What Does Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Want?

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Iran Revolutionary Guard.jpg
I’ve been struggling to figure out what just happened with the detainment and now release of 15 British troops taken in Iraqi waters by Iranian military forces. What did all of this mean? Who are the winners and losers?
There’s a ton of thoughtful analysis out there — so I’m not going to try and capture all that here. I do think that this piece, “What the End of the Hostage Crisis Means for the World” by Angus McDowall and Anne Penketh is superb in the roster of key questions posed.
There are a number or Iran’s political elites who occasionally read this blog — so let me offer a message that I hope is taken seriously. Iran’s recent erratic behavior is undermining its interests and leading many to believe that the state is too fragmented to deal with.
Six months ago, there were many in the world who took Iran’s stated claims of a fervent desire for domestic nuclear energy for civilian and peaceful purposes seriously. After all, the U.S. has been chanting “regime change” for many years and has been part of the DNA of other regime change realities in Iran’s past. Paranoia is understandable.
But the fact is that there were many who believed that at some key level Iran was a rational regional player wanting more influence in the Middle East and respect globally. Iran was “winning” a public relations game with the U.S. then — and had nearly divided America from two other key global powers, China and Russia, over what to do about Iran.
Realists — even those who didn’t buy Iran’s peaceful nuclear use arguments — also believed that there was room to negotiate and work to establish a new equilibrium of interests between the US, Iran, Europe, and other key stakeholders in the region and world.
But all of this depended on an effort to start some ‘confidence building process’. That had a chance of happening in the regional meeting that took place in Baghdad in March. Both the US and Iran participated. So did Syria.
And while Iran has not liked the uniform pressure that is being directed at it through the UN Security Council, there is no avoiding the unanimity of the recent Security Council vote against Iran’s current position on nuclear enrichment.
Thus, Iran has moved from being ‘perceived’ by some as having had the moral high ground against a convulsive and unpredictable U.S. — now the tables have turned.
Iran now looks unpredictable, dangerous (though some will correctly argue that Iran has always been dangerous), and irrational. To be trusted by the world with nuclear enrichment capacity of any kind, rationality, trust, and dependable and predictable behavior must be part of the equation.
The detainment of these soldiers was odd — because it violated every single principle of trust-building and has resulted in building further skepticism of Iran’s real intentions.
I’m of the school — though only speculating — that the Supreme Leader did not authorize the capture of the British military unit. But there are others who tell me that there is no way that such an action would take place without the Supreme Leader’s full support and approval. At this point, many tell me we will never know whether there was a gap or not between Iran’s chief Ayatollah and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard that took this action.
If a gap were acknowledged, such information could destabilize Iran on many levels. I think that there was a gap. The more I learn about Iran’s power structures and political contours, the more I believe that the arrest of the British soldiers was designed to warn the Supreme Leader Khamenei and other political nodes in Iran that the Revolutionary Guard cannot be pushed, constrained, mismanaged, embarrassed, or forced to accept an acquiescent position on its own nuclear pretensions.
I think that the Revolutionary Guard took action first to warn other parts of Iran’s political order that it could provoke war whenever it wanted. I think too that the Revolutionary Guard was probably not instructed by Khamenei to conduct the arrest of these soldiers — though I respect those who see this differently. It’s simply too irrational a move for the Supreme Leader to have taken.
And ironically, as this excellent piece, “Jihadists on the US-Iran Standoff,” by Daniel Kimmage explores, Iran’s release of the British soldiers may only further an already evident distance between the regime and the revolutionary and radical jihadist force active in the region.
The Iranian Revolutionary Guard gambled, in my view, in its arrest of the Brits and may have won despite Iran as a state losing. Iran lost by convincing even its friends that it is a state that may not be in control of all it’s own pieces, particularly a vital part of its military force. It also lost by putting itself in a position where jihadists view the Iranian leadership as appeasers of British and American power in the region.
But the IRG has everyone on edge, fearful of what it could trigger. And while the Guard has significant business interests in, around, and beyond Iraq — and war would be detrimental to its income — in a domestic political context, the more likely war is — accidental or purposeful — the stronger the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s hand inside Iraq becomes.
– Steve Clemons

Comments

111 comments on “What Does Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Want?

  1. grumpy realist says:

    Possibilities of a repeat of how the Japanese got themselves into Manchuria in WWII?
    Bunch of hotheads running off and doing something, and in order not to lose face, the higher-ups had to support them.
    Do we even KNOW what is going on in Iran and who the power centers are?

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  2. MP says:

    I heard David Ignatius on Diane Rehm today. He seems to think that the RG have become increasingly unhappy with what they see as the religious leadership’s move toward negotiation and rapprochement with the West. That they acted on their own here to stir up a bit of international trouble to remind the leadership that they won’t be side-lined and their views overlooked. Ignatius pointed out what I think is true: It’s very hard for outsiders to see into the decision-making mechanisms of the Iranian regime.

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  3. Chesire11 says:

    It also explains reports that the head of the Revolutionary Guard was an outspoken advocate of relapsing the detainees rather than holding onto them as well as of the relative calm resolution of the crisis.
    When the crisis first broke, Tehran would have informed London that the incident was the result of error/confusion on the part of local forces. They would have offered assurances that would come to the detainees and that they were being removed to Tehran for safekeeping until a face-saving resolution could be negotiated. London would then have politely, but firmly declined Cheney’s offer to incinerate Iran while the various factions in the Islamic Republic hammered out the timing and details of the release. Each side held competing press events with the detainees, denouncing the blatant propagandistic nature of the opposing photo op and the MOD decided to let the sailors and marines to cash I on their stories.
    Nobody gets hurt, nobody admits error, it’s almost like it didn’t even happen.

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  4. MP says:

    Certainly makes a lot of sense to me, Cheshire.

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  5. Chesire11 says:

    According to The Guardian, I may have been correct in suspecting the whole thing was as much of a surprise to Tehran as it was to London and Washington:
    Meanwhile, the Iranians are convinced that separatist guerrilla attacks in Khuzestan and Baluchistan provinces are the work of British and US intelligence respectively. Earlier this week, ABC television news reported that a Baluchi group, Jundullah, based in Pakistan and carrying out raids inside Iran, had been receiving advice and encouragement from American officials since 2005…
    With the crisis now over, a remarkable degree of consensus is emerging among British, Iranian and Iraqi officials about what happened over 13 nervous days – namely that the decision to seize the Britons was taken locally, and was not part of a grander scheme cooked up in Tehran.
    “My best guess is that this was a local incident which became an international incident,” said one British source closely involved in the crisis.
    Both sides had been watching each other closely for years across the disputed line separating the Iranian and Iraqi sides of the Shatt al-Arab waterway and the northern Gulf beyond and British officials say that Iranian boats regularly infringe on foreign waters.
    The senior Iranian source meanwhile, claimed there had been three British incursions into Iranian waters in the three months leading up to the capture and that the decision to detain the British naval crew on March 23 was taken by a regional Revolutionary Guard commander, responsible for the waterway.
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/iran/story/0,,2051971,00.html

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  6. Ben Rosengart says:

    Steve,
    In the last sentence of your post, when you say “inside Iraq”, do you mean “inside Iran”?
    If not, then I’m not sure I understand, and I’d appreciate some amplification of your point.
    Thanks,

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  7. Pissed Off American says:

    MP seems to really love the WaPo. He even goes so far as to fabricate their coverage of certain issues. Heres an interesting little ditty about the WP…….
    http://www.dailykos.com/storyonly/2007/4/7/145727/8998

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  8. Pissed Off American says:

    “I have to say that your characterization of me and my views is hardly an example of the rational discourse you claim to want and uphold. All kinds of innuendos and outright accusations based on nothing. In the face of my attempt to clarify my views, you simply pressed on, enamored of your own “view” of me.”
    Wow, MP, I’m impressed. You hit the nail on the head on this one.

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  9. MP says:

    Rich writes: “You’re kidding. That international boundary was and is in dispute. The British had the arrogance to draw Iraqi boundaries in the first place; they’re not above moving the lines around again. They couldn’t be trusted to trust national boundaries then; nor now. Caught out on the wrong side (why would Iran give them just cause for retaliation?), now we should take them at their word?!? It defies common sense.
    MP writes: Help me out here. If there is no established line, then in what sense did the Brits cross the line and become legitimately subject to capture? In other words, in what sense is there a “wrong” side? And if it was just a matter of the Brits being “up to no good,” then I think you have to ask “according to whom?” and the whole argument becomes somewhat relativistic. You know, the Iranian diplomats were captured because they were “up to no good” from the American perspective–a weak argument. But truly, I’m asking, because I just don’t get your point here.
    “Are you sensing a big Iranian PR victory in this for Iran..I’m most definitely not.”
    Absolutely. See my post above. They defended their territory, treated their prisoners humanely, and released them without making demands. It kills the meme that Iran is dangerous or unstable; contrasted w/the US, Iran came off as highly civilize: no hoods, no orange jumpsuits, no torture. What more do you want?
    MP says: Just to step back here a bit. I think there are a couple of parallel arguments here. There is the ethical content of what they did and how they acted. Here I agree with you. Although this was such a small incident–it took little and cost little to pull off–I don’t think it does much to kill the meme in the general Western public’s mind or in the minds of the anti-Iran coalition. A few sailors hardly compares to the bomb.
    But in terms of the PR affect, you have to ask: Who is the audience? If the audience is the Muslim world, then I’d say it was a big success.
    But if the goal was, as you SEEM to suggest, to convince the Western world and, in particular, the US, Britain, and the rest of Europe that Iran is a good actor and reasonable and open to negotiations, etc., then it was a failure–though only time will tell. If you think the British public or the American public are now starting to think that the Iranians are reasonable and ethical guys after all, I think you are mistaken. ALL of the press reports I’ve read, including the front page of WaPo, in which average people’s views have been voiced, have shown the opposite.
    It seems to me that if they had wanted to impart that view to the Western public, there are many more rational ways of doing it…instead of inflicting a bee sting (that could have been blown up way out of proportion by Cheney et al–Steve’s original point, I believe) and then putting some balm on it. They’re taking one step back (at least) in order to take one step forward.
    I’m no foreign relations expert…but why not re-float the secret offer of 2003 to negotiate?

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  10. MP says:

    Mike writes: “I think your comment about the “Mullahs” is deeply disrespectful, and I would be making just the same argument if you made a comment about sinister Rabbis controlling Israel.”
    But this is the point, leaving aside your addition of “sinister.” If the rabbis controlled Israel, it would be appropriate to say “the rabbis control Israel.” Since they don’t, it isn’t. I think it would be hard to argue, however, that the religious leaders of Iran don’t control Iran (to the degree that any government controls its country).

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  11. MP says:

    Mike writes: “Don’t believe me? Let me ask you, about these two questions, “Should we talk to the mullahs?” and “Should we talk to the Iranian regime?” if you see any difference. Perhaps, you’ll notice the phrasing of the first, with its loaded term, can only really receive a negative answer, because who after all would want to talk to those irrational mullahs?
    Group-think is welcome, and the group-think you employ in using the terms mullah along with your other comments amounts to a kind of McCarthyite rejection of opposing views rather than an honest, fair assessment of anyone’s argument.”
    Hmmm. Okay, I think you make a good point here. Just to be clear: I virtually ALWAYS believe it’s a good idea to talk with the “other side,” and, as you’ve pointed out, we ALWAYS do, if covertly.
    (As a side note: If you had read any of my other posts along the way on other threads, as POA has suggested we all do, you’d see that I’m consistent on this point–for a very good reason: I believe it.)
    On the other hand, I see no reason to simply sanitize our references and refer to the Iranian regime as if it were like any other regime, when it’s not. The “religious leaders” of Iran, who rule Iran and who have the final say (largely) rule based on a particular outlook. In that sense, the use of the word “mullah” isn’t incendiary, but merely accurate.
    And their particular outlook has led them to be extremely oppressive (mild word here) to their own people. I would not regard that as a rational or humane approach to governing. In this, I don’t base my views simply on what I’ve read, but on first-hand accounts of friends and acquaintances who fought the Shah (no right-wingers or McCarthy-ites they) and who were subsequently jailed and tortured by the “Iranian regime.”
    Having said all that, I REAPEATEDLY said that the “religious leaders of Iran” were not NECESSARILY irrational–but, at the same time, I wouldn’t necessarily say they were, as if they were some kind of model citizens of the world.
    I have to say that your characterization of me and my views is hardly an example of the rational discourse you claim to want and uphold. All kinds of innuendos and outright accusations based on nothing. In the face of my attempt to clarify my views, you simply pressed on, enamored of your own “view” of me.
    As one final point…”mullahs” is of course a generalization. The religious leaders of Iran are varied in their outlook, and these variations should be played to, teased out, as it were. Not to mention the fact that they are the holders of a vast, rich, and deep religious tradition.
    But here in blogland, generalizations seem to rule. For example, there are many different kinds of “zionists,” “AIPAC members,” “neo-cons,” “Likudniks,” “republicans,” and “democracts.” And yet all of these terms have been, and are regularly, used loosely and derogatorily here on these comments. Read back a little, or wait 5 minutes, and you’ll see what I mean.
    I will be curious to see if you are as scrupulous in your defense of this point when it comes to these other terms as you have been with me.

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  12. naj says:

    The detainment of these soldiers was odd — because it violated every single principle of trust-building and has resulted in building further skepticism of Iran’s real intentions.
    Hi Steven,
    I disagree with you re Iran’s unpredictability. Iran sent a very clear message of how it should be expected to behave:
    Zero tolerance for territorial violation
    Had those boats not been in Iran’s waters, they will not have ventured into capturing those soldiers. Why? Because it would have been too dangerous.
    Those kids were also on an intelligence mission.
    Had Iran not made a case of that, the disputed borders would have become subject to the British whim, and the next thing you knew, Blair was complaining that Iranian terrorists took their soldiers hostage in Tehran!!!
    As an Iranian who has a good grasp of the IRI’s errors, I am glad Iran sent the message it did:
    “You cannot bully us into submission; but we will happily negotiate!”

    Reply

  13. Freedom says:

    Steve, don’t know whether you’ve had a chance to read David Wearing’s take on this:
    http://tinyurl.com/2ko8dh

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  14. Pissed Off American says:

    “But POA, please remember, if we actually want to stop these outrages, we need to loudly demand that our government comply with the law. There is nothing ideological about holding them accountable, and nothing idealistic about it either. Ordinary liberals concerned about these issues like you and me need not resign ourselves to the idea that the legal system is permanently broken; this just gives more fuel to people who want to make a caricature of what we say and paint it as taking sides. Anger is good, but we need to know why we’re angry and provide solutions.”
    Posted by Mike
    You’re preachin’ to the choir, here, Mike. If any regular poster here has consistently pointed out the need to hold our leaders of both parties accountable, it would be me. Going way back to Reid’s capitulation to Rogers on Phase Two, I have seen accountability as the one missing factor that may save this nation from its current death spiral. I will go so far to say that it has become obvious that our leaders do not hold themselves to the letter of the law, as the citizens are expected to do. The existence of two seperate systems of “justice” has never been so blatantly underscored as it has been under this Administration. And the Democrats refusal to exercise their SWORN DUTY to uphold and protect the constitution has shown that it is truly a bipartisan ideology that has our leaders considering themselves above the law. Impeachment of Bush/Cheney is not a yes or no policy decision, it is a mandate under the laws of our land. It disgusts me to see issues such as whether or not we were lied into war presented as a question, when the reality is so painfully obvious. Torture, rendition, cronyism, propagandizing, media manipulation, unprecedented ineptitude, secrecy, domestic spying, suspension of Habeus Corpus, the list goes on and on. If ever there was a time in our nation’s history that impeachment was imperative and legally justified, that time is now. And if impeachment is not pursued by Congress, as is obviously going to be the case, than every tenet this nation once stood for is being shown to be a sham, nothing more than rhetoric and smoke screen, designed to control and tax the masses. We have truly reached the point of taxation without representation, and it is time that the citizens of this nation woke up to that fact.

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  15. Ian Welsh says:

    What’s odd about your post Steve, as others have noted, is that you consider Iran irrational for kidnapping British troops, but don’t mention that the US has kidnapped Iranian diplomats. It may well be that there’s a split, as you say, and if there is that’s significant, but I just can’t see how this action is irrational.
    What your post does tell me, however, is that the foreign policy elite in the US thinks that Iran is either irrational or out of control due to internal divisions. And that’s very interesting itself.

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  16. rich says:

    Tom S:
    I’m aware of all that.
    None of it can somehow turn the Vincennes into a victim, and make Iran responsible for the airliner downing or “the conditions for its defeat.”
    It doesn’t matter that Koppel doesn’t addres whether “the airliner was deliberately shot down.” It doesn’t matter that “the Strait of Hormuz is an international strait.”
    What does matter is the Vincennes was NOT in international waters when the incident occurred. It completely changes who was the defender and who the aggressor, and makes the conditions/context you cite irrelevant.
    The US lied about every other detail. Including whether the plane was in a commercial air corridor. It’s like the US Navy can’t get anything right.
    I haven’t read deeply on this since it happened. Maybe the ‘accident’ vs. ‘free-fire zone’ is open to debate. I doubt the accident theory stacks up. At minimum, the irresponsibility is damning.

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  17. Tom S says:

    Rich:
    First: The Koppel report gives no indication that the airliner was deliberately shot down.
    Second: The Strait of Hormuz is an international strait, with an internationally recognized regime that allows free and unimpeded passage for civilian shipping. There were issues with ships sailing to and from Kuwait, which Iran claimed–rightly in some cases–were carrying cargoes destined for Iraq (which was at war with Iran at the time). Iran had the right to stop and search ships they suspected of carrying cargo destined for Iraq, and early in the war they did on a number of occasions, even seizing a Kuwaiti merchant ship, and holding it for several months.
    Late in the war, Iran made the decision to declare that Kuwait was a de facto co-belligerent, and assert the right to attack Kuwaiti shipping. This declaration had–in my opinion–considerable sentiment in favor of it, but absolutely no legal basis. There was certainly no legal basis to mine shipping channels in the Strait, or to mine the territorial waters of the Gulf states; nor was there any legal basis to attack neutral shipping in the Strait, or the Gulf, or in the Gulf states’ coastal waters, all of which Iran did.
    The result of Iran’s actions was that Britain, France, the Soviet Union, and the United States sent warships to the region to escort their flagged shipping–and later any ships requesting escort–through the Strait of Hormuz. These countries, along with smaller naval powers also began a joint minesweeping operation in the Strait and in the waters off Oman.
    Initially Iran responded by laying mines clandestinely, and by attacking ships after their escorts had left them following passage through the Strait.
    Koppel is correct to say that there was an undeclared war going on in the Gulf, and that the US was acting both provocatively and aggressively. The cover-up was to conceal the extent of US provocation.
    What Koppel’s report does not describe is how Iran created the conditions for its defeat, as well as the Airbus tragedy, in direct contravention of both the law of armed conflict and regime of international straits.

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  18. rich says:

    Tom S:
    You’re too quick to write off the Vincennes as an accident–and then hey! we apologized, so what’s the big deal?
    Perhaps–but see:
    http://homepage.ntlworld.com/jksonc/docs/ir655-nightline-19920701.html
    Circumstances matter. Even Ted Koppel reported multiple lies by the US. We said we were in international waters–we were not. That means Iranian boats were defending home waters, not on offense.
    Admiral Crowe said “the suspect aircraft was outside the prescribed commercial air corridor.” Koppel says “The aircraft was flying well within the commercial air corridor.”
    We said the plane was heading right for the Vincennes; it was headed away. We said the flight path was falling; it was rising. Crowe cited electronic signals; there were none. Its top speed was below the “high speed” claimed.
    When the US Navy plays games, you don’t get to claim it was, in Koppel’s words:
    “An official story—-of the American warship as victim. At the right place. At the right time. Minding its own business.”

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  19. Mike says:

    I know, I agree with you. But POA, please remember, if we actually want to stop these outrages, we need to loudly demand that our government comply with the law. There is nothing ideological about holding them accountable, and nothing idealistic about it either. Ordinary liberals concerned about these issues like you and me need not resign ourselves to the idea that the legal system is permanently broken; this just gives more fuel to people who want to make a caricature of what we say and paint it as taking sides. Anger is good, but we need to know why we’re angry and provide solutions.

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  20. Pissed Off American says:

    Evidence??? What the hell is that? This is Bushworld, man. We don’t need no stinkin’ evidence.

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  21. Mike says:

    Tom, PR aside, the Iranian diplomats issue seems to be one of mistaken identity. The US meant to get the ICRG commander who were in the area, but instead got other people. If they really did have the ICRG commanders in custody and produced some kind of evidence confirming that they were behind attacks in Iraq, I would not raise a finger, and would not say a word about it. It would, in that case, be legal and justified.
    No need to be cynical about releasing the wrong people, Tom: it’s to be expected of any functioning legal system.

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  22. Pissed Off American says:

    “You are clearly mixing me up with someone else. For starters, I have never used the term “mullah.”"
    He’s gotcha confused with MP. Poor guy. I’d clear that one up quick, if I was you.

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  23. Tom S says:

    In other words, they’ll probably freed an a couple of weeks. It’s terrible to be so cynical…

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  24. Pissed Off American says:

    No plans to release Iranians: USFrom correspondents in Washington
    April 06, 2007 05:29am
    Article from: Agence France-
    US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said overnight the United States had no plans to release five Iranians captured in Iraq and accused of supporting Iraqi insurgents.
    Mr Gates rejected speculation that the United States was preparing to release the group or allow consular access to them as part of a deal under which Iran released 15 British sailors and marines accused of entering Iranian waters.
    “I think there’s no inclination right now to let them go,” Mr Gates said in Washington when asked about the fate of the five Iranians captured by US forces in Iraq and held since January.
    “Iraqi government officials and US officials are discussing if there’s some way, perhaps, that there could be some kind of Iranian access to them,” he said. “But as far as I know, there’s no requirement for that.”
    continues at…….
    http://www.news.com.au/heraldsun/story/0,21985,21513729-5005961,00.html

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  25. Mike says:

    Woops, I confused you with the other poster- my bad.
    But I don’t claim to have any overriding ideology; I am inclined towards liberalism, but I don’t claim it as an “ideology”. All I want is an honest and fair commitment to diplomacy and international norms, Tom. I find it very sad that this view has come to seem “ideological”. There is no mystery to what I believe in: law. That means that I try not to take sides, and instead try to see where the major violations of law are, Tom, and condemn them relative to magnitude of violation. It’s deeply unfortunate I should have to repeat that point so many times, and that it should be seen as an “ideology”. The world is not one of “ideologies,” but of people. And this doctrine of “unforeseen consequences” justifies and explains nothing of today’s catastrophic situation. It is precisely because our leaders had dubious plans and were unwilling to abide by precedent and norms that we are in the global mess we are in today.
    Remember, I want Iranians to have a more democratic society- but the way to achieve that is not by trying to pressure the Iranian regime, as this only gives more support to hardliners.

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  26. Tom S says:

    Mike:
    You are clearly mixing me up with someone else. For starters, I have never used the term “mullah.” We both condemn the US war and occupation of Iraq, as well as the Bush administration’s actions in the GWOT.
    We agree that whatever popularity Iran may currently have in the world (which I think you exaggerate, however) is more a function of US actions and US unpopularity.
    I have been around long enough to realize that much of what goes on in the world is not the result of design, but of unintended consequences. I am sure that this does not square with your particular ideological underpinnings–whatever they may be. So we’ll just have to disagree.

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  27. Mike says:

    Steve: http://www.ft.com/cms/s/31997218-e213-11db-af9e-000b5df10621.html
    This is all over AP, by the way, if you look a bit, and it’s not just my wacky liberal sources. :)
    Barzani is charging that the US was aiming to get the top ICRG guards who were visiting Barzani at the time and did so publicly, but instead got the wrong people. That’s what this issue is about, Steve, if we are to believe the Kurdish authorities.
    I am glad to see your commitment to honest and accurate reportage, Steve.

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  28. Steve Clemons says:

    POA and others — I’ve been digging into some of the issues at play in Israel/Palestine and launching a Cuba project so have been distant from the US arrest and detainment of the five Iranian diplomats I wrote about long ago.
    My recollection is that Talibani came out and said that they were diplomats on a diplomatic mission.
    Does anyone know if we ever formally responded to Talibani? Did we just completely ignore Iraq’s sovereinty and views on the arrest of the Iranians?
    Does anyone have a good source on the state of play with these Iranians now. I need to catch up on this.
    Thanks,
    Steve Clemons

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  29. Mike says:

    And honestly, if you really DID have a good argument against interpreting the Iran situation in terms of a US failure to abide by its own treaties, why would you have to resort to talking about the irrationality of the mullahs? It shows to me that you don’t have enough conviction to give satisfactory reasons, but instead want to resort to stereotypes. Someone who has enough conviction to stand up for his beliefs does not need to resort to caricatures to make his point, sir.

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  30. Tom S says:

    Pissed off American:
    What I was saying is that if the Bush adminsitration actually had a plan (other than wishful thinking), they carried it out incompetently; or, which is as likely, they didn’t really have a plan st all, and the mess that exists in Iraq is the result.

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  31. Mike says:

    “International law, and the law of armed conflict: You either believe in it or you don’t. You don’t pick and choose the circumstances of when you use it to condemn a particular country or not. That is the sort of thing the Bush adminstration does. Too bad that you appear to do so as well.”
    Did you read my above comment or not? I said, categorically, that I condemn Iran’s violations of the Geneva in putting on the mock-confessions. Again, I repeat, I condemn violations of international law relative to the magnitude of the violation. You STILL have not acknowledged that basic point, so discussion with you is pointless. Instead you bring up strawmen and argue against things I don’t even mention, such as that the Iraq war was launched for oil and for permanent bases. You are putting words in my mouth and being intellectually dishonest.
    I think your comment about the “Mullahs” is deeply disrespectful, and I would be making just the same argument if you made a comment about sinister Rabbis controlling Israel.

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  32. Mike says:

    The problem is that you think Iraq was wrong for the wrong reasons. You think it’s just well-intentioned ineptness, and this is wrong.
    YOU are the extremist, invoking ideas about “Mullahs” and then saying I share ideas with the Bush administration. I vehemently oppose Bushist policies, as I do Iranian repression. The best way to turn back the tide of Iranian repression is to take a reasonable approach towards Iran. Not bombs and regime change.
    This is totally absurd. I stand against violations of international law by both sides, and am accused of being like Bush.
    My criticism of you is this: you refuse to consider how illegal American policies inform the dynamic of the region, and instead opt for taking sides. I am against that.
    Realize something else. The reason Iran has today such wide international support is not because the Iranian hardliners are attractive to people or good at propaganda, though that they are; the reason is because they manage to make themselves look good in comparison to the U.S., which arbitrarily violates its own laws and treaties. Of course Iran would enjoy success in this policy; Iran’s leaders are not virtuous, far from it. The US has basically given Iran a huge opening because of its own failures.

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  33. Tom S says:

    Mike:
    At risk of being both trite and using tropes, you should be glad that you are not actually living in Iran, where people (students) who express themselves as freely as you do here stand a good chance of disappearing into prison–if they are lucky.
    You also seem to have the ability to irritate people who agree with you that the US invasion and occupation of Iraq was disastrous for Iraq, the region and everyone caught up in it; that the Bush administration has gravely damaged the US constitution and its international standing through its policy of torture; and that US policy toward Iran under the Bush administration is at best counterproductive.
    As for regime change…the current Iranian system is barely hanging on as it is. The current government is unable to provide for the needs of its population, so it is indulging in costly exercises in national pride. As an Argentinian who is familiar with the dictatorship and what brought about its fall, you should be able to recognize this as it is happening. Iran’s regime will change, and the best thing the US can do is stand back and let it happen. It will happen faster that way.
    International law, and the law of armed conflict: You either believe in it or you don’t. You don’t pick and choose the circumstances of when you use it to condemn a particular country or not. That is the sort of thing the Bush adminstration does. Too bad that you appear to do so as well.

    Reply

  34. Mike says:

    “Mike also makes some assumptions about attitudes in the region that are certainly true now, but may not have been true back in 2003, particularly in regard to Arab Gulf states and their attitude toward the US invasion of Iraq.”
    American money and support is what keeps the regimes in Pakistan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia afloat. All three countries face very serious problems from domestic opponents, and in Egypt and Pakistan repression of aspirations for institutional change is the norm. And honestly, since we fund these regimes and keep them afloat, do you think that they even could denounce U.S. policies, or that they could at that point? That would be political suicide, so your argument about “attitudes” that the regimes of these countries held (completely in isolation from what ordinary Sunni Arabs in the Gulf believe) once again is not valid.

    Reply

  35. Pissed Off American says:

    “Conversely, one would think that if the Bush administration actually had the goal of establishing a permanent US presence and control of oil in Iraq, they would have…like…planned for it.”
    ROFLMAO!!!!!!! Yeah, well, having a plan, and being competent enough to carry it out are certainly two different things, aren’t they?
    So I guess you’re saying the “plan” was to discover the WMDs, and bring “democracy” to the Iraqi people. Tell me, Tom ‘ol buddy, how’s THAT plan workin’ out?

    Reply

  36. Pissed Off American says:

    This debate is like something out of the Twilight Zone. Who’s CIA agents are wanted in Italy for kidnapping? Where are the five Iranian diplomats that were taken into custody in Iraq? What other nation is rendering captives to secret gulags, and legalizing, implementing, and justifying the use of torture? Who is holding literally thousands of people of international origin with no charges being filed or legal rights or representation being offered? Who is pursuing a new generation of nuclear weapons that are being designed to circumvent the sanity of MAD? Who has invaded a sovereign nation and murdered damn near a quarter of a million of its citizens, using lies, forgeries, and fearmongering as a rationale??
    Well, as you all know, it damn sure isn’t Iran.
    Someone oughta tell Steve, and this Little Lord Fauntreloy in the Oval Office, that you can’t claim the high ground when you’re up to your neck in the sewer.

    Reply

  37. Mike says:

    “”Mike seems to be drawing inferences from my posts that do not actually exist. Confusion and incompetence are not incompatible with goals of imperium, although it certainly suggests that what the Bush adminstration considered as its goals was not well thought out. Conversely, one would think that if the Bush administration actually had the goal of establishing a permanent US presence and control of oil in Iraq, they would have…like…planned for it.”
    This analysis of Iraq is wrong on many levels, and I have not once mentioned anything about oil or permanent military bases. Bush thought he didn’t need to plan, because Iraqis would be compliant. Which is why he allowed looting of museums and widespread chaos, while guarding the Iraqi oil ministry in 2003. We began building huge military bases from the beginning. How on earth can you tell me that the US doesn’t intend to establish permanent military bases in Iraq when the Green Zone is the size of a small American city, with all the fixtures of luxury and American staples and fast-food restaurants and gyms and so on, while right outside the Green Zone people are subject to anarchy and chaos? The US has spent millions, and will spend many millions more, and you’re telling me it’s not intending to build permanent bases. Absurd.

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  38. Mike says:

    I should add that the refusal to take such violations seriously only diminishes American credibility throughout the world. You may choose not to denounce such policies as arbitrary detention and torture and refuse to acknowledge that this is a part of the picture; but the rest of the world won’t.
    And it only backfires on America. More anti-US sentiment, less sympathy, less ability to achieve American objectives, and a ton more resistance from indigenous actors all over the world. And this “war on terror” comes at a time when global warming is ravishing communities and destroying indigenous communities. It’s truly shameful that you would want to condone this, and I hope you realize that you’re undermining yourself in the eyes of most informed people around the world, Tom, when you don’t take a strong stance against US violation of its own laws and treaties.

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  39. Mike says:

    “Mike seems to be drawing inferences from my posts that do not actually exist. Confusion and incompetence are not incompatible with goals of imperium, although it certainly suggests that what the Bush adminstration considered as its goals was not well thought out. Conversely, one would think that if the Bush administration actually had the goal of establishing a permanent US presence and control of oil in Iraq, they would have…like…planned for it.”
    This is too absurd. “Iraqi or international waters”. Theatre of the absurd: Iran and Britain do not even have a real agreement as to what is Irnaian territorial waters and what isn’t! Iran was able to take this Britons captive because they were squeezing local fisherman for info on Iran, as they themselves admitted, and were deeply unpopular. You have absolutely no right bringing in international law here.
    And by the way, how on earth do you expect Iran to comply with international law when regime change squarely opposes the most fundamental, basic norms of international law, treaties, and precedent?
    I am not drawing any unjustified assumptions from your use of loaded and unnecessary and ethnocentric terms. Whether you intend to use them a certain way or not is irrelevant. You are, I insist, lowering the level of the debate and bringing in cliches and tropes.
    Saudi Arabia tacitly went along with the Iraqi invasion, but refused to lend any real public support. Syria, on the other hand, emphatically warned Bush that Iraq would be a disaster from the get-go, and we should praise Assad for that honesty rather than punishing him for it.
    International law cuts in all directions, Tom. And certain violations are much more important than others. Iran is for the most part complying for the NPT, and we have NO evidence of manufacture of nuclear weapons. I am sick and tired of these selective interpretations of the law, with people bending it to make a point.
    The fact that you talk about clear Iranian-Iraqi maritime borders despite there being no established agreement between them or between the Brits and Iranians shows how little you know about this conflict, btw.
    “I trust that–given Mike’s repeatedly stated belief in international law–if it comes out that the Revolutionary Guards were in either Iraqi or international waters when they seized the Brits, he will condemn the Iranian actions (and their subsequent treatment of the Brits) with the righteous forcefulness that he has displayed in regard to the US.”
    I condemn violations of international law relative to how bad of a violation it was. I condemn the fact that Iranians put on a show of the captives giving pseudo-confessions; but in retrospect, this is a much lesser offense than arbitrarily jailing and keeping incommunicado thousands of unknown people for unknown reasons and torturing them. Now there is evidence of war crimes in Somalia, according to EU sources.
    Look, I am from Argentina. My parents had to live through disappearances as a result of a military dictatorship, and fled the country. Students left and right were arbitrarily jailed and tortured and disappeared. The U.S. is doing much the same. I am not “self righteous” to stand for the law and to stand against violators relative to the magnitude of violations.

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  40. Tom S says:

    Mike seems to be drawing inferences from my posts that do not actually exist. Confusion and incompetence are not incompatible with goals of imperium, although it certainly suggests that what the Bush adminstration considered as its goals was not well thought out. Conversely, one would think that if the Bush administration actually had the goal of establishing a permanent US presence and control of oil in Iraq, they would have…like…planned for it.
    Mike also makes some assumptions about attitudes in the region that are certainly true now, but may not have been true back in 2003, particularly in regard to Arab Gulf states and their attitude toward the US invasion of Iraq.
    I trust that–given Mike’s repeatedly stated belief in international law–if it comes out that the Revolutionary Guards were in either Iraqi or international waters when they seized the Brits, he will condemn the Iranian actions (and their subsequent treatment of the Brits) with the righteous forcefulness that he has displayed in regard to the US.

    Reply

  41. Tom S says:

    Is “Pen name” even aware of when the Vincennes shot down the Iranian airliner (1989)? Does he/she have any familiarity with what was going on at the time? I’ll give you a hint: There was a multinational force in the entrance to the Gulf protecting shipping from Iranian attacks. The Vincennes had just finished disrupting an attack by Iranian speedboats on civilian shipping, when its radar picked up an aircraft taking off from Bandar Abbas airport (a civilian and military installation). The weapons officer failed to consult the flight schedules available in the CIC, and was ordered to shoot down the aircraft. (It must be added that the Iranians failed to notify the airliner that it was flying into an area where a battle was taking place.) The biggest hint that the shooting down was not deliberate…Iranian protests ceased once the circumstances were established, the US apologized, and compensation was paid.

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  42. Matthew says:

    Kudos, Rich, on the “meme” observation. You’re exactly right that automatically characterizing opposition to the Imperium as “evil” or “insane” is hard-wired into many American brains today. And why not? It avoids tough questions….like what are really doing in Iraq? Whether this particular meme is a beneficial trait remains to be seen.

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  43. Mike says:

    Don’t believe me? Let me ask you, about these two questions, “Should we talk to the mullahs?” and “Should we talk to the Iranian regime?” if you see any difference. Perhaps, you’ll notice the phrasing of the first, with its loaded term, can only really receive a negative answer, because who after all would want to talk to those irrational mullahs?
    Group-think is welcome, and the group-think you employ in using the terms mullah along with your other comments amounts to a kind of McCarthyite rejection of opposing views rather than an honest, fair assessment of anyone’s argument.

    Reply

  44. rich says:

    MP:
    “No one’s “crying over it”–the question is, what is a dangerous move on their part?”
    Exactly. But labeling it as “a dangerous move” on their part” is not consistent with what we know.
    Militarily, they successfully captured British soldiers in Iranian waters–without becoming entangled in a larger firefight. That shows skill and good judgment.
    “They only acted ‘well’ because ‘all’s well that ends well.’ ”
    Nonsense. Responsible action resulted in stable conclusion.
    “Had our unstable President gone over the edge, they would have rued the day.”
    And Bush would have paid a HUGE political price–and been exposed as even more unstable and dangerous.
    “what is the British takeaway from this?…Don’t cross that line in the sea again?”
    Don’t cross that line in the sea again. Without question. And covert ops, intel gathering, and playing Chicken are also foolhardy. Should Iran be cowed? Should they ignore wrongdoing? Help set a precedent they can be steamrolled?
    “What if no line had been crossed?”
    You’re kidding. That international boundary was and is in dispute. The British had the arrogance to draw Iraqi boundaries in the first place; they’re not above moving the lines around again. They couldn’t be trusted to trust national boundaries then; nor now. Caught out on the wrong side (why would Iran give them just cause for retaliation?), now we should take them at their word?!? It defies common sense.
    “Are you sensing a big Iranian PR victory in this for Iran..I’m most definitely not.”
    Absolutely. See my post above. They defended their territory, treated their prisoners humanely, and released them without making demands. It kills the meme that Iran is dangerous or unstable; contrasted w/the US, Iran came off as highly civilize: no hoods, no orange jumpsuits, no torture.
    What more do you want?

    Reply

  45. Mike says:

    When someone uses a loaded word like what you did and then falls back on some inane observation, that’s just a way of refusing to take responsibility for what you say. You slyly insinuate all the associated images that go along with “mullahs,” thus precluding any real rational debate by putting these images in our mind.
    It’s not just about what you intended in using the word, and I think you miss my point. When you use a word that has often derogatory connotations when there are plenty of other better ways of saying the same thing, that amounts to a kind of slippery, dubious argumentation by which you make an argument through association. It’s unfortunate, and really brings down the level of discussion here.

    Reply

  46. MP says:

    Mike writes: “That is what you said. You called Iran “the mullahs,” generalizing across the wide range of substantial disagreement in Iranian society to impose your imperialistic, ethnocentric trope.”
    Sorry, but I didn’t and wasn’t. But the Mullahs do largely control the government of Iran, I do believe. That is what I was speaking to.

    Reply

  47. Mike says:

    I am not demonizing you, I am emphatically stating that I disapprove of caricatures of people based on their religion. I understand that you dislike the Iranian regime. There is, however, no need to project your damn ethnocentrist tropes about irrationality onto them. It just makes you look silly.
    I am absolutely done arguing against you. You want to talk about everything from the perspective of stereotypes and character traits; that’s fine, but leave me damn well out of it.
    Don’t pretend that you’re making your argument from international law, because the U.S. has been a major violator. I am against violations of law; that means it cuts across the board, and means I also criticize Iran for taking actions that contradict the U.N. charter.
    But really, if you actually gave a damn about having Iran treat its citizens better, what better way to achieve this but to talk to Iranians, rather than paint your silly pictures of irrational mullahs? The main beneficary of neocon policy is, you guessed it, the neocons in Iran, the hardliners who are unpopular there but thanks to the wise advice of men like you, have available to evidence of American hypocrisy to maintain their solid power.
    How sil

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  48. pen Name says:

    It is not clear that your RoboCruiser was not there to create an incident. Just like today, you were going up and down the Persian Gulf saying “Make my day, make my day!”. And by God you got your incident.
    You claim it was an accident – why was not the Weapons Officer on that cruiser cashiered? Was he working on secret Presidential Findings?
    Your claim that it was an accident is just that – a claim. Shooting down a civilian airliner in the territorial waters of Iran seems rather far fetched for an accident.
    But I brought this up because I wanted to “put the shoe on the other foot” – so to speak. S.C. raises an issue – in my opinion bogus – about Iranian motivations, Chain of Coomand etc. Your RoboCruiser raises the same issues for the Iranian side.
    S.C. is wrong in that he thinks so-called good behavior by Iran is appreciated. Iran did not try to obtain HEU or Plutonium from Central Asia when she could after the dissolution of USSR. Iran played a conservative and constructive role in that area. And certainly Mr. Khatami’s Presidency did not show substantial gains for Iran. In fact, in much of 1990s Mr. Clinton and USG were trying to bankrupt the Iranian State.
    The reality is that it is the independent iranian power that USG has problem with. If it were not for the Nuclear Fuel Cycle, US would find some other excuse.
    You either have to accept the Iranian Power or go to war with her. Your containment policy will not work. The reason is that your agenda is not shared by all the regional states. And the local population, as opposed to the local population in Europe during the Cold War, is extremely hostile to you. Moreover, Iranians do not have an ideology – they are a religious state and thus impervious to any propaganda war that you can cook up.
    Really, it is better for you to give up and go home.

    Reply

  49. MP says:

    Mike writes: “This view is clearly infecting your thought, if we substitute Arab for Mullah, and assume all the millions of Iranian mullahs are “irrational”.’
    Ah, no. You are assuming they are rational. I’m assuming they aren’t always so. Also, I’m not assuming (as you are or seem to be) that the mullahs are really just nice guys, but misunderstood and demonized by the West.
    I grant you that they are often unfairly demonized by the West. My argument is simply not to go in the other direction and equate the Revolutionary Guard with, say, the Coast Guard.
    “You say they’re irrational, and they are not even worth listening to or talking to.” If I said anything like this, please point it out. And if I did, I seriously misspoke, because it is not my position.
    Mike, back in the day, I was FOR talking with the Soviets and I’m for us talking with our adversaries. I’m for Israel talking with the Palestinians, the Syrians and the Iranians. But I don’t have to turn these governments into “jes’ folks” to justify that approach or our adherence to international law.
    This has ZERO to do with McCarthyism.
    Don’t demonize me, okay?

    Reply

  50. Mike says:

    It’s not the end, but Iran secured quite a bit, which you conveniently ignore. It’s all above; just look at the comments, and address the many things I and other posters have pointed out that Iran has gained. Since I am not a big fan of going in endless loops and arguing with people who don’t read the comments or take international law or diplomacy with a grain of respect, I will politely bow out of this one.

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  51. MP says:

    Rich writes: “But crying over the exercise of power in a game of RealPolitik is just insane. Model is not the point.
    No one’s “crying over it”–the question is, what is a dangerous move on their part?
    Further, in comparison to the US, who comes out ahead? It’s not clear.
    In a lot of ways, with Iraq, it is clear: Iran comes out ahead.
    “–they just aren’t. Nor do they always act rationally. It’s just that Bush is so bad …”
    I disagree. They acted well in this instance, and it is by no mean the only time.
    They only acted “well” because “all’s well that ends well.” Had our unstable President gone over the edge, they would have rued the day. And so would the rest of us. Moreover, this is not the end–you have to ask yourself, what is the British take away from this? The lesson learned? (I won’t even broach Cheney here.) Don’t cross that line in the sea again? What if no line had been crossed? Are you sensing a big Iranian PR victory in this for Iran–a flexing of muscle to be feared–I’m most definitely not. This ain’t Lebanon redux.

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  52. Mike says:

    Regarding the Communists. They have dozens of nukes aimed at major US cities, and we talked to them. Remember that?
    In fighting against Communism, we created the jihad against the Soviets. I bet you’re a huge fan of that, given how evil Communism is. God, what an abuse you do to history, it’s a truly revisionist, black-and-white stiletto view of the world.

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  53. Mike says:

    What mistake? The mistake was McCarthys. He bounded together the liberals, the Jews, the Hollywood type, etc. There is absolutely no substance to these ugly and intellectually dubious generalizations. I abhor them because it makes it impossible to have any reasonable debate where we can discuss real issues.
    I’m not making any “mistake” because I give a damn about international law and understand that diplomacy works; or that I abhor easy generalizations that do nothing to advance our discussion.

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  54. Mike says:

    I should add, this trope goes back decades. It’s the idea of the “tricky Arab,” who will say one thing to you and do another. This view is clearly infecting your thought, if we substitute Arab for Mullah, and assume all the millions of Iranian mullahs are “irrational”. So often, using the word “irrational” and tying it to a dislike group on whom you project stereotypes is just an irresponsible and easy way to escape having to discuss real issues.
    You say they’re irrational, and they are not even worth listening to or talking to. It’s sad.

    Reply

  55. MP says:

    Mike writes: “I should add that “the mullahs” is no different from “the communists” or “the reds”.” Bad for your point, Mike. The communists WERE bad. Living under them, actually, was hell.
    Progressives always seem to make this mistake: In their search for peace and understanding–something I whole heartedly support–they feel the need to misrepresent the “other side.” To characterize them as just…what?…misunderstood.

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  56. Mike says:

    “But it’s a mistake to turn the Mullahs into model citizens of the world–they just aren’t. Nor do they always act rationally. It’s just that Bush is so bad, he APPEARS to make everyone else, even the Mullahs, look good, humane, and rational.”
    That is what you said. You called Iran “the mullahs,” generalizing across the wide range of substantial disagreement in Iranian society to impose your imperialistic, ethnocentric trope.
    It’s like if I said that the Rabbis of Israel are immoral because they make barely any real concessions to the Syrians or Palestinians whose land they occupy.
    Again, the use of a term in the context you used it is derogatory and unnecessary. Save your stereotypes for elsewhere; this blog is about rational argument, not making caricatures of people as “mullahs” and projecting stereotypes.

    Reply

  57. Mike says:

    Sorry Chesire, mea culpa.
    “There is a big difference between mixed and/or contradictory signals coming out as a result of confusion/incompetence–and to no particular advantage–as we see in the Bush administration; and the system that exists in Iran, in which there are formally two power centers (in actuality, probably more), each of which can pull or push back against the other. They can work together, giving plausible deniability if need be, or at cross purposes. This is not necessarily a bad thing (imagine Ahmedinijad with no checks at all), it is factor that must be considered when dealing with Iran.”
    Bush is not just “incompetent” or acting “imprudently”. He is pursuing objectives that are bound to fail, namely occupying Iraq against the will of that country and without even the support of Saudi Arabia, Iran, or Syria. This is a delusion on the grandest scale, and it is absolutely catastrophic for Iraqi civilians. This imperial assumption that Bush is just “incompetent” but means well just makes the huge destruction of Iraqi culture (Iraq has the largest refugee outflow since Palestine; its major museums have been looted and some of the oldest manuscripts set on fire and stolen; civilians die at the rate of at least several dozen a day, if you look not just at Baghdad but all of Iraq.
    So there is a certain inhumanity that informs the imperial view that Bush is just incompetent but means well.
    And as I said above, the very notion of regime change is counter to any kind of honest dealing with other countries or the domestic public, which is overwhelmingly against such idiotic and dangerous ideas.

    Reply

  58. MP says:

    Mike writes: “They act rationally if you give them a chance to, like any other human being. Stop objectifying a culture and demonizing them. After 9/11, thousands of Iranian came out to light candles. Iranians like America, at least until recently; though their government is a different matter. But the government is accountable to the people at least in this respect.
    Save your stereotypes for another blog, sir. No demonizing “mullahs” more than I would make an argument against evil “rabbis” (I am a Jew). I find such language offensive.”
    Mike, what I said was the mullahs don’t necessarily act rationally, and it’s a mistake to assume they do. We certainly don’t; why should we assume they do?
    Nor did I use stereotypes. If you think I did, please point to it, or better yet, quote it. But if you think the mullahs are accountable to their people, I think you’re sadly mistaken.

    Reply

  59. Chesire11 says:

    Mike-
    Just as a point of information, the comment:
    “But it’s a mistake to turn the Mullahs into model citizens of the world–they just aren’t. Nor do they always act rationally. It’s just that Bush is so bad, he APPEARS to make everyone else, even the Mullahs, look good, humane, and rational.”
    Was not made by me, it was made by MP.

    Reply

  60. Tom S says:

    Mike:
    There is a big difference between mixed and/or contradictory signals coming out as a result of confusion/incompetence–and to no particular advantage–as we see in the Bush administration; and the system that exists in Iran, in which there are formally two power centers (in actuality, probably more), each of which can pull or push back against the other. They can work together, giving plausible deniability if need be, or at cross purposes. This is not necessarily a bad thing (imagine Ahmedinijad with no checks at all), it is factor that must be considered when dealing with Iran.

    Reply

  61. rich says:

    Some guy asked/encouraged me to post this, so here goes..
    Steve,
    I caught your excellent April 6 post “What Does Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Want?” Thought-provoking–and I’ve yet to mull it fully–even if in part I disagree. Some thoughts about that, and about Comments (below):
    1. My own take is that Iran scored a huge victory on at least three counts. They successfully defended their own territory against hostile military incursion; they treated their captives humanely (no hoods, no torture); and they released them quicky, scoring a huge PR coup. To my mind, they acted out of necessity, humanely, and cannily (respectively). That displays a remarkable capacity to act on a number of levels–and all clearly responsible, stable decisions. (You posit a “gap” no more evident than if the Coast Guard had acted, and then Bush made decisions days later.) I don’t feel the British have much credibility on boundaries or honesty.
    The contrast with US behavior could not be more stark. Iran’s decisions easily contest the dogmatic meme that Iranians are radical, mad, or unpredictable. What’s more, are Iranian intentions the real issue? I’m of the mind it’s revealing to ask “What does the US Coast Guard want; just as asking “What does Mike Dukakis want? exposed the nature of the odd “What does Jesse Jackson want?” refrain in 1988.
    2. But I’m writing to plead that you not shut down the comments.
    These people are learning a lot from you/each other, even the angry or shrill. Some need to convey what they do know. Some have to work that out as they comment, to arrive at a better understanding. Some are afraid they won’t be heard ‘within the Beltway.’ Many aren’t privy to all the info–though the internet compensates somewhat.
    3. Your blog is amazing. I’ll assert that the comments serve an invaluable function. Where else can people engage such a range of citizens & players on these topics, at this level? Nowhere. Whether or not you realize it, you’ve got a double-barreled media vehicle concoction going here, and I’d hate to see half thrown overboard. If the blog is a 10.0 on the Olympic High Dive Judging Scale, the Comments earn at least a 9.5.
    4. Awhile back I’d seen some ridiculously baseless attacks on you. (AIPAC, maybe) Such personal attacks boomerang, reflecting poorly on the writer. Everyone ignores it; no one believes it or cares; everyone knows them by their words. What’s more, it’s the internet; you can’t take that personally, even if it sometimes stings. Free speech can be offensive speech, and that’s not a bad thing. That said, it’s possible to ban individual commenters (FDL has done this effectively).
    That said, no one should have to endure “a slew of defamatory, outrageous attacks on me today — calling me a putz, an idiot, and a jackass for my Cuba thoughts. One related post went on to call me anti-semitic.” Just know it’s the name-caller who ends up looking bad in your readers’/commenters’ eyes. At points we’ve disagreed, and I’ve expressed myself strongly–but at no point was the typing shrill or the tone disrespectful. I hope! [But it's still cost me--see immediately above!]
    5. You make us better. And I quote: “But your point that I can’t think or see because I’m inside the Beltway is over the top. I posed this as a genuine question…working through evidence and various incentives/disincentives as I saw them. You’ve made a great case. Why do you undermine yourself with an unnecessary dig?” I’ve caved to the occasional dig, I confess.
    6. Nowhere else have I seen people address such “third-rail” topics as ‘anti-semitism,’ work through it, reach some level of understanding–and acknowledge the nuances and subtleties, and converge a bit. Just doesn’t happen elsewhere. Other blogs attract only the like-minded of one sort or another, and the bashing for and about ‘the others’ does not abate.
    7. The range and diversity of commenters mixing it up is rare, remarkable, and I’d hate to see that disappear. Some things just cannot be replaced!
    Trailing off here…
    Thanks for everything! Don’t let it get you down ..

    Reply

  62. Mike says:

    In sum, you subscribe to the outdated, idealistic model of “rational actors” participating in a “zero sum” game where you automatically lose if you negotiate with the other side.
    This is the most ludicrous thing ever; look back to Iran-Contra, and if that doesn’t shatter your illusions I don’t know what will.
    That is CLASSIC double-intentions, just as is Bush making harsh comments about no quids and releasing an Iranian diplomat. How damn stupid are we supposed to be to believe in all these lucky coincidences?

    Reply

  63. Mike says:

    True, but Iran is not unique in this regard. The US is seeking “democracy” in Iraq and fighting a war fueled by massive illusions. The illusions, such as that we support these troops who don’t even receive adequate medical access, are so many that the whole question of double-intentions becomes irrelevant.
    Iran has a hardline government, similar to the neocons, that is fond of duel-behavior. The two governments boost each other, and are otherwise deeply unpopular.
    So your point doesn’t hold.

    Reply

  64. rich says:

    Chesire11:
    Let me retract those adjectives. I read Steve’s comment above; and was reacting from my own frame of reference dealing with the 1988 Przntl campaing refrain “What does Jesse Jackson want?
    Do consider my point–please. Turn Steve’s question back on the US. It puts everything in a new light. What DOES the US Coast Guard want?
    “A rational person can easily question how the capture of the Brits by Iran with 3 US carrier battle groups over the horizon.”
    Should Iran be nuked by dozens of Tomahawks b/c of 15 sailors, it’s the US that will appear irrational–not Iran for exercising its sovereign rights.
    Iran would be irrational ONLY if they were cowed into failing to defend themselves.
    MP:
    “But it’s a mistake to turn the Mullahs into model citizens of the world.”
    Who would do that? Me? But crying over the exercise of power in a game of RealPolitik is just insane. Model is not the point.
    Further, in comparison to the US, who comes out ahead? It’s not clear.
    “–they just aren’t. Nor do they always act rationally. It’s just that Bush is so bad …”
    I disagree. They acted well in this instance, and it is by no mean the only time. They’re also contending with a regional full-scale attack on their interests and allies. Second, I haven’t lost sight of anything due to Bush.
    There’s lots to think about in Steve’s sincere question, and I’ll have to get to that later.
    over the horizon and hundreds of thousands of American troops to the east and west commanded by a notoriously belligerent/unstable President could be construed to be in the best interest (or even least worst interest) of Iran or any of the factions within the Iranian government.
    That’s exactly what Steve was doing, trying to tease out a ration reason for an action that seemed to him to have a net negative effect upon Iranian interests. Doesn’t sound disingenuous, obtuse nor bankrupt to me. It sounds like the sort of rational policy analysis that Americans have never been particularly inclined towards, but have grossly neglected for the past six years

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  65. Tom S says:

    The problem you run into, Mike, when you are dealing with a state like Iran with a bifurcated government, is that they sometimes operate–perhaps deliberately–at cross purposes. Do you remember during the opening with Iran after 9/11, when constructive contacts were taking place between the US and Iran, a boatload of weapons from the Revolutionary Guard for Islamic Jihad was seized?

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  66. Marky says:

    Steve,
    It’s up to you if you want to close off comments, but besides making a bunch of politics addicts internet homeless, you will close one of the better commenting sections along political blogs (IMO). For some reason, the number of comments has rarely gotten to be impossible to follow; on the other hand, many people who are old or current hands in politics add their two cents.
    On the other hand, getting a moderator makes sense. Maybe you can peel someone off from Bill O’Reilly’s staff—he tells me that they have great experience in fair and balanced mediation and censoring.
    Btw, if you haven’t seen it yet, you should take a look at O’Reilly’s little spat with Geraldo. It was hilarious, if scripted.

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  67. Mike says:

    I should add that “the mullahs” is no different from “the communists” or “the reds”. I bet that if people didn’t accept these easy generalizations which erect conceptual barriers between peoples, then the government would be much more likely to seek peace, diplomacy, and stability; which is just a fair relation to all nations, treating them with respect and not dictating demands. “The mullahs” is just an easy way to set aside all these other more important issues.

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  68. Mike says:

    Chesire: “But it’s a mistake to turn the Mullahs into model citizens of the world–they just aren’t. Nor do they always act rationally. It’s just that Bush is so bad, he APPEARS to make everyone else, even the Mullahs, look good, humane, and rational.”
    They act rationally if you give them a chance to, like any other human being. Stop objectifying a culture and demonizing them. After 9/11, thousands of Iranian came out to light candles. Iranians like America, at least until recently; though their government is a different matter. But the government is accountable to the people at least in this respect.
    Save your stereotypes for another blog, sir. No demonizing “mullahs” more than I would make an argument against evil “rabbis” (I am a Jew). I find such language offensive.
    If you give the Iranians a chance to act diplomatically, they will engage you. Simple as that. Diplomacy consists in small steps, it’s not like by talking to them and making concessions and stabilizing Iraq we’re “working with evil”.
    God, it’s amazing to think how much people accept this demonization of culture and xenophobia.
    Let’s not make this issue about “rationality,” and how the mullahs lack it, alright? Save that for a less informed blog where people accept easy stereotypes.
    (Steve, thanks for replying to me. I’m sure we’ll continue the discussion at some later point, and keep up the good work on the blog. I am only committed to international law, and that is my “side”. Nothing is personal.)

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  69. Tom S says:

    The Vincennes incident was an accident pure and simple.
    The US apologized and compensated Iran. One can also speculate that Hashemi Rafsanjani used the incident to convince Iranian hardliners to go along with his moves toward ending the war with Iraq.
    Do not compare apples and oranges.

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  70. MP says:

    I dunno, Rich.
    I agree with much of what you say and I know the nefarious past, re: SAWAK, Mossadegh. The US and Britain have done Iran much wrong, over the years.
    But it’s a mistake to turn the Mullahs into model citizens of the world–they just aren’t. Nor do they always act rationally. It’s just that Bush is so bad, he APPEARS to make everyone else, even the Mullahs, look good, humane, and rational.
    A good friend of mine of the Bani Sadr/mujahadeen/Mossadegh stripe hated the Shah, but hated the mullahs even more and was never able to go back to his country because of his activities, writings, etc.
    I think Cheshire has it right here: “That’s exactly what Steve was doing, trying to tease out a rational reason for an action that seemed to him to have a net negative effect upon Iranian interests.”

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  71. pen Name says:

    When you shut down that Iranian airliner in the iranian territorial waters was that sanctioned by Ronald Reagan, Sec. of Def.? Or was it a rogue operation by your Navy?
    In the international arena power and legitimacy go together. The power to undo Iranian nuclear program does not exist.
    This is not about trust – it is about Iranian Power.

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  72. Chesire11 says:

    States act in what they perceive to be their own best interests. Within that context, competing decision makers within the government of states act according to their own perceived best interests. A rational person can easily question how the capture of the Brits by Iran with 3 US carrier battle groups over the horizon and hundreds of thousands of American troops to the east and west commanded by a notoriously belligerent/unstable President could be construed to be in the best interest (or even least worst interest) of Iran or any of the factions within the Iranian government.
    That’s exactly what Steve was doing, trying to tease out a ration reason for an action that seemed to him to have a net negative effect upon Iranian interests. Doesn’t sound disingenuous, obtuse nor bankrupt to me. It sounds like the sort of rational policy analysis that Americans have never been particularly inclined towards, but have grossly neglected for the past six years.

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  73. rich says:

    Steve,
    “What does Mike Dukakis want?”
    Your post’s title says it all. But not the way you think: In the 1988 Przntl campaign, the media/pundit refrain was, “What does Jesse Jackson want?”
    That’s easy: to be President.
    Turn your question around the same way: What does the US Coast Guard want?
    To ask “What Does Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Want?” seems to me equally (I’m sorry) disingenuous or obtuse. Or better, simply without any & all perspective–much more likely & fairer to you. But clearly bankrupt.
    The Revolutionary Guard wants to defend its country. Same as the US National Guard.
    Is that hard to understand?
    Iran wants to maintain territorial integrity against incursion by explicitly hostile forces. Iran wants recognition as a civilized nation.
    What could be more stable? more obvious?
    So Iran captured foreign sailors violating sovereign borders, and treated them humanely. That’s responsible, on both counts–NOT erratic. No hoods. No orange jumpsuits, earmuffs or goggles. No torture. Easily surpassing US policy.
    When foreign military forces enter US waters, the Coast Guard ‘detains’, i.e., captures them. PLEASE deign to explain to all us dilettantes how that’s any different.
    The boundary is disputed; the Brits have no credibility.
    Steve writes:
    “Thus, Iran has moved from [objectively] having had the moral high ground against a convulsive and unpredictable U.S. — now the tables have turned.”
    Nonsense: Bush commands an unstable US. One still running covert ops inside Iran, while a 3rd aircraft carrier group heads to the Gulf (whether the 2nd leaves is irrelevant). Perception can’t manage reality.
    “Iran now looks unpredictable, dangerous (though some will correctly argue that Iran has always been dangerous), and irrational.”
    It is ENTIRELY predictable that Iran will defend their country & its territorial integrity–as any sovereign nation will. It is rational as hell to treat human beings with dignity when captured. But then, why would ANY Iranian human being do otherwise?
    Iran is Rational viewed through the lens of power politics, plus: they scored a HUGE victory in PR terms.
    Steve, this post–though informative & interesting (thanks!) is very revealing of your outlook–and it is disturbing. It contradicts the facts in hand.
    Steve wrote: “Iran now looks unpredictable, dangerous (though some will correctly [sic] argue that Iran has always been dangerous)”
    1. You conflate ‘powerful’ with “dangerous.”
    2. It’s naive to cry about the exercise of Power in a game of RealPolitik. Hypocritical, too.
    3. YOU yourself conceded the instigator & destablizing force is American (illegal) covert ops, inside Iran, which is tantamount to Acts of War. (& I quote: “Yes, Rich, of course.”) The US is unstable.
    “To be trusted by the world with nuclear enrichment capacity of any kind, rationality, trust, and dependable and predictable behavior must be part of the equation.
    If Bush can pull out of treaties at will, there’s nothing objectionable about Iran doing the same. Period.
    You ignore a) Iran’s sovereingty; and b) that NOTHING short of a nuclear deterrent will protect a sovereign nation against US invasion, as proven by the egregiously baseless, lawless invasion of Iraq.
    Steve, in writing that Iran, “to be trusted by the world with nuclear enrichment capacity” — just really displays a remarkable presumptuousness. The trust of the rest of the world has no veto over sovereign nations. The question is ‘Why on earth should Iran trust the US–or the UN??’
    The tables have not turned. Who arrogated to an unstable US the authority–moral or otherwise–to give orders to Iran about what it may or may not do?
    Attempting here to inflate a responsibly handled incident into an international incident–does not make your claims about Iran true. Iran has acted with remarkable restraint. Meanwhile, Bush/Cheney has been funneling $$money$$ TO AL QUAEDA to attack Iran! (from Pakistan, in Lebanon vs. Hezbollah; multiple sources)
    The astounding US lack of judgment–spilling into a self-assigned but bankrupt aristocratic attitude, is as dangerous as it is irresponsible and outrageous. Hyping the incident in this way–when no other outlet has, mind you–verges on joining that behavior and attitude.

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  74. Chesire11 says:

    I haven’t heard anyone mention the possibility that the capture of the 15 Brits was as much of a surprise to the Iranian leadership as it was to the West. Jundallah has been mounting operations into Iran from Afghanistan with American support and Spec Ops teams have reportedly been active within Iranian territory as well, coordinating with dissident groups and identifying potential targets for air strikes. In that sort of threatening environment, is it really so hard to imagine local forces reacting aggressively to potential incursions along a poorly defined or disputed boundary?
    I suspect this was more of a command and control issue rather than a policy struggle and that Tehran was left holding the bag. At that point, the question of how to defuse the crisis without losing face would have triggered a power struggle as competing power centers within the Iranian government struggled to exploit the situation, enhance their positions and apportioning blame and loss of face on others.
    Had the capture of the Brits been a policy decision, I would have expected either more intransigence on the part of the Iranian leadership or more obvious bloodletting as moderates elements regained control and radical factions responsible for the crisis were defeated and discredited.

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  75. Homer says:

    Hostage?
    WTF?
    That’s bull shit, a cheap lawyerly technique of muddying the water, a planting a pregnant thought all the while knowing the battle has been lost.
    FACT: The Iranians were not holding the Brits and at the same time demanding something in return for their release.
    So it is wrong and deceitful to call them “hostages”.
    C’mon, let’s strive for better and more accurate language.

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  76. Steve says:

    Very good post, Steve. The overarching point – which some of the negative comments seem to miss – is that there are more players in this game than just Iran, Britain, and the US. Ultimately, the view of the world community is going to be critical when it comes time to choose between (1) economic isolation of Iran, or (2) continuing to do business with Iran in defiance of the US’s wishes for isolation.
    The US has paid a heavy price over the last several years for its defiance of international norms, but Iran got so caught up in the anti-Western sentiment that it failed to realize that it, too, can lose significant standing in the world if it comes across as an immature regime. Part of this, I’m sure, is that the Ahmadenijad faction never would have come to power in the first place but for anti-U.S. and anti-Israel demagoguery, so maybe they don’t understand that the larger world cares about more than just whether Bush and Blair are a couple of jerks.
    To be accepted as a full player on the world stage, Iran needs to show that they’re no longer a bunch of revolutionary kids who think it’s fair game to hold embassy personnel hostage. The world is looking at this latest incident and wondering if the revolutionary generation has grown up one bit.

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  77. Steve Clemons says:

    Sorry for the delayed participation folks. Job responsibilities got in the way.
    Mike — sorry if I overreacted. I got a slew of tense mail yesterday over Cuba posts and was getting simultaneously slammed from the right and the left — and just had had it.
    I had no problems whatsoever with your counter positions — just for the record. You know me well I think, at least on the blog, and I welcome debate. I just didn’t like the disparaging personal remarks that followed the important substantive points you were making. These are different tracks. But enough said on that…
    On your question: [ how is what Bush is doing regarding taking Iranian diplomats captive and sponsoring Pakistani militants conceptually any different from when he subverts the rules of the game here at home, domestically, by (for instance) firing lawyers, breaking laws and creating new legal precedents, etc.? In both the international and domestic arenas, Bush is not trying to play by the rules of the game, but is rather trying to use the rules to his own advantage. If there is a relevant difference, please do point it out for me so that I can see straight.]
    I think that we have different Bush strategies underway in different places. I think he straddles a rules-based approach of international covenants, agreeements, and negotiations along with a neoconservative-leaning, pugnacious nationalist approach that detests those conventions. I think his straddling is evident at home and abroad.
    I think that we are already engaged in a kind of low level, authorized covert conflict with Iran and Syria — but it is not overt, not that hot yet, but it is happening, or at least authorized to happen. I think Bush authorized a “finding” allowing clandestine operations against Iran….but I am not completely sure.
    Iran would certainly know from its position whether this was true or not — and Bush’s speeches and actions, particularly against the Iranian officials arrested in Iraq — have heightened the Iranian state’s paranoia about its security. I’m not arguing that Bush’s strategy is correct, but I was also suggesting (perhaps incorrectly) that Iran’s arrest of the British soldiers didn’t help the situation much — and earned them some problems with China, Russia and other key international players.
    Some here argued that there were some real, tangible net positives that Iran got from the action — and in retrospect, iran’s actions were rational. I’m just not there yet — though I find the argument intriguing.
    I think that Bush’s domestic political behavior on the AG issue — but more importantly with his evident disdain and disregard for checks and balances in government — no the wireless wiretap authorization issue, to the suspension of habeus corpus for combat detainees, and so on is evidence of some of what is going on internationally — but Mike, i think these are different worlds with different actors and political realities and in my mind, it doesn’t make sense to call it all the same. At least from my vantage point.
    So, I have to get back to other work — hope this is useful.
    Steve Clemons

    Reply

  78. Robert M. says:

    Steve,
    Nooooooooooooooooooo! Don’t close down comments.
    Readers at TPM had other places to go, such as Daily Kos where rephrased diary entries off of Josh’s reportage do allow comments, hundreds of them. So Josh lost nothing in terms of still being able to gauge article response; the action was shifted to another venue. But if you shut down…?
    What I’d lose, as would other responders, is the chance to express considered thinking on the US’s true foreign policy interests. I wouldn’t get to cogitate about important issues & their ramifications otherwise. What you’d loose is the chance to hear those non-Beltway voices, vituperative as they may be at times. If that’s all that’s being said, why then Hit the Delete button on individual posts. (I’m assuming you can do this in this blogger format.) I no more want to read W-A-C stuff than you do. Certain TOPICS, such as Cuba, Medical Marijuana etc just set people off. That level of anger falls into the “the lady doth protest too much” category or of people who are still in Denial mode. (Which as a modus operandum for present foreign policy is indeed an underlying theme of your posts and many responders.)
    Then, too, sifting out the ad hominem from the substance is part of using one’s brains. Your positions as blogged here are always informative, if on occasion challenging to ways I think or beliefs I have. Also, there’s the General Readership. Those who read both and never respond, those people world-wide who have found a place to consider international issues from an American & upper-echelon perspective. D.C. matters, your contacts and approach matters, communicating this matters. What other venue is available for such dynamic, feedback looping effect? Especially in these days of Dick Cheney’s World Outlook.
    Finally, its been fun. Passionate, certainly as All This Matters, but fun. I do appreciate the opportunity.
    Now how to reconcile your “Iran lost a good bit here” with Andy Sullivan’s “Blair’s Humiliation”? Not that every situation has true winners, but still…
    Me, I’d say the foreign office types in both governments finally got the chance to work out something satisfactory to their political masters. Which indicates that on both sides, the splintered leadership can respond to diplomatic efforts even with their own governments. Conflict dealt with through negotiation based on discussion is still better than conflict dealt with by war. But it does show how splintered and weak both sides are.

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  79. Brigitte N. says:

    Mr. Clemons,
    Your speculation is as good as any—we may never know who called the shots. I happen to think that the Revolutionary Guard members who took the British sailors hostage acted in the interest of the top Iranian leadership—regardless whether they did so on their own or followed orders. Just as the Ayatollah Khomeini and government officials exploited the Iranian Hostage Crisis of 1979-81 for domestic and international political ends, today’s Supreme leader Khameini and President Ahmadinejad used the hostages to show off a major western power and ally of the U.S., force London to talk directly to Tehran and demonstrate to domestic opponents strength and regional and international status. I assume that the leaders, by releasing the hostages, tried to reflect strong leadership with a human face and, more important, their willingness to talk to western powers—the United Kingdom in this case. While the two sides came to a rather quick arrangement, it would be foolish to assume that other issues (such as Iran’s nuclear program and support for Hezbollah–and now Washington’s support for the anti-Iranian terrorist group Mujahedeen e-Khalq) could be settled just as swiftly. Still, the latest incidents underline the need for direct diplomacy—especially with foes, including Iran and Syria. Of course, the example of North Korea should have shown that as well.

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  80. Mike says:

    Steve, let’s set aside our difference and remember that I am not attacking you ad-hominem, because I have a lot of respect for your blog and ideas, and I wouldn’t waste my time arguing with you if I didn’t.
    So, if you would like, please address this question: how is what Bush is doing regarding taking Iranian diplomats captive and sponsoring Pakistani militants conceptually any different from when he subverts the rules of the game here at home, domestically, by (for instance) firing lawyers, breaking laws and creating new legal precedents, etc.? In both the international and domestic arenas, Bush is not trying to play by the rules of the game, but is rather trying to use the rules to his own advantage. If there is a relevant difference, please do point it out for me so that I can see straight.

    Reply

  81. Mike says:

    I suppose I don’t blame Steve for being “confused” when people try to reasonably disagree with him. In Washington, there is a certain line you have to toe, in terms of how you think about foreign affairs and the U.S. role. But as a liberal, or a blogger, or an honest thinker, we need to vigorously challenge the false conceptual framework erected by our leaders mainly for their own benefit.
    After all, Steve, Iraq was a failure not just because we had warmongers willing to occupy a third-world country that was no real threat to us; much more important was the self-subordination of some liberals and most mainstream journalists in terms of accepting unquestionable truth on the authority of our leaders. Steve, the bonds of trust have been broken, and anyone who questions your arguments from authority is more than justified in doing so.

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  82. Mike says:

    “I just don’t get it — but I’m getting close to considering shutting down comments, which Josh Marshall advised me to long ago.”
    I suggest you do close down comments, since you don’t allow a fair debate anyway. I bring in information, you use an argument from authority to refuse to acknowledge what I’m saying and what is widely known in the international press.
    Go ahead and shut down comments, if you’re going to say “my way is right and anyone else is not worth arguing with”. Intellectual sophistry does nothing to advance debate anyhow.
    (Keep in mind, Steve, you and I agree on many things, and I think you have many good ideas. It’s unfortunate that you choose not to deal with what I have been saying regarding specific information. It’s not like you are a “putz” or in any way not smart enough to deal with the information out there.)

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  83. JohnH says:

    The link to Gareth Porter’s article:
    http://www.antiwar.com/porter/?articleid=10777
    Sadly, both the Bush administration and the Iranian government desperately need some adult supervision. Hopefully, Congress will start to play that role on the Iranian issue, though I’m not hopeful.

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  84. Michael says:

    Steve wrote:
    “I just don’t get it — but I’m getting close to considering shutting down comments, which Josh Marshall advised me to long ago.”
    That is your decision of course, but I think it would be unfortunate, if understandable. I have read your blog since its inception and have continued to do so long after losing interest in the politically-oriented argeybargey of TPM.
    I have the highest respect for you and your valiant attempts to reach some sort of rational, bi-partisan consensus with regards to this country’s foreign policy. Though it obviously doesn’t make up for all the times I’ve failed to say it, thank you very much for all your efforts. Your work here and elsewhere is greatly appreciated – even when I disagree with the particulars.

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  85. JohnH says:

    An interesting post. Other heavyweights have come out with different interpretations:
    Jim Lobe interviewed Gary Sick, Trita Parsi and Juan Cole and concluded that Iran demonstrated 1) it’s ability to respond to US provocations in an asymmetrical way, and 2) that negotiating respectfully with Iran yields results:
    http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/ID06Ak01.html
    Gareth Porter concludes that the US is the one that is sending mixed messages: increasing military pressure while trying to pursue negotiations.
    http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/ID06Ak01.html
    Meanwhile Bush has been talking tough to the American public and capturing Iranians invited to Kurdistan. Not exactly measures designed to build confidence.
    Iranians may well have their internal dysfunctionality, which oddly enough mirrors our own–with Cheney and the neo-cons playing the same role as the revolutionary guards, who “cannot be pushed, constrained, mismanaged, embarrassed, or forced to accept an acquiescent position.”

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  86. Pissed Off American says:

    Gads, look at all those words from Steve chastising Iran for its behaviour. And not a peep about the five Iranian diplomats that have dissappeared down the black hole known as Bushworld. I musta missed the part where these 15 sailors were renditioned to a hidden gulag for a dose of waterboarding and sexual abuse. And after all, who coulda guessed something like this would happen with Bush and Israel threatening Iran while our and the UK’s navy looms offshore?
    Meanwhile, Bush orders a whole new generation of nukes to be designed and built.
    And Iran deserves our distrust?

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  87. phil from new york says:

    Steve,
    Thanks for the post. I’m sorry I didn’t read it when you were responding to commenters. But I have questions/comments that maybe you can answer in due time: Granting everything you say, Iran still released the sailors and marines rather quickly and without any serious problem. And since the border area appears to be disputed, they could argue that capturing them in the first place was within their rights (even as they violated international law by putting them on TV etc.) However, at the end of the day, didn’t they really pulled the rug out from under the Bush admininstration’s hysterics for possibly attacking Iran? So whatever the administration might do now will look even more reckless than it would have if Iran hadn’t captured, then released, the Brits.
    Also, a world poll last week showed that Israel, Iran, and the U.S. were seen as the three most dangerous countries on the world stage. So no matter how badly Iran comes off, the U.S., because of its actions in Iraq, etc., looks just as bad. It seems to me that Iran came out of this looking pretty good — if only because the U.S. looks so bad on the world stage and has lost almost all credibility around the world.
    So I guess I’m not arguing with what you say about Iran per se. I’m just saying that given how much of a black eye the U.S. has around the world, Iran doesn’t look as bad as they might have if the U.S. government had been run by serious people over the past six years.
    Thanks again for your posts and for listening to your readers.

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  88. Matthew says:

    Steve: How do you know that Asghari wan’t kidnapped? Is he walking the streets of a Western capital where some independent person can talk to him? I’m sorry, but after a decade of Blair/Bush “truthiness,” we have no choice but to require independent verification of every statement out of Washington/London.
    I had the chance to speak to Vali Nasr last night. He makes the distinction that you have also alluded to: We must recognize Iran’s nationalistic ambitions without necessarily confusing them with this regime’s ambitions. American policy is stuck in hegemonic mode. If we can’t adjust to a world where others don’t have to ask for American permission to develop, our ME policy will continue to fail. And frankly, should fail.

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  89. sdemetri says:

    Reading Craig Murray’s blog, the former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan, he contended that the boundary in these waters is unestablished, and that Iran’s claims were not completely unfounded. He raised questions surrounding the coordinates the Brits released, which on maritime maps could be read as 100 yards above the mean low water mark, legally on dry land at times, but also that the coordinates were somewhat of a red herring as the boundary has never been established and is in dispute. Both sides misstepped in their rhetoric.
    http://www.craigmurray.co.uk/
    This doesn’t change anything about Steve’s post, which I agree with. Other postings around the web have raised questions of the IRG’s role in the capture. The very public display of the medal’s ceremony just prior to the announcement of the release seemed orchestrated to give the appearance that the regime was in complete control over the crisis. Whether that is truly the case…

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  90. Dude says:

    Steve,
    You raise a point I find most helpful in international political analysis when you write of a split between the Rev. Guard and the ruling clerics.
    More generally, it is often confusing to view national actions through a monolithic lens. Just as the actions of “American” policy are truly the actions of varied groups and individuals, so to are the actions of the Iranians and any other nation.
    While during periods of peace and general economic growth it is easy to slip into the language of national monolithism, if you will, because intra-national dissent is less apparent, currently intra-national dissent is becoming more apparent.
    It seems to me the world is searching for a new metaphor, a new theme around which to coalesce. Intra- and inter-national discord will be with us until we find one.

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  91. jhm says:

    Hello,
    I see this as a little more – perhaps too – simply. To the degree that it was in Iran’s perceived interest to have smugglers and ideologues cause trouble in Iraq, with the government’s involvement or knowledge being plausibly deniable, I think that these actors, and actions were known, or permitted, by the leadership. After the hostage taking, however, these elements bit off more than they could chew, and the government wasn’t about to either admit that they weren’t in control of the RG, or that they were in charge of the many lawless operations in Iraq. So what to do? make up some BS about territorial waters (which was an ongoing point of debate to begin with), bluster for a bit, then get all magnanimous and release the captives.
    The thing that I would like to know, is what has befallen those actually involved with the hostage taking back in Tehran?

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  92. Mike says:

    Another thing. I made very specific claims, and you rebutted me by saying you have “informed sources” “telling you otherwise”. Then you say I’m attacking YOU, ad-hominem, when that is not at all the case.
    All too typical for DC debate: one side makes a claim regarding information, the other invokes a “trusted authority” and then says that I “undermine my case” without even ADDRESSING the facts I bring up in any meaningful way.
    And you call this “debate”. You don’t understand that it has nothing to do with you or me, and instead want debate to devolve into a shouting match where one side makes arguments from authority that automatically preclude anything substantive being said. Now you understand what I mean by the “DC mindset.” And keep in mind that there are also many more well-informed people in DC who do not share this secretive mindset, but they aren’t especially common today.

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  93. Mike says:

    “I get that you are thoughtful — but what is it about this exchange forum that drives you after you make a case to add just a little blast that undermines you and makes your target hostile?”
    I’m not “making a case” against you because this blog is one of the more thoughtful of the DC blogs. But my point is that, unfortunately, a veil of mystery often shrouds people in DC’s understanding of foreigners. I’m not making the point that you’re a “puts” and I’m not trying to be “hostile”. There is a SLEW of information very easily accessible translated into English for our convenience, so I really find it unfortunate that I have to give out a roster of information every time I come here to have to support my claims.
    Informed analysts of pretty much every stripe agree that Iran has benefitted and that silent diplomacy works and worked in this particular instance.
    So remember: I’m not attacking you in particular, I’m attacking the unfortunate mindset that makes it necessary to have to give the kind of information I give, when it is so freely available and so much debated already in other informed quarters. Anyone who has been paying attention to Iran since Mossadeq or before knows that blackops against that country have never ceased.

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  94. Headline Junky says:

    Hopefully, then, this will become a clarifying incident for everyone involved. If US hawks know that Iran won’t back down, and Iranian moderates know that support from Russia, China & India isn’t limitless, that should provide incentive for a diplomatic resolution of the broader conflict. Assuming that there are rational actors making the decisions, which is a rather large assumption these days.
    btw, the comparison I made between the fractures in Iran’s leadership and the current situation in DC was kind of a throwaway line. But thinking about it, the parallel is striking. If you were a moderate in Tehran or Damascus, who would you reach out to right now to engage America in dialogue? That’s why Pelosi’s visit to Syria is important, too. To give moderates a sign that there are interlocuters.

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  95. Steve Clemons says:

    you make a great case hj — you could be on the mark. makes a lot of sense…but still wildly risky. But i agree that an action like this could be designed to show the world that iran will take provocative action… it’s not all a win though — russia, china, india — allegedly — are not too sanguine about iran’s recent gaming.
    but thanks for the excellent post,
    steve

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  96. Headline Junky says:

    Steve, very interesting post. And the comment thread adds all the relevant counter-arguments, with the exception of a just-released Sky News interview that pre-dated the crisis and confirmed that part of the British patrol boats’ function is to collect intelligence on Iranian activity in the waterway.
    So instead of debating about whether or not Iran’s posture is justified (there’s so much going on under the radar, the blame game is a diversion, although I think the case could be made for Iran showing restraint in their riposte) I’ll stick to responding to your assessment that Iran lost in the British 15 incident.
    To the contrary, I saw it as a win-win: they showed that they’re not scared to pick a fight, that they won’t back down when “provoked”, and that they’re also willing and able to walk back a crisis from the brink when engaged properly.
    That “they” might refers to disparate elements of the regime is a valid concern, but how different is that from the current state of play in Washington right now? From an Iranian perspective, everyone did their job: the hotheads rattled their sabres, and the cooler heads prevailed.

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  97. Marky says:

    Steve, thanks for the response. I wouldn’t have thought of the interpretation I mentioned if it hadn’t been for reports I read that Pelosi was serving as a trusted intermediary between Syria and Israel. The other methods of communication you mention should equally well apply to Syria and Israel, but if its correct that Pelosi was brought in to deliver a message from Israel to Syria, finding trusted messengers may be harder now than it was in the past.
    P.S. It’s wintry here in Honolulu. The temperature got down to 61 last night.

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  98. selise says:

    steve -
    please do not close off comments.
    i really appreciate your willingness to enter into a discussion with us. most of us have no other avenue to engage with anyone representing an insider’s view of our incomprehensible (and seemingly immoral) foreign policy.
    there is such a lot of anger in the usa about our foreign policy. i think you end up catching a lot of that – because our frustration has so few outlets… not because you deserve it.
    it’s not just me, or other readers of your site – it does seem that there is widespread mistrust of our institutions and of our foreign policy in general:
    http://pewresearch.org/pubs/445/who-do-you-trust-for-war-news
    http://www.publicagenda.org/foreignpolicy/index.cfm
    there are other options if the attacks get to be too much – for example, have a policy of deleting any comment that includes name calling (of any one).

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  99. Steve Clemons says:

    It’s an interesting question Marky — and my honest response is that I don’t know. I think that there is this illusion that Iran is not getitng “direct talks” with other parties and that somehow matters. The fact is that Iran is talking to everyone — all parties — even us through proxies. They can talk to the Brits through European channels or other direct channels, overtly or clandestinely.
    But if you are right and that somehow this interaction with Britain achieved some “talking” breakthrough, it seems to be an enormously risky and dangerous act for such a relatively small prize. but I may be missing something, or many things.
    enjoy Hawaii!
    steve

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  100. Marky says:

    Steve,
    Thanks for the response. I’m in Hawaii, so I’ll be up for a while yet. I could put what I wrote in another way, which is that I’d like to know how the Iranian actions should be interpreted in light of US behavior in the region. Now, I don’t know the rationale behind the capture, obviously, but I do think the Iranians may be desperate to avoid a war, rather than trying to provoke one. Do you think it’s plausible they managed to get some direct talks with the UK they would not have gotten otherwise through this maneuver? Since Britain would be the #1 ally if the US attacked Iran, such talks would have a lot of value.

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  101. Steve Clemons says:

    Marky — sorry you see it as odd. Maybe I’m just pining her for some rationality about something I don’t understand. I am intrigued by the rationality and even the merit that you and Mike see in Iran’s recent move. You know I’m a critic of the rhetoric and actions President Bush has taken — particularly after his two major speeches in January. But this incident really did trip the region closer to hot conflict, and may still have that ultimate effect.
    One pushed me towards this view were the comments of trusted intelligence and foreign policy officials from Russia, China and India with whom I have spoken — all of who shared their view that this game between Iran and the US that was playing out through Iraq, the Saudis, the Brits and others was getting dicey. There is a split among informed sources on whether the Revolutionary Guard was freelancing — or really being directed by Khamenei. That is interesting — and at odds with your and Mike’s view of the ultimate rationality and sense of Iran’s provocative move.
    Mike makes some good points (until he moves into the personal nudge) — but I think ultimately, he’s incorrect. Iran may have won some small tactical items — and maybe that’s OK — but it is much more diminished in the eyes of Russia and China — and that is who and what matters right now when it comes to its nuclear objectives.
    I’m really exhausted — but wanted to say hello and wrestle back a bit, even though you found the post odd.
    best,
    Steve

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  102. marky says:

    What an odd post. Where is a discussion of US kidnapping and probable torture of Iranian nationals? I say probable torture because torture seems to be the norm for US detention policy with regards to perceived national enemies. Ya think US policy might have something to do with the Iranians being on edge?
    Here’s a thought: maybe the kidnapping was a pretext for some honest, one on one talks between the Iranian and British governments, without having the US warmongers ruining things. I’m willing to bet that this was at least part of the motivation. Look at Pelosi’s visit to Syria. Isn’t the real message of that visit that not even Israel trusts the US government to help its relations with Syria? Israel knows that many hawks in the Bush administration are trying to force a war between Iran and Syria, and they will not stop at fabricating news to help this happen. Pelosi could be trusted; you couldn’t say that about any Republican.

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  103. Steve Clemons says:

    Mike — thanks for your thoughtful comments and roster of material — though the nuclear bank issue is an old concept that the Iranians have heard for a long time, as well as the Syrians and all nuclear wannabes.
    But your point that I can’t think or see because I’m inside the Beltway is over the top. I posed this as a genuine question…working through evidence and various incentives/disincentives as I saw them. You’ve made a great case. Why do you undemrmine yourself with an unnecessary dig at someone? does it really make you feel better?
    I’m really interested in this because of a slew of defamatory, outrageous attacks on me today — calling me a putz, an idiot, and a jackass for my Cuba thoughts. One related post when on to call me anti-semitic.
    I get that you are thoughtful — but what is it about this exchange forum that drives you after you make a case to add just a little blast that undermines you and makes your target hostile?
    I just don’t get it — but I’m getting close to considering shutting down comments, which Josh Marshall advised me to long ago.
    I’m not with you on Asghari. I can’t write about it — but I trust sources who tell me that he’s cooperating vigorously at this point and that his move was planned and voluntary. Some think that this is bad news — and increases the chance of conflict. I disagree actually and think that Asghari will demystify much of what is going on inside the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and will sketch a better picture than we have of how the component pieces fit around Khamenei.
    I don’t mean to set you off with my earlier comments…I may be overloaded by attacks from readers today. But you are so thoughtful and marshall such good material, some but not all that I find compelling, and then you attack the intellectual faculties of the proprietoer of the blog you are reading.
    I will engage you this time — but on the whole, I need to tell you and others reading this that this kind of exchange is not worth my and probably your time.
    best,
    Steve Clemons

    Reply

  104. easy e says:

    “What if Iran had invaded Mexico?”
    http://www.antiwar.com/engelhardt/?articleid=10772

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  105. Mike says:

    Oh, also, Javier Solana claimed now that the European community is giving Iran more time to engage with it in nuclear diplomacy. Also, a Democratic senator introduced to Assad the idea of a nuclear bank, since many Middle Eastern states, not just Iran, are now seeking nuclear energy. I think it’s a good idea, given the circumstances.
    So yeah, the Britain issue also helped give momentum to the nuclear talks. It’s unfortunate that you can’t see things from beyond the lens of the Beltway, and I find that’s a pretty typical problem with many pundits and thinkers in that part of the city.

    Reply

  106. easy e says:

    How about WHAT DO THE U.S. EMPIRISTS WANT?
    It’s not too difficult to understand the actions of Iranian regime which is already a victim of U.S. covert operations. The reality is that the U.S. has already launched war against Iran. It’s a continuation from early ’50′s when U.S. removed democratically elected Mossadegh from power and installed the Shah to control their oil infrastructure. And then the Ayatollahs took over and created the Iran of today.
    Just as Iraq was never about WMD, Iran is not about nukes.
    Steve, your anaylsis sounds corporate mainstream. Let’s factor in some historical perspective, as well as recent provocative events being instigated by the U.S. neocons.
    The botched US raid that led to the hostage crisis
    http://news.independent.co.uk/world/middle_east/article2414760.ece
    CIA hires terrorist group to operate inside Iran
    http://www.indianmuslims.info/news/2007/april/04/international/cia_hires_terrorist_group_to_operate_inside_iran.html
    US evasive over fate of five Iranians seized in Iraq
    http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20070404/pl_afp/iranbritainmilitaryus_0704041853
    Release of Iranian diplomats not on U.S. agenda
    http://www.presstv.ir/detail.aspx?id=5053&sectionid=3510101
    U.S. supports “terrorists” Iranian speaker says
    http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20070405/pl_nm/pakistan_iran_dc
    ABC News Exclusive: The Secret War Against Iran
    http://blogs.abcnews.com/theblotter/2007/04/abc_news_exclus.html

    Reply

  107. easy e says:

    How about WHAT DO THE U.S. EMPIRISTS WANT?
    It’s not too difficult to understand the actions of Iranian regime which is already a victim of U.S. covert operations. The reality is that the U.S. has already launched war against Iran. It’s a continuation from early ’50′s when U.S. removed democratically elected Mossadegh from power and installed the Shah to control their oil infrastructure. And then the Ayatollahs took over and created the Iran of today.
    Just as Iraq was never about WMD, Iran is not about nukes.
    Steve, your anaylsis sounds corporate mainstream. Let’s factor in some historical perspective, as well as recent provocative events being instigated by the U.S. neocons.
    The botched US raid that led to the hostage crisis
    http://news.independent.co.uk/world/middle_east/article2414760.ece
    CIA hires terrorist group to operate inside Iran
    http://www.indianmuslims.info/news/2007/april/04/international/cia_hires_terrorist_group_to_operate_inside_iran.html
    US evasive over fate of five Iranians seized in Iraq
    http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20070404/pl_afp/iranbritainmilitaryus_0704041853
    Release of Iranian diplomats not on U.S. agenda
    http://www.presstv.ir/detail.aspx?id=5053&sectionid=3510101
    U.S. supports “terrorists” Iranian speaker says
    http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20070405/pl_nm/pakistan_iran_dc
    ABC News Exclusive: The Secret War Against Iran
    http://blogs.abcnews.com/theblotter/2007/04/abc_news_exclus.html

    Reply

  108. Mike says:

    1) Israeli media, soon after Asghari was kidnapped, claimed that he defected to the West and that his family left Iran in advance. Later, this turned out to be false, and now his family is loudly asking for him back.
    2) The US is funding Pakistani guerrillas against Iran, but they say they are working with them (Jundullah) in order to fight “al-Qaeda”. This group shares similar religious and social beliefs to al-Qaeda members, and execute Iranians on film.
    3) Iran secured a commitment from Britain in writing not to enter its territorial waters. Also, they demonstrated to the international community that if they are engaged with respect, according to the norms of international diplomacy, then they will act diplomatically.
    4) One Iranian diplomat was released from American custody. Others are now granted consular access by Iran.
    And you’re saying Iran “gets nothing” out of this. They do get something, and that is that they get to send out the message that if the international community were to engage it diplomatically, it would respond in a pragmatic fashion. Simple as that.

    Reply

  109. Steve Clemons says:

    Mike — I understand the point you are making, but Asghari was not kidnapped if it is Asghari you are referring to. I still find the action Iran took as a significant net loss to its position in the international order.
    steve

    Reply

  110. Mike says:

    What do they want? Simple. A commitment from the West to a fair, honest diplomatic approach towards Iran. That’s what the Iranian captive conflict was all about. That means no more funding Pakistani guerrillas in their bombing and execution raids, no more kidnapping Iranian diplomats or generals, etc. It means that the U.S. drop its unilateral conditions for engaging with it, which entails that Iran (or Syria) completely change its behavior before it even has the divine right of talking to the U.S.
    What Iran wants is respect. Silent diplomacy works. Using the international institutions already in place works. It’s not all that complicated, American occupation and covert operations aside. Iranians have their pride and a sense of dignity, after all, and the notion of a unilateral world is acceptable to no one.

    Reply

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