Tuesday, April 10, 2007

So who blinked?

When the Register's editorial on the release of the 15 British sailors and marines ran with a headline referring to Iran "blinking," we got some letters berating us for not realizing that Iran had just humiliated Great Britain, the United States, the West in general and the entire concept of civilization. To me, it's part of the demonization with which many Americans approach foreign policy. We're not content to understand that other countries have different interests and may sometimes be our adversaries, they have to be part of an "axis of evil," etc. And a monolithically evil country couldn't be sometimes uncertain or have internal divisions, it must be relentless and always calculating in its pursuit of evil, and any response that doesn't involve bombs or special forces is by definition a humiliation.

However, Francis Fukuyama, not always right but not a slouch, writing about who was humilated, thinks "that something more like the opposite is actually the case."

After explaining the importance of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which seems to be the outfit that did the capture, in Persian politics, he goes on: "Clearly, whoever was responsible for the decision to take the British Marines prisoner was hoping to rekindle some of the fervor of the 1979 revolution, and use that to force the rest of the leadership into a confrontation with Britain and America. Hence the televised 'confessions' that hearkened back to the taking of hostages in the American Embassy (the 'nest of spies'), and the rallies against foreign embassies. But the gambit didn't work, and there was clearly a behind-the-scenes power struggle between different parts of the regime. Ahmadinejad was supposed to give a major speech to a huge rally in Tehran, and when he did speak, it was to announce that the captives would soon be released. The IRGC prisoners were released, but Britain did not apologize or admit wrong-doing in return. So it would appear that it was the Iranians who blinked first, before the incident could spiral into a genuine 1979-style hostage crisis."

This doesn't necessarily mean that the "moderates" in Iran don't want a nuclear weapon, as the Shah did back in the 1970s, when the Iranian nucolear program started. However, as Fukuyama puts it, "there are important splits within the leadership and there is an important faction that does not want Iran to be isolated."

Give Ahmadinejad some grudging credit. Although it appears that his faction lost, he played the release to the hilt, as if it were all his idea to show how generous and civilized the Islamic Republic really is. Sure.

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