on the table."
That also seems to put paid to the non-fact that the detained Brits were "hostages" - a clever bit of rightwing framing designed to evoke memories in the US of the '79 Teheran embassy hostage crisis. That one was so convincing, even liberals like Kevin Drum and Ezra Klien fell for it.

I'm not a great fan of Blair for very many reasons but on this one he and the professional diplomats at the Foreign office (and isn't this evidence of just a perfect reason to oppose Sam Fox?) have done sterling work and I freely acknowledge it. Blair, in a statement, has said:
"What has actually happened is that we have managed to secure the release of our personnel, I think, more quickly than many people anticipated - and have done so incidentally, and I want to make this very, very clear - without any deal, without any negotiation, without any side agreement of any nature whatever.
It's amazing the number of people who are upset about that.

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