March 31, 2007

Britain and Iran

Mac Owens

Re the seizure of the British sailors and Royal Marines by the Iranians, Lord Nelson must be spinning in his grave. It is Nelson, after all who said, among other things, “Our country will, I believe, sooner forgive an officer for attacking an enemy, than for letting it alone” and “No Captain could do wrong by laying his ship along side the enemy.” The behavior of our ally in permitting the capture of 15 sailors and Royal Marines signifies that the Royal Navy no longer subscribes to Nelson’s signal at Trafalgar: “England expects that every man will do his duty.”

In 1757, the Admiralty court-martialed and executed Adm. John Byng for failing to “do his utmost” at the battle of Minorca. Perhaps the Royal Navy might want to re-visit this policy. Voltaire understood the point even as he satirized the Byng affair. In his novel, Candide, the hero observes the execution of an officer in Portsmouth and is told "Dans ce pays-ci, il est bon de tuer de temps en temps un amiral pour encourager les autres" ("in this country, it is wise to kill an admiral from time to time to encourage the others").

One expects more from a country that gave us such great naval victories as The Nile, Copenhagen, and Taranto. These victories represented the indomitable spirit of the British people. It was this spirit that permitted a small island to become mistress of the world. How the mighty have fallen.

Great Britain has been an invaluable ally in Iraq and elswhere, but we see here the wages of weakness. This should be a cautionary note for us. It is the sort of thing that happens to second rate powers.

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Ok the Brits are fighting in two wars right now.Only a complete idiot,would suggest that they start a third war with Iran.

Posted by: Earl at March 31, 2007 4:02 PM

Dear Mr. Owens,

I understand both your dissapointment and your outrage. However, what would you have them do?

They cannot rescue the hostages (clearly "detained" in Iraqi waters they are hostages) since they are split up throughout the country.

Britain really does not have a platform to conduct an air strike. Even if they did, that action might drag in Israel.

Like us, due to bad planning, their ground forces are overtaxed.

The UN, as is always the case, will be no help. I'm sure the Red Cross is trying to work something out but in the meantime we will be treated to the daily "apology".

You could suggest that striking out at a "Shiite neighbor" would be in order. Then again, that closest neighbor is the government we are trying to install in Iraq.

I was just wondering exactly what you had in mind.

Posted by: Bobby Oliveira at March 31, 2007 4:08 PM


The British are fighting one war right now, the War against Islamic Extremism or the War against Islamic Fascism or the Global War on Terror or whatever you want to call it. The Iranian attack on British sailors is part of the same.

Or, to use the hackneyed but appropriate example, do you view the period of American history between 1941 and 1945 as three separate wars; a war against Japan, a war against Germany and a war against Italy? Would the U.S. somehow have been better off fighting one at a time?

Posted by: Andrew at March 31, 2007 4:22 PM

Very simple…..the UK declares that until these sailors are released, any ships entering or leaving Iranian territorial waters are subject to interdiction. Better yet, closing down a port such as Bandar Abbas or Busher would do much to tell the Iranian Gov't know that the Royal Navy still has some capability.

But then again, I'm sure the IRGC "navy" would be able to take similar action against the UK.

Having been involved in VBSS operations dating back to the mid-80s, I am at a loss to understand why this boarding party was unarmed. Additionally, why did HMS Cornwall not take appropriate action? There are many unanswered questions here!

To paraphrase Mac Owens, "How the mighty have fallen."

Posted by: Aldo at March 31, 2007 4:24 PM

OK Aldo
Blockade their ports.Then the Brits will
have 15 dead soldiers to mourn.You
right-wing kooks are insane

Posted by: Earl at March 31, 2007 5:59 PM

Executing unarmed military personnel is a war crime. Even the IRGC is not that stupid.

If memory serves me correctly, every member of the UK Armed Forces, just like the US Armed Forces, is a VOLUNTEER! It comes with the territory, but I guess that’s something you wouldn’t understand….

Unlike you, I won’t start with the name calling, but No, I am not insane. I am just a student of and understand history. I guess you’ll wait until there is a fireball over Tel-Aviv and then start asking, “What happened?”

I’d suggest you break out the history books. Ever hear of something called "appeasement"? That policy didn't have anything to do with a much bigger fracas a year later, did it?

Churchill was right! Chamberlain was wrong! Or did you learn your "history" from some "revisionist" text?

Posted by: Aldo at March 31, 2007 6:25 PM

I was drafted,not a volunteer,and i saw more than my share of dead kids,both American and Vietnamese.You are willing to sacrafice 15 British kids,because they are voluteers ?
The Iraq was was about WMD not Islamic
Fascism "google it" or was Bush not telling the truth

Posted by: Earl at March 31, 2007 8:54 PM

"It was this spirit that permitted a small island to become mistress of the world. How the mighty have fallen."

Yeah... God bless the good ol' days of British imperialism.

Isn't that how this whole mess started in the first place?

Looked at a map lately? Is Britain anywhere near Iran or Iraq?

If 15 Iranian sailors started poking around in the English channel, I suppose they would just be ignored?

I mean... c'mon.

What Iran did is stupid machismo.

But at the same time, what do you expect?

Sabre-rattling goes both ways.

Posted by: Anonymous at April 1, 2007 10:35 AM

Dear Aldo,

You may be aware of this, but just in case:

On behalf of Britain, we did send in the Eisenhower to Iranian waters last week just to see if "they wanted to mess". Nothing happened.

I have to tell you, interdiction is kind of half way. The real problem here may be the calculations of the Iranians with regards to what they're own people expect. That seems to be where the true danger in this entire situation lies.

Posted by: Bobby Oliveira at April 1, 2007 1:01 PM

The Iraq was was about WMD not Islamic Fascism "google it" or was Bush not telling the truth

It was about much more than that, maybe you should "google it" again. Start with "Gulf War".

Posted by: smmtheory at April 1, 2007 1:41 PM

You might want to check your facts. There is NO WAY that the USN would send Ike "into Iranian waters". Into the Gulf, yes! Into Iranian waters, No way!

Hormuz is an International Strait and as such, all nations enjoy the right of unimpeded passage. Back in 86 / 87, the Iranians attempted to violate that right and as a result much of what had been the Iranian Navy is sitting on the bottom.

The Brits were operating in Iraqi waters. Iran has absolutely no authority to try them or worse, as someone has suggested, to possibly execute them. Even the Iranians understand the implications of violating international law as it relates to any nation’s Armed Forces. There is a distinct difference between an organized Armed Force and “terrorists”, something that most civilians cannot seem to grasp.

I seriously doubt that the Iranian people want this to escalate. These people, for the most part, do not “hate” America or the UK. There is a certain hard-core group that will always be at the center of any anti-UK / anti- American demonstration. Unfortunately, the Iranian people are not free to express their own opinions and are forced to remain silent. To do otherwise would subject them to retaliation and the risk of personal attacks.

I invite you to delve a little deeper into what is actually going on in Iran and not just accept the sound bytes offered by the media. I think you’ll be surprised.

Facing mounting pressure because of the Nuke issue, it is only logical for the Iranian government try to refocus the people toward another “crisis”. Diverting their attention towards the “UK's violation of their sovereignty” helps to unify the people against a perceived threat while shifting the blame for the Nuke sanctions towards the Americans and Europeans, i.e. “Look, just another example of their denying us our rights.”

One again, are you willing to wait for a fireball over Tel-Aviv before anyone takes action?

Anytime you’d like to discuss my credntials or this issue over coffee, please get back to me…

Posted by: Aldo at April 1, 2007 2:14 PM

Dear Aldo,

Sorry aboput this, but:

1.) It made some military news email lists I belong (Former JAG clerk has to do something)

2.) It was reported on This Week, or whatever they call that ABC show now, this morning.

3.) Some of my dad's buddies in the Defense Department confirmed it.

Now, if it were just one source, I'd hold judgment. However, 3, all saying the same thing independently; I have to believe it's true.

With regards to what's going on in Iran --

It's a weird mix to calculate. In one corner, we have Moderates who dare not express any opinion. In another corner, we have extremists who love that one of their own and a former student protester is in charge. Supposedly, he is currently "silenced" by some of the religious faction causing a backlash.

Then we have Shiite leaders tickled to death that there is a link to their Shiite brethren in Syria via Iraq. Somewhere in the middle are the Iranian people.

If the Iranian folks are like most, they want to say their prayers, feed their families, and watch the occaisional football match. How they perceive this kidnapping could be being shaped by what happens in the Mosque but as any pro-choice Catholic, like me, will tell you: that ain't always the case.

Let us not forget that there could be a huge miscommunication disconnect, much like the one that preceeded the Iran/Iraq conflict, between the people and their non-chosen "leaders" on the issue.

In other words, if we think there are two many variables and we can't even account for them all, imagine what the Iranians in charge must think who live with these variables daily. Based on past experience, in think they are in way over their heads and this will end very badly, hopefully in Tehran and not Dover, for somebody.

Posted by: Bobby Oliveira at April 1, 2007 2:31 PM

The location of the British boat when it was seized is not in question. It was not in Iranian waters. Great Britain has offered proof of this (a hand held gps device over the spot the boat was taken) but Iran refuses to acknowledge it.

Iran has no desire to settle this peacefully. It went looking for a confrontation to change the subject on the domestic front. Aldo is correct in what he says. Iranians are the most pro-Western/pro-US people in the Middle East. They are disgusted with and afraid of the failed "Islamic Revolutionary" government that now rules them and various revolts have been heating up within the country. So for this reason and a couple of others (including possibly leverage to get back the Iranian general who defected to the West), the Iranian gov't "wagged the dog" by kidnapping these fifteen sailors.

There was a "demonstration" today by Iranians "demanding" that the sailors be tried. How absurd! Not a single Iranian cares one whit whether the Brits are tried. I'm sure Aldo is correct; they have no desire to escalate the incident. This silly demonstration was staged by the gov't, which is brutal in suppressing all demonstrations it does not approve of.

My blood went cold when I first heard about this. This is how wars get started. And we and the Brits are at a disadvantage. We care about human lives, civilian and military; the Iranian government absolutely does not.

Posted by: SusanD at April 1, 2007 8:33 PM

Dear Susan,

I agreed with you until you said the Iranians weren't interested in escalation. (For the record, the secular government in the region was Iraq but we ah, fixed that.)

I think there are some loonies in that government who think escalation benefits them somehow.

Posted by: Bobby Oliveira at April 2, 2007 2:20 PM

Bobby, go back to your sources (if they are real) and check that info. The U.S. Navy would never place a carrier in an enemy's territorial waters unless it had already taken control of those waters through invasion or some other type of forceful action. Long before a carrier would even come near enemy waters, destroyers or other smaller, more agile vessels would enter. I was in the Navy stationed in the Mediterranean from '84 to '87. I wouldn't be surprised at all if you had said a destroyer "tested" Iranian waters or if an F-18 entered airspace. It happened for several years before we finally engaged and destroyed the Libyan military. But placing a carrier in enemy waters, too far fetched.

Posted by: Perry Ellis at April 3, 2007 1:23 AM

Dear Perry,

I did some rechecking. Everything still comes back that the Eisenhower was allowed to stray. (My understanding of the past was that this was a "sub mission" so I'm surprised too.)

Interesting that the Iranians did complain about Fighters in their airspace and leaked the "raid" story to the Independent in Britain.

Has anybody else noticed how weird this transition is? We have gone from forced apologies in front of wall sized maps to the number 3 guy saying "maybe you weren't there afterall". Makes me feel funny.

Posted by: Bobby Oliveira at April 3, 2007 2:40 PM
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