Arm Chair Hostages

Tuesday, April 10, 2007
No matter what happens there are always pundits, bloggers and talking heads who think they have all the answers, there is no way that there just might some relevant information that has escaped their notice in their knee jerk rush to judgment. So now of course all manner of people have decided that the British have no balls. You know, the Germans made that mistake too, long ago.

From Austin Bay :

Last week Dean Barnett questioned the British sailors’ and marines’ decision to surrender to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. Dean wondered if the phrase “fighting back was not an option” would be the epitaph on the grave of the Western world. A fair enough point to make about the confrontation with Islamo-fascism, but having chased Iranian and Arab dhow in RHIBs (rigid hull inflatable boats) manned by American sailors I understand how exposed and vulnerable the British sailors were. (A couple of weeks ago in a Creators Syndicate column I discussed small ship inspection and boarding operations in the northern Persian Gulf.)

The criminal kidnapping was certainly no Churchillian moment for the Royal Navy. I don’t think Dean and I disagree about the subsequent events; they were a moral disaster. Tehran goody bags and gimme suits have replaced blood, sweat, tears and toil.

But here’s how I see the tactical situation. The Iranians got the drop– they conducted a well planned and rehearsed surround and snatch. The sailors and marines were not in a warship when they were captured, they were in motorized rubber boats. Tactical surprise reinforced by heavy machineguns at close range (and lack of immediate backup) make surrender an understandable and probably appropriate decision. The situations strikes me as one of instant, futile slaughter.

Better planning, better coordination with the supporting forces, and tighter tactical security may well have alerted and saved the sailors and marines. However, would, should, and could are the words of hindsight when staring down the bore of a heavy machinegun.


As I wrote last week, I think the Iranians hurt themselves in the mid-term and long run. The Iranians got a ring kissed but they blinked strategically. The regime temporarily changed the subject from nuclear weapons and UN sanctions, but reminded the world that since 1979 Iran has been an outlaw. Now the mullahs intend to become nuclear outlaws.

I don't know why the sailors and Marines acted as they did on camera, perhaps as Buddy Larsen {ed. Buddy I hope you don't mind} noted in a comment at Roger Simon they were trying to make light of the situation:

I'm not worried about Brit courage. Their history of coolness and steadfastness under fire is too many centuries long for there to've been any sort of major precipitous drop-off of character in one short generation.

IMHO, it's the total ambiguity of the situation that best explains what we saw on our tv sets. Give those 15 soldiers different orders, and see what they do.

As is, by treating the whole performance in a lighthearted fashion (see the relaxed manners, the smiles, the loose postures) they not only sent a message of superiority over the barbarians who kidnapped them, they also helped save their government from a major confrontation at the time and place of the enemy's obvious choosing.

I am willing to admit that I don't know what was in their minds. I don't know if there was a trade. I don't know if the warning Blair gave the Iranians that they had 48 hours to release these people or his position would harden had some impact. I don't know if the ever growing presence of the American Navy getting closer and closer might have had something to do with the decision to let the Brits go. It would not surprise me. There might even be some domestic politics going on in Iran which influenced the decision.

However, I do know that I am glad the Brits are free and out of Iran and I think that if there is any problem with their behavior the British military is quite capable of dealing with it. I also feel that there is something unseemly about so many people acting downright bummed out that no one got killed. I remember the Israelis having and losing the moral highground as they pounded southern Lebanon after their soldiers were taken by Hezbellah. I supported their doing so in fact. However, it is worth noting that Hezbellah is still there and Hezbellah still has those soldiers.

No good could from the Iranians holding British sailors for weeks or months or even days, after all they took and held our own people for more than 400 days, so perhaps we should blame the Iranians for this, not the British.


chuck said...

Hear, hear!

Knucklehead said...

we should blame the Iranians for this, not the British

Indeed! Unfortunately that is not the way the public propaganda system work. The desired outcome is for the "west" to be responsible for all actions taken by the Noble Exotics. If they overrun (or blow up) our embassasies or military facilities and kidnap (or kill) our people it is our fault for not behaving properly before, during, and after.

Buddy Larsen said...

Those 'exotics' are said to've invented Chess. We, OTOH, invented checkers and aircraft carriers.

Seneca the Younger said...

Yeah. As I understand it, the ROE was "never shoot first."

With those rules, there was no way they could resist effectively.

It's not the sailors & marines, it's the ROE that was at fault.

Oldflyer said...

This whole episode needs critical review by the Royal Navy and the rest of the British government.

That being said, I am fairly disgusted with my fellow Americans who rush to judgement; especially the yahoos who have never faced anything more threatening than commuter traffic or a surly boss.

That being said, I will keep my judgements private.

Peter UK said...

It has to be noted that the British were not part of the naval task force in the Gulf,they were operating under a UN mandate enforcing a UN resolution to search for contraband.
This was a policing mission,Britain is not at war with Iran,the normal procedure,by civilised countries at least,is to escort ships out of territorial waters,so the reaction by the iranians was extreme to say the least.Since it was obvious that the boarding party believed,and were in Iraq waters,what happened must have been a surprise.
Whilst this would appear to be a command foul up of great incompetence,it was known the iranians were looking for hostages,there should have been some standoff protection,it is understandable why the boarding party did not fight.
The situation was similar th the police pulling over a vehicle for a broken tail light and finding themselves surrounded by an armed gang.Further who will die for the UN?
Iran has proved that it is still a third world nation by this action,diplomacy by banditry,unfortunately it is going to be a nuclear armed bandit.
From the British view,this has been a PR disaster,heads will undoubtably roll as responsibility climbs its way up to Number 10.
One thing is certain,the threat of Iran will be taken seriously from now on.