Propaganda of the Deed

Capt4b3b0795397a4e3d The Iranians have now achieved a major victory in the "information operation" war that they are waging to reach an acknowledged position as "standard bearers" of Islam.

Their propaganda line maintains that the West is degenerate and morally weak, that Western soldiers are cowards and not to be feared, that Westerners fear death above all else.

Every takfiri and jihadi in the world, whether actual or potential will take note and his or her behavior will be influenced by this message.

The poorly conceived campaign in Iraq is, nevertheless, quite real.  It is being fought by soldiers whom we Americans value highly.  Their safety will be directly affected by what has happened in this incident.

One of the outraged Brits who has written to me over this described the actions of these servicepeople as unimportant because they are "lowly marines."  We do not think of our soldiers as "lowly."  pl

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106 Responses to Propaganda of the Deed

  1. lina says:

    The propaganda victory for Iran is the illustration that they treat their prisoners better than we treat ours.

  2. W. Patrick Lang says:

    My god! You really are reaching for a chance to condemn the US. pl

  3. Will says:

    Are we conflating Al-Qa?eda with Iran?
    Iran should not be our enemy. It is the ZionCon’s enemy. Their reign hopefully should be coming to an end.
    Iran is our natural ally against the Taliban and Al-Qae?da. Also our natural ally in stabilizing a Shiite Irak.
    But you may as well go try to tell it on the mountain as to preach to the ZionCons.

  4. W. Patrick Lang says:

    The takfiri jihadis and Iran are competing for leadership in the Islamic World. If you think the Iranians do not think of us as adversaries,you are mistaken. pl

  5. backsdrummer says:
    The Iranians also can claim they got their diplomat back. That in itself is a propoganda victory.
    Of course everyone denies a deal was made and of course everyone denies knowing who was holding the diplomat in the first place, but the timing of these events makes it appear the US government maintains its own Iraqi militia and uses it to kidnap and kill political opponents outside the rule of law.
    These incidents have made the US look vulnerable and unethical.

  6. Mo says:

    With the utmost repsect Colonel, I think you are thinking as an American and not a Middle Easterner. This was a good peice of propoganda for the Iranians but its a much bigger story to the West than it is in the Middle East. Capturing a bunch of young, ill protected sailors, in a non-combat operation hardly makes the Iranians heroes in the Islamic world and doesnt have nearly the same “value” as say the capture of Israeli soldiers by HA. In fact, in the Arab world, where people were telling me from day one that the sailors would not be held longer than 2 weeks, this incident is considered a source of mirth in that it embarassed Blair. I know of no one who has interpreted as a sign of weakness or cowardice because it is known that the British do not have the gung-ho mentality of US troops and therefore their “surrender” is just what was expected. It would be different if they were Americans as they would have been expected to put up a fight.
    Whether the wahabis or some of those you term “jihadis” are affected by this incident I can’t say but then again their state of mind is hardly discernible even to us Arabs.

  7. W. Patrick Lang says:

    You are absolutely right. I am concerned about this incident and its effects from an American point of view. I am an American. pl

  8. Mo says:

    Agreed sir, but the catalyst and respondents are not. Of course you are concerened, as an American, for American soldiers; But the effects they may or may not suffer will be from non-Americans and therefore the first priority to protect the soldiers will be to think how those non-Americans think…(if that makes any sense)

  9. GSD says:

    It seems that nothing short of a group suicide would prove to the militarist wing of the western world that the UK sailors were anything but moral cowards.
    Of course, the militarist wing of the west also finds the Islamic suicide/warrior ethic so distasteful.
    Quite the dilemma.

  10. lina says:

    I don’t need to reach any further than Gitmo, Abu Ghraib, habeas corpus, and waterboarding.
    I weep for the U.S.

  11. Fred says:

    I believe you hit the nail on the head with this:
    “Every takfiri and jihadi in the world, whether actual or potential will take note and his or her behavior will be influenced by this message.”
    I believe they were the true target of this operation. Not a good sign for the U.S.

  12. mlaw230 says:

    It appears that a deal was made for the Iranian diplomat. Rather than indicating any new flexibility on the side of the Iranians, it appears to be a sign of new flexibility on the US side.
    It does not appear that the Iranians have anything to gain by remaining our “adversary” and that we would be well advised to normalize relations with them and drop the axis of evil line.
    They could provide a counter to Sunni extremism and provide us the entry into central asian resources that we have long wanted, while at the same time limiting such access to the Chinese and Russians.

  13. Bob Gaines says:

    Colonel – With respect (and I mean that very sincerely), which America are you identifying with when you say that “I am concerned about this incident and its effects from an American point of view. I am an American.”?
    Is it the America that along with Britain fomented a coup in Iran in 1953? The America that has meddled in the ME for 60 years to insure reliable oil supplies? The America that professes democracy but coddles or ignores undemocratic and brutal regimes so long as they toe the American line? The America that recklessly invades a neighbor of Iran?
    That’s not my America, and that’s not the America I volunteered to serve. It has appeared to me from reading your comments over the past year that it’s not yours either.
    As you say, it’s no surprise the Iranians think of Americans as adversaries. I imagine if I were an Iranian I’d hate and fear Americans also.
    If you agree that we may sometimes have been acting contrary to our own best interests regarding Iran over the last 50 years, I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on how the US might now act to alter the Iranian perception of the US as their adversary.

  14. Mark says:

    Pat, Don’t you think that
    Ahmadinejad was playing to his home audience?

  15. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Col. Lang:
    My understanding was that US had lost the propoganda/information war some time back in 2004. I fail to see how this incident could chanage the scalesmuch one way or another.

  16. VietnamVet says:

    Cherries are always kids unless they survive and get a 1000 yard stare that adds a century to their age. The British Marines are still kids.
    The Bush Administration is using the propaganda and extraordinary rendition of a total war yet is fighting a gold standard colonial war. What the Arabs think doesn’t really matter if the USA was going to conquer the Middle East. All it would take is the draft, raising taxes and permanent western settlements beyond Israel. It doesn’t matter what the Arabs think as long as the USA occupies Iraq and Afghanistan. Their young will fight the infidel invaders to the end of time. What Arabs think of Americans matters once the USA ends its occupations and tries to contain radical Islam within its natural boundaries.

  17. Peter Principle says:

    Col. Lang: “My god! You really are reaching for a chance to condemn the US.”
    Reaching, yes. But isn’t this exactly what Colin Powell (and others with even greater credibilty) warned would happen if the US openly flouted the Geneva Conventions?

  18. david says:

    I agree with Mo that the parsing the effect on the intended audience (Iranians, Arabs and Muslims) is more significant, but the Iranians were not unaware of how it would be read by the Great Powers and others responses. I would argue furter that they in fact relied on responses like the colonel’s, as it only added to the embarassment of the event.
    I would disagree with the “mirth” reaction, somewhat (he is right about the HA snatch and grab). To be sure, the enormous grin on Ahmadinajad’s face suggests the Iranians were enjoying every moment of it, but I saw this little bit of theater as a direct counterpoint to the Arab summit. Mirth is King Abdullah calling the US presence an Iraq an “illegitimate foreign occupation.” In relative terms, Iran is weak and thus it must savour these opportunities to the fullest as they dont come often. In the larger sense, it is trivial, but it works to Iran’s benefit in that every little boost to its popularity on the Arab street makes it more difficult for US allies in the region to sign on to a US-led attack. Death to America gets a little stale, but bringing Blair to incoherence while not difficult is not an opportunity to be missed. The equally trivial “Holocaust conference” observed the same physics, and the Iranians know all to well when their enemies will take the bait and embarass themselves. Small ball, I think I would like to call it on this particular week.
    I am not convinced that the “jihadis” care either way. That both the “jihadis” and the Iranians employ Islamic rhetoric speaks more to their shared environments and shared limitations than any mutual admiration/inspiration society.

  19. ikonoklast says:

    It’s about face.
    Iran: 1
    Coalition: 0

  20. JT Davis says:

    I don’t comment often, but this is why the good Colonel’s blog is a must read. Equal parts of gunpowder, whiskey and vinegar but nary a drop of kool-aid of any flavor.

  21. zenpundit says:

    “if I were an Iranian I’d hate and fear Americans also”
    Does the average Iranian “hate and fear” Americans ?
    I would not conflate Iranians with the mullah elite that rules over them. Ahmadinejad did not exactly roll into office on a landslide.

  22. W. Patrick Lang says:

    I for one do not reject their warrior ethos any more than I have rejected the ethos of any of the poeople I have fought. That did/does not make them any less an enemy. pl

  23. W. Patrick Lang says:

    Military service implies a willingness to die in performance of duty. pl

  24. W. Patrick Lang says:

    lina et al
    You know that I have and do reject and detest these things. pl

  25. W. Patrick Lang says:

    I absolutely agree that we should regularize our relations with Iran but they have two competing priorities. One has to do with their state interests. the other has to do with their desire to lead the Islamic World. In that priority, they seek to discredit and belittle the West. This incident contributed to that goal greatly and the result is likely to be very dangerous for all the peoples because the Iranians or others may well miscalculate our strength and resolve as the Libyans did long ago. pl

  26. W. Patrick Lang says:

    Mark – Partly for the Iranian audience, but the use of the Iranian Arabic language service for propaganda indicates a larger audience. pl

  27. W. Patrick Lang says:

    BG – We have to deal with the world as it is now. pl

  28. W. Patrick Lang says:

    you are wrong if you think that this collection of present and potential adversaries is not motivated by ideas. The “frustration-aggression” stuff does not apply. pl

  29. W. Patrick Lang says:

    I didn’t think you could smell the bourbon through the machine. pl

  30. frimble says:

    Isn’t more about playing chicken with a series of prisoners? Isn’t this connected with the Sharafi release: ?
    And the disappearance of Asghari: ?
    The info war seems the least of it. We are talking about real people being disappeared, diplomats taken prisoner, soldiers grabbed off the high seas; I think the real game is mostly behind the scenes.

  31. LG says:

    I am certainly not an expert on any of this, but I can’t for the life of me figure out how this puts US personnel in Iraq in any more risk than they are already. This whole incident was a tempest in a teapot. Why didn’t the British just say “Sorry about that. We were accidentally a wee bit past a line in the water. Silly mistake, that. Now can we please have our people back?” Oh, and I would have added a statement like “By the way, we would appreciate it if you would refrain from making our female sailors dress up in ridiculous costumes. She’s not a muslim and it’s demeaning.” No one would have looked “weak” and the whole “crisis” would have been over before anyone noticed. But no, Blair and Bush both have to act like their manhood is at stake personally over this. Haven’t they figured out that whoever actually holds the people has control over the situation and the longer it goes on the weaker the other side looks? After all, the days when bombarding some poor city would have seemed an appropriate response to an insult of this nature ended sometime in the early part of the last century. So what else are Blair and Bush to do other than stamp their feet? Now that is what looks weak.

  32. PSD says:

    you said it simplest and best–it’s all about face.
    re: “Their safety will be directly affected by what has happened in this incident.”–I wish you were wrong, but I’m afraid I agree with you–which is why I worry so much about my son and grandson in Iraq.
    O/T: why do army colonels always drink bourbon? is it a requirement?

  33. W. Patrick Lang says:

    Not any more, they are emostly teetotalers. pl

  34. david says:

    If I worried about being wrong, I would never be right, although I will admit I have a more intimate knowledge of the the former than the latter.
    I think we have here an area of fundamental disagreement, as I am very wary of those confuse political rhetoric from political economy. I am not denying the important of ideas, but I think ideas are only really interesting to the extent to which they express and inform the political, social and economic structures that sustain them.
    For example, would one want to understand US policy in Iraq on the basis of WH pronouncements? I don’t take American political rhetoric at face value (what American would?), why would I not apply the same rigor and skepticism to that of our adversaries.
    The truth of a libel is no defense, or in other words, context is everything. A bit of sophistry to be sure, but given the extremely high level of misrecognition that occurs with respect to the motivations of the “jihadis,” I am happy to err on the structural side.

  35. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Bob Gaines:
    The Iranian people have moved on past the Coup of 1953.
    At the same time, in my estimation, the searing experience of Iran Iraq War is a Living Presence in that country.
    Iran would have been a pricky country after the Islamic Revolution – the experience of that war – just like World War I – has made her much more mistrustful of foreigners of all kinds – Arab Brothers, Europeans, Chinese, and Americans.
    Any engagement with Iran, diplomatic or non-diplomatic by the “Usual Suspects” has to – for its success – take into account the War of Sacred Defense (as it is called in Iran.)
    The current US & EU policy only plays to the worst fears of the government and the people of Iran – in my opinion.

  36. W. Patrick Lang says:

    I often run into people who think, as you seem to, that Islamic “rhetoric” is mere window dressing disguising true motive.
    I can only say that it is my conviction based on long experience of Muslims that you are wrong, and that their motives are exactly what they say they are.
    Are you a religious man? pl

  37. Dan says:

    GSD Wrote: “It seems that nothing short of a group suicide would prove to the militarist wing of the western world that the UK sailors were anything but moral cowards.”
    Nonesense. I can’t speak for the militarist wing whoever they are, but a little less smiling, talking and glad-handing would have been more dignified for professional military people.
    And it does raise questions about how these folks were trained — clearly not appropriately.

  38. Cold War Zoomie says:

    Hmmmm. This post is making me rethink my comment yesterday. Then, I didn’t think the Brits caving to their captors was really such a big deal. More specifically, their behavior was *inconsequential* in the overall big picture since the UK is a minor player compared to our commitment in the region – we have an empire to run, they don’t.
    But I really cannot accept that the actions of these 15 Brits will cancel out the concrete example of our fighting spirit displayed the past 4 years in Afghanistan and Iraq. If our adversaries ignore that reality and think we’re cowards now, then they are delusional.
    Obviously, if more Western forces were captured and they caved in over and over again, the cumulative affect would be terrible. But *at this point* I still believe the Brits’ behavior was of little or no consequence regardless of how much it conflicts with our military code of conduct.
    I’m willing to change my mind with evidence to the contrary. And if there is concrete evidence that our adversaries are that delusional, that opens another whole can of worms…how do we fight a delusional and suicidal enemy?

  39. Charles says:

    Dunno what the sailors orders were, but they did look a mite too cheerful in the propaganda war photo ops. Whatever the case, the Iranians have scored a huge coup, whatever the wisdaom of their actions. And I mean coup as in an Indian coup against an enemy in the heat of battle in a war of extermination.
    Iran is threatened with sanctions, attacks and nuclear strikes are mooted. Explicitly blamed for 95% of the shaped charges, IED’s, whatever sloppy journalism regurgitates.
    America leads the “We don’t talk to nobody” brigade, totally insensible to subtleties of cross-cultural political discourse, threats of war are SOP. Asymmetrical diplomacy and asymmetrical warfare can be Iran’s only response.
    I have seen it characterized as “You will get nowhere with threats and warfare, which we shall respond to in our own manner in our own time; speak to us with respect and we will give you “gifts”. Face is gigantic in these cultures – disregarding for several years may have cost the U.S. the war.
    Or perhaps seen by Iran as further opportunities for respectful post-crisis discourse between internationally recognized, legal hostile governments, bridge building they used to call it in the Cold War. There are now British promises not to enter Iranian territory, and movement on some agreed delineation of little bit of border itself.
    Or perhaps just bargaining chips to get Iranian hostages back from the U.S. – which appeared to work, as a kidnapped Iranian diplomat/intelligence operative was released out front of the Iranian embassy in Baghdad prior to the sailors release. After all, Israel keeps a vast reserve of thousands of illegally detained hostages – men, women and children, which they use from time to time when the Palestinians or others score an asymmetrical coup. “Pearls”, the Vietnamese used to call them. There are thousands of them available for the picking just over the Iran-Iraq border. As Pat notes, they now shine a little brighter as Pearls in that murky struggle.
    Of course, the great tutor, Israel has a large, WMD capability that they have explicitly threatened Iran with as well.
    Wise strategic diplomacy on the part of an isolated Iran – no. Effective tactically – yes. Magnanimity appealing to Persian AND Arab pride and self-image – yes. Domestically politically rewarding – yes.
    Whatever the case, they percive the West as threatening them with war, and Special Ops inside Iran have been reported for months – a year, surely strengthening the regime we fear. The ignorance displayed by the smiling sailors, and their commanders – I saw it reported they were looking for smuggled cars, for god’s sake, is staggering.
    I’m not a soldier, and I don’t particularly care for the way this whole middle east mess has been handled for 50 years, but like Pat says, these are soldiers sent to hostile waters by their government. I would hope that if I, or my country’s soldiers were in a similar position, maybe not suicidal resistance, but you’d have to beat the shit outta me, have that AK stuck up my fundament before I’d do anything but scowl at you. I have never seen a picture of a Palestinian held as an Israeli prisoner or a captured jihadi smiling for such a photo op. They’re true believers, and we disregard the subtleties of their diplomacy – of which face and war are just other aspects – at the peril of our soldiers.
    All that said, I’m a civilian, you could tickle me to death.

  40. mlaw230 says:

    Colonel: We seem to want a middle east and an Islam without real leadership, when lack of leadership is the fundamental problem in the region.
    It is doubtful, imho, that any modern leadership can develop without being at least superficially anti-American. Unless we treat them with the respect their culture and history deserves they will constantly be defying us to validate themselves.
    From what I have read, it appears that Iran is the most ordered of Muslim societies. Perhaps we should ignore some of these incitements, deny them an enemy and promote them as the regional force they appear destined to become.

  41. W. Patrick Lang says:

    Of course they are delusional. I thought that was a given. Remember, they are waiting for a man on a white horse to show up on a battlefield for them. pl

  42. Babak Makkinejad says:

    The statement “Obviously, if more Western forces were captured and they caved in over and over again” bothers me with its reference to “Western”.
    Who or what is West in this context? Is it the coalition of not-so-willing? Or is it the Christian Protestant English-speakers?
    Who exactly is your enemy here?
    Who is at war with whom?

  43. John says:

    I also don’t think this puts US troops in any more risk than Bush has already placed them. The greatest risk was done by going to Iraq militarily.
    Saddam was a jerk, but he did kinda balance things out in a 19th Century balance of power kind of way.
    The only thing worse would be if Bush decides to bomb the Iranian facilities and Sistanti decides it’s time for the Shia to cut the supply lines from Kuwait. Then we’ll have a hostage crisis.
    Ahmadinejad may have been daring Bush/Blair to do it.
    Like in “Bring it on, bitches”.
    Then he would be the Iranian war preznit with all the patriotic Iranians behind him.
    Chess. A few pawns got moved around the board. No big deal. That’s what the Brit soldiers are…pawns.
    Oh…and the BushCon Republicans have always been like the rich kid that got the ultimate GI Joe set for Christmas and don’t have to take good care of his toys because Daddy will always get him more.
    Not smart enough to understand chess.

  44. lina says:

    “Of course they are delusional. I thought that was a given. Remember, they are waiting for a man on a white horse to show up on a battlefield for them.” pl
    And the U.S. has a commander in chief who believes the Book of Revelation is the inerrant word of God.

  45. Charles says:

    Re: mlaw230 “From what I have read, it appears that Iran is the most ordered of Muslim societies.”
    Um, have you ever heard of a little country called Indonesia? Population about 130 million, I think. I know, you meant Middle Eastern Muslim societies.
    The majority of the world’s Muslims do NOT live in the Middle East. This is surely about religion, but about much more as well; reductionism serves no-one.
    Promoting non-Arab, Shia Iran as regional power of Arabia was tried before. Remember the Shah. Very effective. Here we are.
    Do you think Saudi Arabia, propped up in part by Israel, would go for that? They are openly mooting a nuclear program of their own to counter a resurgent Iran. Perhaps Pakistan will sell them one. Perhaps the Mullahs who one day may take over Pakistan will have long range ICBMs by then.
    Currently, America is trying to promote Abbas and Fatah, to the point of arming them, as the Palestinian “regional force” of the Territorries, because it doesn’t like the results of democratic politics there. The result has been evil, in my opinion, but it has contributed to the heat in the entire region, and further discredited what tatters of the U.S. as honest broker remain.
    Meddling is not as simple as one might suppose.

  46. pbrownlee says:

    Despite all the blather to the contrary, the world’s supplies of respect seem to be running out. (We occasionally see this even here.) Listening to the Prime Minister of (formerly) Great Britain and (slightly more) United Kingdom talk repeatedly of the Iranian “regime” (and similar stuff about firmness of will and all that) strikes me as what weak, frightened, craven men do when the lights go out.
    When we fail to respect and try to understand our enemies (and friends and selves) we have entered the valley of death. I suppose you go to war with the leaders you’ve got — or rather it’s those leaders who went to war, wasn’t it?
    As the former UK ambassador Craig Murray has said
    “Today four more unfortunate British serviceman died in Southern Iraq as a result of Blair’s crass Middle Eastern policy. Think of them and their families, and the seventy Iraqi civilians who on average will be killed today. Yes, rejoice at the fifteen who came home safely today, but remember those who did not, and their families.
    “Less than a week before this fifteen were captured, the media received the confirmation that British government scientists believed that 655,000 dead in Iraq a year ago was a good estimate. That received almost no press coverage. The detention of fifteen Britons for ten days is more important than the agonising deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis.
    “There was a revelatory moment on BBC Breakfast TV this morning when Admiral Sir Alan West said he was sure we had been in ‘our’ waters. He corrected himself afterwards to ‘Iraqi waters’ but the slip reveals the mindset of the occupying forces.
    “It is an extraordinarily wide interpretation of the UN occupation mandate to use it to interdict neutral merchant shipping in the Gulf. For me one of the most amazing things about this sorry dispute is that HMS Cornwall was, by the MOD’s own account and according to the embedded journalists on board, attempting to prevent the smuggling of cars. Am I really paying my taxes for incredibly sophisticated warships to be involved in the collection of Iraqi vehicle excise duty?”
    In this latest farcical incident in this ludcrous, suicidal engagement, I should have thought the Cornwall’s “embeddeds” would have added their two bits worth (though that may be wildly over-valuing it).
    Or were they from Car Tax Monthly?

  47. Neil Richardson says:

    Dear COL Lang,
    I share your concern regarding how the conduct of the RM and RN personnel could be interpreted in the Middle East. In my view, this is somewhat akin to the Boxers when they used to preach (if not believe) that they were impervious to Western firearms. However, are there any ways to dispell this misguided view (that “soft” Western young men and women fear death and lack the guts to close with the enemy)?
    I keep remembering the old Imperial Japanese propaganda describing the soft Americans as morally weak and Hermann Goering dismissing us as only capable of making razor blades. Hitler dismissed the fighting quality of Americans by claiming that we lacked the agrarian roots associated with infantry. I remember back in the 1970s reading the same delusional propaganda in Rodong Sinmun when they preached to their own populace that Americans lacked the fighting spirit to close with the Inmingun.
    I guess I’m just wondering if it’s not inevitable that our adversaries and potential adversaries would underestimate us in light of technological and material inferiority.

  48. Matthew says:

    Col. Is the man on the White Horse any less ridiculous than an man appearing in clouds and lifting Jerusalem into the sky?

  49. W. Patrick Lang says:

    You and Lina are talking to the wrong guy. I don’t believe in any of that “rapture” stuff from revelations.
    What’s your point, some kind of sophomoric lecture about multi-cultural sensitivity?
    Hah! You really don’t know who you are talking to. pl

  50. mlaw230 says:

    Colonel: You seem to accept the premise that we are already at war with Iran.
    Were this a simple border violation between the US and Canada, or Mexico, one would expect the alleged violators to submit to arrest. It is only because we accept that hostilities exist that we expected the crew of the Cornwall to have reacted with more impressive marshal fervor.
    Had this been a crew of American marines the real shooting war with Iran would have begun just then.

  51. JT Davis says:

    Col. Lang does not drink kool-aid. We all know this. But many of us may tend to get an unclear picture of who he is just because he does not serve it here. I don’t always expect to agree with him on certain issues. This is one issue where I tend to, but I am mindful of the nature of his concerns. This is a hardball world. The Iranians want to play in the big leagues and they are not playing softball. As Martin van Creveld is quoted as saying:
    “Obviously, we don’t want Iran to have nuclear weapons and I don’t know if they’re developing them, but if they’re not developing them, they’re crazy.”
    The stakes are rather high in this game of ball.
    And I could have sworn it was Irish, but that’s what I’m drinking so that’s to be expected. Although I admit that a Scot drinking Irish whiskey is somewhat unusual.

  52. PSD says:

    I think you mean multicultural delusiveness, not “sensitivity,” don’t you? 🙂
    and Cold War Zoomie–“how do we fight a delusional and suicidal enemy?” well, obviously that’s the problem, isn’t it? Compounded by the fact that Our Decider-in-Chief is delusional himself, as are most of his diehard supporters.

  53. Sgt.York says:

    On the other hand, the entire incident may be exactly what the Iranians state it is: [1] Royal Marines repeatedly violate Iranian territorial waters [2] Several ships from the Maritime Border Patrol Guard arrest the violators [2] The Iranians demand and recieve an apology. [4] The illegal tresspassers are released.
    Of course, the UK acting all macho and pimping that map with fabricated boundaries didn’t help. At best they were “disputed” waters especially when you consider the fact that Saddam tried to make the same maritime claims as the Brits are now making and it resulted in the Iran-Iraq war.
    Also likely, the Captain of the HMS Cornwall didn’t go “full speed ahead” with guns a-blazing when the incident happened because he knew the assault/boarding teams were in Iranian waters.
    I remember chatting with a fighter pilot a while back:
    ME: “Wuz up?”
    Pilot: “Heading off to violate XXX’s airspace.”
    ME: “Why?”
    Pilot: “To see if they shoot at us.”

  54. JT Davis says:

    Neil Riichardson,
    RE: American willingness to fight
    I hope Americans will fight when truly threatened. I think they will. If 9/11 proved anything it proved that. My biggest concern is that the will to fight is so often squandered in a cluster**** like Iraq. The willingness of a people to fight necessary and just wars is a precious national resource, like the military. It should not be wasted along with a generation of young citizens in such a thoughtless and haphazard manner. You may need them for a real fight someday.

  55. JT Davis says:

    “David…In relative terms, Iran is weak and thus it must savour these opportunities to the fullest as they dont come often.”
    Relative to what? Remove U.S. support and Saudi Arabia is weak. Iran is not weak, not now that we have removed Saddam for them. Damn smart. Skillful, and patient.
    Iran was the real threat (or player) all along. That’s why I understand with the good Colonel’s concern here.

  56. lina says:

    “What’s your point, some kind of sophomoric lecture about multi-cultural sensitivity?”
    The point is our leaders are as bat shit crazy as their leaders.

  57. Charles says:

    Slightly off topic, but somewhat apropos the recent “convert” discussion is George Packer’s New Yorker article “Betrayed” chronicling the tribulations of those Iraqis now viciously targeted for helping the Occupation:
    Packer’s “The Assassin’s Gate” is an excellent survey of conditions on the ground, very readable,

  58. Mo says:

    “Of course they are delusional. I thought that was a given. Remember, they are waiting for a man on a white horse to show up on a battlefield for them”
    Was that spoken in anger as it seems a rather strange comment or even a cheap shot. Just because a person has religious beliefs you find irrational or distasteful, that does not necessarily equate to not being able to rationalise the here and now. If all Shia were hanging around delusionaly waiting for the Mehdi (and the white horse actually stems from the Bible), Hizbollah needn’t have bothered to go to all that trouble and certainly would never have been so successful. This has nothing to do with multi-cultural sensitivity and everything to do with the problems that exist between the “us” and the “them”. Generalising about those you think less of into a lowest common denominator – whether it is referring to Muslims or even some of them as delusional or to Westerners as slaves to Israeli policy – is exactly what stops the interaction at a level higher than the gunfight and what stops the understanding and respect of each others cultures.

  59. davidS says:

    Even if the surrender of the British was due to the most craven cowardice isn’t the outcome the best for all concerned? A fight to the death, I think, would have made war with Iran all the more likely. This way nothing is lost, save honor. A pusillanimous way of thinking, but perhaps this time prudence was the better choice.

  60. brenda says:

    “My god! You really are reaching for a chance to condemn the US. pl”
    Not at all, Colonel. Being concerned for one’s country, worried that we have somehow lost our way is not at all the same as condemnation.
    “If you think the Iranians do not think of us as adversaries,you are mistaken. pl”
    How could they not think of us as adversaries when we or our good friend Israel regularly threatens to bomb them?
    ” … their desire to lead the Islamic World. In that priority, they seek to discredit and belittle the West. This incident contributed to that goal greatly and the result is likely to be very dangerous for all the peoples because the Iranians or others may well miscalculate our strength and resolve as the Libyans did long ago. pl”
    Colonel, on this issue I would really like to engage you as the ‘libertarian constitutionalist’ you claim to be. The US was never conceived as an imperial power, quite the opposite according to the Founding Fathers.
    Don’t you remember hearing of a time when the US, only a ‘regional power’ then, claimed the Western Hemisphere as its own particular backyard and growled fiercely when any of the real imperial powers of the day got anywhere near it? Don’t you think it might be the same way with Iran today, and don’t you think there’s a certain legitimacy in that perception & aspiration on the part of Iran?

  61. wisedup says:

    to PL
    We do not think of our soldiers as “lowly.”
    I hope that you are not including this administration in the “we”

  62. John says:

    Col. Lang: I recommend Stirling Newberry’s latest diary at the Agonist for a new acronym that describes the current situation perfectly. He advises us that the USUK has been detaining people for weeks…aha! the perfect acronym. The Empire of USUK…as in Janissaries from the Imperial USUK forces were enforcing the car tax regimen in the Persian Gulf several weeks ago when…
    I have thought for a long time that the fine distinction of the move of the imperial capital from London to Washington may be lost on some of the folks of color east of Suez…it’s still the same pasty white dudes turning bright red in the sun barking those sharp anglo consonants to get their way.
    Sorta like when Rome tried co-consulships with a co capital in Byzantium…things were pretty well winding down in the west by that time and yes I know, history does not repeat itself…but there are some strange resonances. The Empire of USUK…how appropriate. A new DOD acronym with a smile;-)
    From a former trooper on Freedom’s Frontier

  63. Clifford Kiracofe says:

    Col. Lang raises key points with respect to: 1. the propaganda/psychological effect of this incident in the region and 2. the potential for miscalculation on the part of the Iranian government or others.
    I am not a specialist on the region but it seems to me that the first point ties very well into the Sunni/Shia cleavage issue raised, for example, by Professor Vali Nasr in his recent “The Shia Revival. How Conflicts within Islam Will Shape the Future” (New York: Norton, 2006). Also, aside from the takfiri zealots, isn’t it possible that some (or many?) Sunnis could be inclined to a more positive view of Iran? Weren’t some segments of Sunni opinion favorable to the 1979 Revolution in Iran? Didn’t the Iranian President just make a seemingly successful official visit to Saudi Arabia? Didn’t the UAE just indicate they would not allow overflights in support of any US operations against Iran?
    Further afield, does anyone have a sense of how this is playing in Malaysia and Indonesia?
    Or how about in Egypt where, according to some very close observers I know, one could expect China to replace the United States in the not too distant future as the strategic ally?
    The dynamics of the region are in quite a state of flux and that Washington may well get left behind in the dust.
    On the second point, it seems to me that engaging Iran (with our eyes open and powder dry) in serious and substantive diplomatic dialogue first and then following on with a series of steps leading to some type of normalization would be the way to avert serious and dangerous miscalculation. Our European friends and allies who have full diplomatic relations with Iran could help. Germany’s very positive reaction to the Iraq Study Group report in December, for example, was an indicator.
    It is certainly within the capacity of the US government to do this as we have plenty of dedicated and experienced professionals in our federal institutions (State Department, Intelligence Community, Military, etc.) who could plan and implement it. The problem is the President and Congress appear unwilling to confront the problem with calm and cold calculations of national interest. Instead, wallowing in delusion, hysteria, and corruption, they seem all too willing to do the bidding of a certain “cosmopolitan” Lobby.

  64. Jeffly-Alili says:

    mark, you said “Pat, Don’t you think that
    Ahmadinejad was playing to his home audience?”
    …depends what you consider “home”. The videos released by Iran were released on Al-Alam, Iran’s arabic (not farsi) language channel.
    Secondly, I must say that the British approach was perfect. So perfect that Cheney completely disapproved. Can’t get much better than that.

  65. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Sgt York:
    That’s how I viewed the whole thing.
    Israel is only marginal to the bad blood between US & Iran; in my opinion.
    Clifford Kiracofe:
    Many Americans and Iranians had worked and tried for better relations between US and Iran but there were domestic obstacles in each country.
    Now it seems to be too late: there is competition for power and oil (of Iraq). Seems to me that US is trying the containment approach of the Cold War.
    Russia is the only country whose government has no delusions, in my opinion. Every other government has to take a number when it comes to delusions.

  66. ali says:

    Well it was a crap day for the RN somebody should be cashiered. This is the second time the Iranians have scooped up their people. They were put in harms way. Denied the use of force until fired upon. Basically instructed not to resist if caught out on the water by the Iranians. The Senior Service sent them on a vital mission to thwart the dire threat to British interests Iraqi of car smuggling and was not remotely prepared to protect them. Could easily have been a massacre and would have been if someone tried to play John Wayne.
    Should they have confessed on Iranian TV? Would a proud US Marine squawk so quickly? Maybe not but let’s not forget there is no nation more comfortable with opportunistic deceit than la perfide Albion; they won’t be greatly faulted by the UK public. The UK has a terrible record of care when its citizens get in trouble abroad; its soldiers especially. The Iranians are often not gentle with captives, have a record of holding them for months or years. And they had a woman in tow who was in dire need of a fag. I’m not about to criticize such pragmatism. I’ve had kin in out in Iraq with the Royal Marines. Nothing lowly about them. Glad to have them back.
    There is a causal connection here with the brinksmanship that accompanied “The Surge”. DC had very noisily disappeared several Iranian “Diplomats” recently. That is probably just the tip of the iceberg. The releases and granting of IRC and consular access just before the cunning Iranian largesse is surely connected. A rare instance of the “special relationship” working in No 10’s favor. After the humiliating but inevitable rebuff from the UN I wonder how low Tony had to grovel for that and what promises he made to both Teheran and DC?
    “The takfiri jihadis and Iran are competing for leadership in the Islamic World.”
    Jihadis may dream of such an unlikely victory. But this is hardly a coup for them, just a pebble in a the mountain of humiliating evidence that their fragmented movement is vastly inferior to the Ayatollah’s dreary revolution. The Iranians were always in a different league and now are stalking much larger game. There is a deep imperialist streak in Persia; it predates Islam by millenia and has regularly surfaced in their history.
    This incident is of no consequence when compared with what this foolish war has done to the illusion of US omnipotence. It is little wonder Ahmadinejad now taunts us so mercilessly. This enterprise is studded with far more catastrophic failures of competence which they have witnessed at first hand. Baffled Iraq’s invent conspiracy theories to explain our ineptness. Such bold hearted bungling inspires contempt not respect or fear; for that the qualities of the fox are needed as well as the lion’s.

  67. Matthew says:

    Col: I knew that you didn’t believe in the rapture. Far from being some “sophomoric lecture about multi-cultural sensitivity,” my comment was directed at the insanity of allowing End-Timers of any religion to influence policy.

  68. Matthew says:

    The humiliation of the Royal Navy continues. Reading scripts at a news conference, complaining of not getting outside news…Can you imagine the outrage if these people had spent two weeks at Guantanamo?

  69. JT Davis says:

    “Lina… The point is our leaders are as bat shit crazy as their leaders.”
    I’m not sure that any of them are actually legally insane. Insanity is a legal term, not a medical one. They are all rational actors, more or less. Their players seem much more capable at this grand game than our current regime.

  70. JT Davis says:

    “DavidS… A fight to the death, I think, would have made war with Iran all the more likely.”
    I don’t get that the Col. was advocating that. Just handling it differently. Like I said, our current players just don’t do diplomacy and statecraft well, and if you agree with Clausewitz, it’s a form of warfare they never bothered to master.

  71. W. Patrick Lang says:

    Having seen the press conference, I will say no more. It speaks for itself.
    These are not soldiers.
    I now have learned that Briritsh government policy is for their people to behave like this. That being the case, they got what that policy calls for
    Unfortunately, they will find that adversaries will interpret this as weakness and act acordingly. pl

  72. lina says:

    “They are all rational actors, more or less.”
    One could argue the rationality of religious zealots, be they Christian, Muslim or Zoroastrian. When you put them in the driver’s seat on foreign policy, you’ll find yourself caught up in some serious insanity.

  73. Cold War Zoomie says:

    My “Western” line reflects back to Col. Lang’s original post about western soldiers being cowards in the eyes of some.
    Col Lang,
    Since being delusional means they will believe what they believe regardless of what facts are presented to them, then the Brits’ behavior is even less consequential. By extension, I don’t see any military option here at all regardless of how honorable we, or the Brits, or anyone else in our coalition fight.
    This brings us back to your Concert of the Greater Middle East. Let the rational folks find resolutions, and then let the ME players deal with the deluded among them. And if we could somehow integrate our phased withdrawal from Iraq with the Concert, then all the better.
    I wonder how Maggie the Iron Lady would have handled this? Of course, The Troubles were resolved long after she left – so her methods may not have always been the best!

  74. anon says:

    I’m not willing to reach no firm conclusions on these soldiers’ actions because I do not know enough about what is appropriate, or about the facts. Were they really just soldiers? I heard this morning that one of the captured British officers was saying that they were spies, and their mission was spying on Iranian naval actions in the border waters. This was a British news report made before the incident began, and only released now for obvious reasons. If the officer’s statement is true, what was the strategy for the soldiers’ behavior following capture. It would be somewhat different than for some one who was ‘really’ just a soldier, wouldn’t it?
    My take on this is that both US and British leaders are behaving frivolously re both Iran and Iraq. Many obvious diplomatic, economic, and political avenues for improving the situation re both Iraq and Iran have been ignored in favor of a solely military approach that most respectable military and civilian experts say is very risky and unworkable.
    So the leadership is following a deeply immoral, very risky but in some since self-indulgent and frivolous course of action, not well grounded in reality. This is not WWII, or the Cold War. It has much much less substance behind it than Vietnam, the Falklands, or the first Gulf War. So, why should we expect the soldiers not to act unprofessionally or frivolously, when the whole enterprise is in a very deep and real sense unprofessional and frivolous? Certainly there are some very odd and unprofessional things going on. Seems to me that an officer admitting publicly that part of his mission is spying is unprofessional. So, by what I understand are Col Lang’s standards, there was something rotten in the unit even before the capture. But Blair, Bush/Cheney and many of the US officer corps have been very unprofessional and frivolous in their actions and attitudes. Those kinde of things tend to leak down to regular units.

  75. Charles says:

    Soldiers. I’m not one, never will be. Here’s my take, on that alone, never mind the parsing circus.
    The sailors ranged from 21 to 26 years old I think i read. This weekend Canada has a dolorous celebration at our monument at Vimy Ridge in France. 90th anniversary of a big battle to take said ridge. 100,000 soldiers, average age 19, 5,000 + dead in couple of days for “The Great War”.
    In ten or twenty years, after this phase of the war ends for lack of political support, and a forced withdrawal, The “West”, but bigger, the developed world say, will have to return.
    To fight our way in to finally attempting some semblance of government, security, economy, a Marshall plan enforcedly tolerable to most. Never mind the five year plan, this will be until it works enough not to be a major risk, let alone threat. It will certainly require a real Palestine, project and a half in itself.
    It will be a fight that will require our civil societies to support and participate in – you’ll be melting your SUV’s down – and will require coordination and mobilization. It will require superhuman politics to get going, given the necessary U.S. are the hated idiots who got us into this mess, and the true believers we face – and the criminal regimes and gangs too – will fear us less and have more dangerous technology at their disposal. Not to mention a burned and cynical population – fool me once, etc, looted treasuries, etc. Plus all the vagaries of war, and there’s just so much money to be made, that seems to be figured out. Plus matter of Asian participation.
    But what it will really require is not F22 pilots for those thousands of flying pork rinds.
    Pat my son, you’re infectious. Thank you for this site, your public commentary, I suppose you discuss this and that with many in service with a view to the best that can be done. Good on ya.

  76. W. Patrick Lang says:

    One of my uncles fought at Vimy Ridge with the Canadian Army. We never could pass up a good fight. pl

  77. TR Stone says:

    How much more do real Americans hae to endure-

  78. pbrownlee says:

    What the USUK/Forces of Light “Coalition” has conclusively proven (exemplified in this bloodless Gulf skirmish) is that there is no fear factor left, short (perhaps) of the nuclear option.
    Any prudent state would be totally bonkers not to acquire some sort of nuclear weapon capability ASAP. It is Force de Frappe and MAD for everyone now — true democracy in action.

  79. Clifford Kiracofe says:

    Babak, I share your concerns but as international relations are dynamic there are always opportunities as well as challenges. The US-Iran relationship is not beyond repair by any means.
    Merchants from the United States and Persia were trading in the early 19th century, as I have mentioned. We had teachers and doctors out there as well in this era.
    It is true, for example, that these United States may have made a grave mistake in 1953 with Operation Ajax. See, Stephen Kinzer, All The Shah’s Men. An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror (NJ: John Wiley and Son’s, 2003). I say this noting I once had an extensive discussion on the matter with the late John H. Waller, for whom I had (and retain) the very greatest respect. He was a fine gentleman of the old school.
    As you may know, our original formal diplomatic relation with Iran was established by the Treaty of Friendship and Commerce of 1856, signed at Constantinople on our side by Carroll Spence, Minister Resident of the United States “near the Sublime Porte.”
    Please consider the signficance of the opening sentence of our treaty: “In the name of God, the element and the merciful.”
    With this in mind, for context, consider the first three words of our Treaty of Peace and Friendship with the Kingdom of Tunis of 1797: “God is infinite.”
    As history indicates, for Americans of a traditional type, there is no problem with having diplomatic relations with Muslim countries. There is no pre-ordained “Clash of Civilizations.” In fact, Morocco was the first country with whom we had formal diplomatic relations (1787) and they were established on the authority of Congress with Adams, Franklin, and Jefferson having full powers in the matter. When I served on the Foreign Relations Committee of the Senate of the United States a framed copy of the letters between George Washington and the ruler of Morocco were proudly displayed in the Committee’s meeting room in the Capitol Building. They were the ONLY such diplomatic correspondence displayed in the room.
    But problems have arisen since President Truman capitulated to the Zionist Lobby in 1948 for craven political reasons and the election of 1948. That is not to say that certain Republican factions had not taken a similar tack owing to John Foster Dulles and other influences. This is a matter of historical record and scholars have written extensively on it.
    I would suggest that our current problems with foreign policy in the Middle East are, in large measure, owing to the omnipotent “pro-Israel Lobby”.
    I am sure you are aware of Morgan Shuster, the American who went out to Persia and gave an honest hand to help the government out there. His “The Strangling of Persia” Reprint of the 1912 ed. (Washington, DC.: Mage Publications, 1987) is worthwhile reading.
    So I would say that there are quite a number of good years of relations between Persia/Iran and these United States. Yes, there have been some problematic years, but this does not foreclose forever an improvement and a diplomatic normalization of relations.
    The internal situation in the United States is complex at the moment. It is my sense that there is a reckoning coming down the road with that cosmopolitan Lobby that has almost poisoned the Republic. We shall see.

  80. Babak Makkinejad says:

    You wrote:
    “In ten or twenty years, after this phase of the war ends for lack of political support, and a forced withdrawal, The “West”, but bigger, the developed world say, will have to return.”
    I cannot crdit that – whatever you meant by West does not have that power.

  81. TR Stone says:

    Does anyone think that the government of the (any) captured military people are concerned about their welfare.
    It is all about who can beat their breast and howl the loudest!

  82. JustPlainDave says:

    I rather wonder if the primary aim wasn’t to demonstrate the role of the IRGC as standard bearers within Iran, with the broader Islamic audience being a secondary one.

  83. Will says:

    “It is being fought by soldiers whom we Americans value highly. Their safety will be directly affected by what has happened in this incident.”
    No doubt- but a second order effect. The primary driver is NeoKon ZionKon blundering policy.
    The Brit hostage crisis was so much fluff. There is no evidence the opposition had been up to now afraid to engage American troops even when faced with overwhelming firepower. Or that they have been afraid of death. The real danger to the G.I.’s comes from the Bush hostage snatch of the five Iranians in Irbil, the disappeared Iranian former deputy defense minister in Istanbul, the support of al-Qa?eda types in Kuzehistan and Iranian Baluchistan. And American support or condonation of Kurdish rebel strikes into Turkey & Iran. Classic NeoKon rejection of Newton’s Third Law. For Every Action there is a Re-Action.
    Bush the Son having lost the Irak War, has set his heart to recoup his stained legacy before he leaves the White House in January 2009. Therefore, Dumbya will strike Iran’s nuclear facilities AND infrastructure from air and sea, Damn the consequences to the Troops in Irak, the American Economy, the Mideast and Southwest Asia- and there are just a valian few in Congress willing to stand up for their Country AND to him & his ZionKons.

  84. zanzibar says:

    Clifford, thanks for that bit of history.
    There is nothing preordained that we cannot have good relationships with Muslim countries on the basis of mutual respect and national interests. As you point history shows that it is possible but for the influence and power of AIPAC on our domestic politics. Until that changes the Middle East will be in turmoil as it has been for the past 50 years.
    Until we in America start to define our national interests separate from those of AIPAC we will not begin to conceive policies that enhance our national interests. Hopefully the state of Israel will get ahead of that change and for its own interests negotiate a settlement or truce with its Arab and Muslim neighbors. With the democratization of technology we cannot afford this conflict to run another 2-3 generations. The costs in terms of human life and the safety of our citizens will be too high. But when will leaders independent and capable of articulating our national interests step up to the stage? We know its not in the next Presidential election.

  85. Clifford Kiracofe says:

    A revealing report this morning from London:
    “The US offered to take military action on behalf of the 15 British sailors and marines held by Iran, including buzzing Iranian Revolutionary Guard positions with warplanes, the Guardian has learned.
    …. Pentagon officials asked their British counterparts: what do you want us to do? ….
    The British declined the offer and said the US could calm the situation by staying out of it. London also asked the US to tone down military exercises that were already under way in the Gulf. ….At the request of the British, the two US carrier groups, totalling 40 ships plus aircraft, modified their exercises to make them less confrontational.
    The British government also asked the US administration from Mr Bush down to be cautious in its use of rhetoric, which was relatively restrained throughout.”,,329771336-111322,00.html
    For a reasonable assessment of the “planned” US military crusade against Iran using the “WMD” lie and all that see the Oxford Research Group study at:
    Now, if a US-Israeli crusade flattens Persia, just how do the Israelis (the Jewish part of the population not the Arab part of course) think they will find a new Cyrus down the road for use against the Arabs?
    One wonders just where the hysterical style of Bush43 foreign policy comes from. I suppose it is just part and parcel of the vulgar Neocon political culture found in Commentary Magazine, the Weekly Standard, Fox News, and elsewhere these days.

  86. Gerson says:

    From the UK, a suprising addition to our debate from the usually lefty Guardian:
    “Whatever happened to name, rank and number?” by Marina Hyde
    “I’m afraid it was the Ryder Cup-style photo that was the last straw. It is traditional, on the eve of that golf competition, for the US and European teams to pose for photos in matching outfits. Rarely has this biennial silliness been called to mind more sharply than on Wednesday in Tehran, when the 15 released naval hostages waved cheerily for the cameras, looking for all the world as if they were confident of securing an early lead in the foursomes

    Perhaps those of us made uneasy by the spectacle of the past fortnight are just stupidly nostalgic for this kind of world – the old days when wars were waged against expansionist nations, as opposed to on an abstract noun. The days when hostage situations didn’t share disturbing amounts of iconography with the Big Brother house, and captured personnel did not emerge asking for “space”. Then again, as our leaders constantly remind us, we are fighting a new kind of enemy. Perhaps all this goes with the territory.
    But there is a certain moment in life when those of us who consider ourselves conscientious objectors to just about everything but imported US TV dramas suddenly find ourselves a heartbeat away from ending a sentence with the words “and we’d all be speaking German now”. For this armchair general hack, that moment was the Tehran Ryder Cup photo.”,,2051999,00.html
    Thanks from all of us for this intelligent forum, Col Lang.

  87. Attaturk says:

    You know the fact is that not only is the American moral authority incredibly diminished because of Abu Ghraib and GITMO (and British too) as plainly demonstrated here, but there is a second item that is being ignored too often, and it is a positive.
    Yes, the Iranians got a short-term PR blip, but the mullahs of the right in Iran didn’t get everything they wanted. They wanted the fire-breathers of the US and Britain to go hard-core over this. It’s good for their interests.
    The more this was settled through subtle diplomacy the less of long-term victory this is for Iran and the more it is a long-term loss for the mullahs.

  88. ked says:

    It is unfortunate that we have a “bat-shit crazy” leadership in the US driven by very personal demons in a context of very American religous extremism enabled by patronizing Corporatism. We will be lucky to get out of it alive. The post-mortem of the Bush II era (& its “my God over everyone else’s America” political corps) will be a revelation I hope we can learn from.
    However, our drives are not symmetrical with those of Islam in the ME. Their leadership is not b-s crazy, it is quite sane and in context – for a revolutionary theocracy dedicated to their mission against non-believers.
    Simply because the West experienced the Enlightenment doesn’t mean we can forget it – we must live and teach it every day. We fail in the world when we fail ourselves.

  89. john in the boro says:

    The good colonel made an observation that Thomas Friedman made twenty years ago—“Hama Rules.” Friedman (despite his current difficulties) relates the story of a stolen turkey to explain “face” in the Middle East (“From Beirut to Jerusalem,” p89). What he really describes is the rational determination of interest and power based on perceptions of weakness or strength. The US-UK may have failed this particular test. Iran too can play the “snatch” game. Remember Lebanon? I think this bears consideration as this “poorly conceived campaign in Iraq” continues its downward spiral. And, this test was only one of many that the Bush administration faced in the region this past week.

  90. arbogast says:

    Rush Limbaugh said several years ago that the United States military in Iraq was actually engaging in “war games” for the coming invasion of Iran and, specifically, house-to-house fighting in Tehran.
    The “war” in Iraq was supposed to go like this:
    1) Be hailed as conquering heros by a grateful Iraqi population.
    2) Take the role of advisers and allies in the quick, new war against Iran.
    [Think for a moment how seductive that scenario is for a Dick Cheney. You not only put Israel in command of the Middle East, therebye insuring a Republican hegemony in the United States for 1000 years, but you also take control of the vast majority of the world’s oil and gas supplies.]
    The problem is that Iran has emerged victorious from this war. They won. And they won long before the British sailors were taken hostage.
    Yes, this was a major propaganda victory for Iran, but it is only one step in a long series of steps that have cemented Iran’s victory.
    And, in the background, on AIPAC’s second front, namely collusion with the Japanese Finance Ministry to enrich its clients throughout our “finance industry”, things are not going so well either. Just look at the euro and the yen.
    So, in sum, what you get when you sell your country to the highest bidder is smiling Marines and houses in foreclosure.
    Get used to it.

  91. VietnamVet says:

    It is human nature to hate the enemy. Paul Fussell’s Doing Battle: The Making of a Skeptic is an excellent narrative of his youth in Los Angeles and as a second lieutenant in Company F of the 410th Infantry, 103re Division in France March 1945. With his searing hatred from battle, he could never understand how Germans could be American Allies just months later.
    Are the Iranians our enemy? Are they a threat to the “Homeland”? They are still selling oil to the world. If an accommodation could be found, couldn’t Iranians also be an ally in the battle against radical Sunni Muslims? Is killing every last Sunni Arab a solution? Containment under the rule of law of every radical true believer; Christian, Muslim, Hindu or Jew, has to be a better solution than escalating hatreds. Instead of accommodation, America is fighting a hopeless colonial religious war desperate to keep a grasp on the 14 permanent bases and the Iraqi oil fields.

  92. FDR_Democrat says:

    To be fair to these captured troops, if we had Internet during WW2 we would have seen TONS of videos like this put on the web by the Nazis of Allied soldiers smiling, waving, calling Hitler a genius, urging the West to make peace with the Nazis and fight Stalin, etc.
    As it was of course, examples of WW2 collaboration were not unknown. But the Allied governments had (and used) tremendous powers of censorship which was remarkably effective under the technology available at the rime.
    During and after the war, these sorts of things were swept under the rug. And the legend of the Greatest Generation was born which, as the hallowed year pass, would lead us to believe our captives always behaved like characters in the morale movies of Hollywood.

  93. Charles says:

    Babak: “I cannot crdit that – whatever you meant by West does not have that power”
    It doesn’t have the fortitude today, and I think the whole adventure was fraudulently misbegotten, but I assure you, real power of those with the most to lose economically has barely been engaged. Same with the moral composition and enegies of most good people.
    For heavens’ sake, look at the mighty economic empire of consumption created just to divert the hoi-polloi from profit and plunder by the one percenters.
    Tell them that there’s nothing but smart cars, no cars, the end of the corn and beef economy, one flavour of toothpaste, power rationing, American Idol pre-empted by an honest, sober examination of the planet and ourselves. Legalize drugs, defund some of the criminal empires, put all that dough overtly into Wall street, and the drug warriors into a real war against chaos rather than against human nature. Celebrate the brave gay soldier and parent, denigrate, prosecute the cretins who got the planet to this latest perilous pass, and MOBILIZE. Scare the shit outta them, not with a Shrub, or an Operation Northwoods, but with a Churchill and a true appreciation of threats to the remnants of our way of life – and the absolute necessity of giving most others some chance, even out of our own diminished self-interest if we are to continue ourselves.
    Of course, the Chinese and Walmart might own everything by then, variables abound. Maybe ther’ll be millions of Chinese troops available, maybe they’ll already own the real estate.
    There’s enough oil in the Alberta tar sands to fuel at least a couple more goes. Have you ever had a moment of perfect moral clarity, or imperative self-interest for you and yours. Human beings can surpass themselves, even as old orders crash around them, and I prefer to think we’re on the recovering addict’s spiral of awareness and behaviour. You’re in the same spot, maybe made the same mistake, but you’re a little further up the spiral of evolution and empowerment, a higher perspective, even if you’ve just lost everything underneath you – with nothing left but a little more enlightened potential ahead for the living. Hard bloody work. All doable.

  94. sandy goodman says:

    col. lang,
    i’d like to get clearer what you think was the cowardice of the british navy people recently released.
    was it cowardice for them to have surrendered in the first place? none of us was there so we don’t know exactly what happened, but assuming, as they said, that the brits in the search party were faced with overwhelming force, should they have gone down fighting to death rather than having surrendered? would americans, marines or others, really have done any differently in the face of overwhelming force?
    and was cowardice involved in their admitting to violating iran’s sea space, even if they really didn’t think they had? partly, doesn’t this depend on how pressured they were? sounds like they got pushed around and pretty well frightened, although nothing like the dogs, waterboarding, sitting in their own feces and sexual humiliations they might have suffered at american hands. i seem to remember that during the korean war, a lot of our pows gave in to brainwashing, and got convinced that the north koreans were good guys and our folks were bad guys. admittedly, they were held longer than a couple of weeks.
    i guess what i’d like is for you to spell out more clearly what the rules of the game are, how the brits should have acted but didn’t, both in their immediate capture, and over the two week period.
    thanks. and i hope this and all the other comments haven’t interfered too much with your doing your taxes.

  95. Clifford Kiracofe says:

    Zanzibar, thanks for your kind words. On the matter of Israel, I personally believe that peace is possible with respect to the Arab-Israeli Conflict and that it is possible to construct an appropriate regional architecture based on the principle of mutual benefit. Just when is, indeed, a question but this should not stop us from a constant diplomatic effort to that end.
    In the long term (or even medium term) Israeli security depends on a reduction of tensions in the region, in my view. But Israel needs to comply with International Law and, aided and abetted by the United States, it most certainly has not since 1948. Israel seeks the benefits of International Law such as existing as a recognized sovereign state and membership in the United Nations and all the rest but refuses to comply with International Law.
    It is implicit in Arab peace proposal(s) that Israel is a sovereign state that has a “right to exist” otherwise why offer a peace proposal to Israel. It is also true that under international law since, say the Westphalia settlement of 1648, that sovereign states have a right to exist. Israel is a sovereign state with membership in the United Nations and therefore has a right to exist under international law. Israel can exist within a “two-state” formula or it could exist within a “bi-national” formula.
    A professor (of progressive views) from Syria was invited to one of the schools at which I teach several years ago. He gave a very fine lecture on the regional situation. What struck me was his point that just as there traditionally have been “Jewish Quarters” (NOT ghettos in the European sense) in Middle Eastern urban life, Israel, as a state, could become a normalized “Jewish Quarter” (state) within the Middle Eastern regional state system. I think that is a positive vision capable of realization but for a certain extremist and rejectionist element in Israel but even more so in the Diaspora and in the United States in particular. I think it is tragic for Jews that Israel is building that horrible wall because it is a symbol of medieval self-ghettoization in a modern and globalized world. Of course, the Neocons endorse it. So it seems does the Republican Party because it has become a mental annex of Likud. Elliot Abrams, who essentially controls United States Middle East policy from the NSC, has written a book arguing against Jewish assimilation…what sort of “American” citizenship is this???
    The Bush43 Administration could have picked up from the Clinton Admininstration’s “Taba” negotiations and moved toward a peace settlement. As the Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher told me in 2002 in Cairo, “We were 95% there” with Taba. But the Neocons sabotaged that peace potential and continue to.
    I am not a regional specialist but this is my general impression of the situation.

  96. Kerim says:

    Interesting developments: the british MOD has authorised the RN and RM back from Iran to sell their stories to the press…
    A few thoughts:
    1. I don’t think that the brits not putting up a fight (outnumbered and outsmarted) is such a big deal. Seems to me like the right thing to do in the general context (unclear/disputed borders, potential disastrous consequences of a firefight, etc…)
    2. However, I find it incredible that these soldiers found themselves in that situation in the first place. Which means that either the brits are naive or irresponsible (scarry assumption) or that we only know a small part of the truth (more likely).
    3. I must say I was chocked to see how jolly these guys seemed to be on the photos (bar a few exceptions). What for?!
    4. And now finding it OK to sell the story to the press. I know this might be part of the spin but.. Where are the ethical backbone and moral values here? This is a sign of decadence to me.
    5. As a soldier you accept to give your life for your country. If your so called leaders are spineless and cannot be respected it’s a serious problem.

  97. W. Patrick Lang says:

    My willingness to let people post comments on my sites does not imply that I will tolerate a tone towards me as snotty as your last.
    Your anti-American diatribe I will ignore.
    With regard to the HMS Cornwall affair:
    1-The supposed sophistication of the British was not apparent in the assumptions that evidently shaped their approach to search and boarding operations in the Shatt al-Arab area. They seem to have assumed that the Iranians would meekly accept the notion that such operations were international police functions that were immune to interference backed by significant force. This was naĂŻve.
    2-This attitude was evident in the lack of basic security precautions taken by the RM element in the boarding party. They posted no effective look out. The RN Lt. said at his presser that the ship they had boarded was 1.7 kilometers from Iranian waters. The RM captain said that his men did not see the Iranian boats until they were 400 meters away. This is incompetence.
    3-HMS Cornwall’s own helicopter departed the scene of the boarding and left them without air support. More incompetence and naiveté?
    4- Courage, or the lack of it? You like to ask questions in the J’accuse style. I will ask you if it is your position that troops faced with superior force and the probability of heavy loss should surrender. If that is your position, then you have adopted a new and striking doctrine with regard to the conduct of military affairs. I await your response.
    5- Evidently it is the policy of the British government that its “military” personnel should cooperate with captors as much as is necessary to ensure repatriation and survival. Since that seems to be the case, any criticism of the prisoners’ behavior should be directed at that policy. This is not US policy. The latest version of the “Code of Conduct” requires prisoners to resist such cooperation as strongly as is humanly possible (paraphrasing).
    6- The decision of the MoD and the prisoners to sell their story to the press and other media is in the finest tradition of the modern age. What was good enough for any number of people on this side of the pond must be good enough for them. I hope they have a good agent. pl

  98. Babak Makkinejad says:

    By my statement I meant to say that Western states cannot be great military powers, powerful economic powers, and at the same time protect their citizens’ well-being against the winds of global economy (via welfare state type of policies). One of the three has to give – in my opinion. Even in the United States, for example, I have heard of projections that in a few years more of US Defense budget will be consumed by pensions and other entitlements than by the procurement of new weapon systems.
    I am aware of the Alberta oil sands. US also has un-tapped energy sources such as the numerous gas wells of Mobile Bay – each of which could power US for 300 years (estimated).
    I think you are discounting the significance of oil to US & West by ignoring the oil content that goes into all the products that US and Western countries import from elsewhere – such as China.
    Additionally, I think there is a fear among the consumer states of a cut-off in the flow of oil. This fear motivates many stupid policies and causes many states to go along to get along.
    Clifford Kiracofe:
    As far as I understand it, the 2 obstacles to US-Iran normalization from US point of view have been 1) that the Iranian Leadership is fractured and thus it is not clear who is in charge and with whom one can negotiate a durable understanding and 2) How can any understanding with Iran be enforced – a.k.a. cheating.
    I think the first obstacle is invalid since we have the historical precedence of the Algiers Agreements between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the United States of America that has proven durable and has been working for the last 25 years rather successfully. The Iranian government, at the time of that agreement, was certainly more fractured than today. And I should think that given a mutually beneficial agreement, Iran will stick to her part in any future agreements with US.
    In regards to the second obstacle I think it will be a good idea to frame any treaty instruments between Iran and US like the SALT I & II treaties. These treaties had provisions that each side could unilaterally invoke if they suspected cheating by the other side. I forget the details now but it had to do with the creation of an investigative panel staffed by each treaty signatory plus others nominated from neutral countries by each side to investigate and pass judgment on any or all alleged acts of cheating.
    And I think there are states that Iran does trust: Switzerland, Sweden, South Africa, and Armenia. For a variety of reasons Iran does not trust any Muslim state in this regard.
    I would like to point out that this is all academic and I do not see any resolution even after 2009. US has so many domestic laws, regulations, and judgments against Iran that I cannot see them being cleared in a meaningful way in a sufficiently short amount of time to make negotiating a complex treaty such as the one that I have been alluding to possible.
    Moreover, the United States, by dragging Iran to UNSC, scored a major pyrrhic victory by giving other states power over her Iran policy. It reminds me how UK got rid of Mossadegh by seeking American help – the price of which was the abolition of the British Oil monopoly in Iran and the introduction of the American oil interests into Iran.
    Likewise, US might succeed, like UK in 1953, in defeating Iranian nationalism but the price will be the introduction and acceptance of the Chinese and Russian power and interests and power (among others) into Iran (and the Persian Gulf).

  99. Cold War Zoomie says:

    Ugh. Selling their story, now. Unbelievable.
    Before this latest news, I was a little disappointed in seeing the Brits act the way they did in captivity, but not completely shocked. Bascially, I wished they had acted more like we expect our own soldiers to act but didn’t consider it a big deal in the overall scheme of things.
    I served with the USAF and later worked as a US defense contractor in the UK for a total of five years. It seemed that the world always underestimated the strength of the British character because they tend not to pound their chests, strut around and trash-talk like some of us other folk. But where the rubber meets the road, they always appeared up for the fight and very reliable. A good ally. I was there when the IRA was still bombing towns and the Brits carried on like normal. Many were proud and stubborn as a mule, too, which contradicts their willingness to act the way they did even if they were following policy.
    Now this happens. The big question is whether the policy driving their behavior in captivity and this new twist was rammed down the throats of the military by civilian leadership or actually cooked up within the services. I’d like to think it was rammed down the military’s throat. At least, that is my hope, or maybe I’ve been overestimating them all along after going native “down the pub.”

  100. Tom Milton says:

    Col. Lang,
    I respectfully disagree with the postings herein attacking the professionalism of the Royal Navy and Royal Marines in the recent encounter with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ naval forces. My take is RN/RM personnel were doing exactly as ordered. I have observed their professionalism first hand and I doubt seriously they are any less professional or committed in their Persian Gulf operations.
    Tony Blair has succeeded in getting a prominent role for BP and Shell in the Iraqi PSA/hyrdo-carbon “law” for a relatively low cost. Check out Robert Newman’s “History of Oil” for a very interesting historical take on the West and Iraq’s oil.
    Why in the world would the UK even think about a shootout with Shi’a Iran which most likely precipitate increased fighting with the Sha’i in Iraq and the Persian Gulf and further delay or even kill the Iraq PSA? My guess is even the neocons grudgingly agree at this point in time.
    All our fighting personnel deserve our highest respect and honor for their supreme commitment to our nation(s), regardless of the political wisdom of their leaders.

  101. W. Patrick Lang says:

    Tom Milton
    I had kin in both the British and Canadian forces in wartime. They were tough guys in tough outfits, but this is somethiing new and different.
    I notice that yuo have not actually answered any ot my points on performance.
    Why would they fight? I will say it again. War and international conflict at all points along the spectrum of violence is in large part a giant “head game.” Once your probable opponents no longer fear you, you are in for a rough “go.”
    I don’t believe any of that “oily” stuff. I thought I hade made that clear. pl

  102. arbogast says:

    I find it particularly hard to believe that the British sailors were not expressing their disagreement with the war policy of Britain.
    In a different war, under the same circumstances, they would have behaved differently [I know Britain is not at war with Iran].
    It is no secret that American troops are increasingly disenchanted with our colonial war in Iraq.
    Why would any soldier or sailor risk his/her life for George Bush’s catamite in an ambiguous situation?
    And, finally, who has brought this situation about? The sailors themselves? Please.
    This is a problem of leadership. And the leadership is rotten to the core.

  103. Mo says:

    In regards to the original intent of this posting, that the aim of Iranian propaganda was to demonstrate the weakness of the West and its military I would, now that I have read some of their statements and interviews like to add this. While I disagreed with you that the initial capture would be read into too deeply in the Islamic and “jihadist” world, I do think the reaction and the aftermath will be far more telling. Reading the interviews I noted that the biggest threat to these sailors was there imagination; The woman heard saws and hammers and was measured so assumed they were making a coffin? They were blindfolded and heard guns cocked so assumed they were to be executed.
    The Iranian capture and parading of these guys may not have sent a message of weakness; The psychological state of these guys in captivity, as shown in their interviews, sure as hell will.

  104. Clifford Kiracofe says:

    More light on the propaganda issue:
    “Back in London, the second permanent secretary at the MoD, Sir Ian Andrews, was kept informed as was Des Browne, the Secretary of State for Defence, and Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, the Chief of Defence Staff.
    Normally members of the Armed Forces are not allowed to profit from telling stories to the press unless they receive permission in “exceptional circumstances”.
    But on this occasion they were actively encouraged to do so.
    The Navy feared that after the euphoria of the hostages’ return had passed, the Navy itself would face a wave of criticism for allowing them to be seized by the Iranians in the first place.
    Getting their stories out in full, and under the controlling eye of Navy and MoD officials, would, they believed, deflect attention from what had gone wrong. It would also counter Iranian propaganda that suggested the 15 had been well treated and prevent the hostages being harassed by the press for weeks to come.”
    Toby Helm, “How the Navy Spun Its Way to a PR Disaster,” Telegraph (London), 10 April 07:;jsessionid=FR0BXR5WOUQJBQFIQMGSFFOAVCBQWIV0?xml=/news/2007/04/10/nhostage210.xml

  105. Tom Milton says:

    Col Lang,
    For context:
    The analytical work of M King Hubbert is just as applicable to the world’s oil reservoirs as it was to America’s in the last century. Nixon was well aware of this and tried to lead American business interests and government agencies to plan the transition to more expensive energy sources. Our business leadership chose a somewhat different course. I was there at a low technical level.
    I understand that Iraq’s reservoirs contains light crude in vast quantities that is easily recoverable from shallow wells. This type of crude is desirable and is efficient to process. Tar sands and heavy high sulfur crude reserves are also vast but are considerably more costly to process.
    America and its friends and foes have and certainly will continue to “jostle” for access to energy resources. As the impact of peak oil gained traction in the rapidly expanding newer economies, elbows have become much sharper and proxy activities are swarming worldwide.
    My take remains the Brit politicos did not want a fight at this time under the prevailing conditions. They instructed their troops accordingly and probably told them to calm things down if they could. This could explain the smiles and “sort of” apologies.
    I recommend we follow the trail of medals and promotions over the next few years to see whether RN Commanders were pleased or appalled with the on-scene behavior of the RN/RM personnel.
    Here’s my take on the six points.
    1) The Brits were there primarily for intel as to what’s going where and who’s involved, The freighters are operating in very shallow water beyond the direct reach of the Cornwall. Heavier patrol boats apparently not deployed so that RIBs and the helo had to project ship’s presence. The only option for boarding and close-in surveillance in the shallow flats. Iranians were insecure about the positions and border delineation and thus somewhat stressed and emotional.
    2 ) The helicopter provides the look out function. If the Iranian PBs were loitering 2 miles away they can be on-scene in 3 minutes if 46 knot Boghammers. Extracting the boarding party securely could take that long. The two rigid hulls could not have eluded the faster Iranian boats for long. I read that 8 Iranian vessels were involved.
    3) Assume CO of Cornwall or the Task Force Commodore aboard Cornwall ordered the helo to depart to avoid a shoot out. Wikipedia says Cornwall carries a Lynx helo with Sea Skua and machine guns. Ship has 4.5 inch Mk 8 gun, CIWS, Harpoons, and Sea Wolf point defense. Have no idea if Iranians had any air cover but the Cornwall should have and that might have been a factor. Appears Cornwall had sufficient armament for a credible exchange if ordered.
    4) All this leads me to conclude the boarding party was ordered to not fire first and to comply. And same for Cornwall.
    5) My active duty Navy and retired USAF friends advised me Sunday that the captured Brits should have ONLY provided name, rank, s/n and resisted all else. They speculated that few junior officers have been appropriately trained in this regard. They share your disdain for their post-capture performance and the propaganda it provided Iran. Aviation crews get this training, they said. Unless the Brits were ordered to comply and calm things down, I agree on this point.
    6) Never give away what you can sell. I guess.
    point 1) Used what they had,
    points 2), 3),4) strike this civilian as rules of engagement stuff under the opcon of the Task Force Commodore,
    point 5) yes, unless ordered otherwise, and
    point 6) our new world order.
    IMO when our multiple adversaries realized we couldn’t stop the looting in Bagdad, and Rummy with his Comedy Central routines, the rough “go” began. General Shinseki was an optimist.
    I seemed to have missed your position on the “oily stuff”. I’ll go looking but may need a pointer.
    I don’t like the oily theory. It is sausage being made in public. It just seems to be what’s quacking (loudly).

  106. Clifford Kiracofe says:

    Here are some after action analyses from the region:
    “….But unofficial Iranian analysis of the events leaves little doubt that the whole affair was ultimately tied to the Islamic Republic’s rapidly deteriorating psychological war with the United States.
    Two analyses stand out in particular.
    In the Ahmadinejad camp Ehsan Salehi of Rajanews provides a high-quality analysis of the 13 day stand-off, outlining and explaining Iran’s options at every turn during the incident. Generally supportive of the Iranian government’s handling of the crisis (especially the timing and manner of the release), Salehi claims that [in the psychological warfare game with the West] Iran “was able to break out of the corner of the ring – where it was receiving blow after blow – and regain the initiative.” ( This is no doubt a reference to limited United Nations sanctions against Iran and increasingly aggressive American actions against Iranian interests in Iraq and elsewhere.
    The other high-quality analysis (which is arguably the best overview of the standoff and its different dimensions and implications) is provided by Baztab (a high-quality and reliable information portal that is owned and managed by former IRGC personnel). While critical of many aspects of the Iranian handling of the case – in particular the exaggerated media attention on the British marines and sailors – Baztab concludes that the incident signifies the beginning of a new era in Iranian foreign policy, characterised by appropriate responses to Western aggression. (
    Both analyses (which reflect the strategic thinking of different sections of the Iranian security establishment) strongly hint that – regardless of the origins and specifics of the standoff – the Islamic Republic used the entire incident to reverse recent losses and gain the initiative in the psychological war with the United States…..”

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