Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Perdicaris Alive or Raisuli Dead

In the newspaper today I read about the US Navy's exercises in the Persian Gulf. Military exercises like that, in a areas where tensions are already high, is historically dangerous. Students of the Cold War will recall ABLE ARCHER 83, when the Soviet Union mistook a particularly large NATO exercise for the prelude to a nuclear first strike. Playing war games in troubled regions is playing with fire.

Of course, the exercises seem to be a response to the recent arrest/kidnapping of British sailors by Iranian forces. This incident recalls two historical parallels: the Perdicaris Incident and the Japanese kidnappings by North Korea. Neither are perfect parallels - Perdicaris was kidnapped by a Moroccan rebel in an attempt to blackmail concessions from the Sultan. And while the North Korean kidnappings were state-sponsored, they did not involve members of the military. But there are enough similarities that some lessons can be learned.

It appears that the UK is applying a solution along the lines of Teddy Roosevelt's. Some saber rattling, some increasingly tough talk. But behind the scenes, the senior partners in the alliance (Britain and France then, the US now) applies pressure for a more diplomatic solution. At least, I hope that parallel is valid. It is popular for many wags and pundits to speculate that the Bush Administration is spoiling for war with Iran, and this is a gift-wrapped excuse. I sincerely hope that is just that, speculation. One of the few ways to worsen the state of affairs, with one war stalled and another rapidly spiraling downwards, would be to add a third. Though I guess it would geographically unify our trouble spots - turn 3 medium wars into one big war! It's always smart to buy wholesale instead of retail.

To be honest, I am somewhat surprised by the restrained response to the abductions. In days past, capturing sailors of the Royal Navy during peacetime would have met with swift, direct reprisal. Remember the cover of Newsweek in 1982, as the Falklands War was beginning. Granted, that was an invasion, not a merely abductions, but the pugnacity of it, the real feeling in Britain that "this will not stand, and we will fight." I don't get that sense, possibly because most everyone understands the precariousness of the situation. Another Iranian hostage crisis, but now Iran is nearly nuclear; with wars to the East and West. It's just a hot bottle of trouble. Perhaps the Blair government can do what the Carter Administration did during the last hostage crisis. "Do a diplomatic deal with us while you can, because the guy taking over in a few weeks is crazy, and will bomb you into the stone age without hesitation. It's Morning in America!"

A more (darkly) humorous take on the incident here.

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