March 25th, 2007

Tony Blair, the West, and the big “easy”

If you’ve ever had a bad back you know the drill: the doctor places your legs and feet in various positions, takes his hands and pushes in various ways, and asks you to push back each time.

What’s he doing? It’s a crude measurement of strength, because back problems can cause nerve injuries that not only can cause pain but can damage motor neurons. The best and easiest way to test motor strength is to push and see whether the patient can push back, and, if so, how forcibly.

Testing our strength isn’t all Iran is doing right now in its capture of fifteen British sailors, who are seemingly about to be used as bargaining chips in a game of “free the prisoners.” But it certainly seem to be a big part of it.

Just as Hitler was testing the waters of Allied determination in Munich and finding them surprisingly warm and pleasant, Iran has been testing the waters of the West since the overthrow of the Shah in 1979, and swimming quite comfortably there. In fact, one of the earliest acts under Khomeini’s regime was to precipitate the extraordinarily lengthy embassy hostage crisis, which gave the mullahs the idea that the West lacked a certain vigor in its response and its will to win.

In the present situation, Prime Minister Tony Blair says that the captured sailors and marines were not in Iranian territorial waters when seized. No surprise there. He also says that Britain considers their fate a “fundamental” issue. Good.

However, in the same sentence, Blair adds, “I want to get it resolved in as easy and diplomatic a way as possible.”

Of course diplomacy has to be tried here. So I don’t really have a quarrel with Blair mentioning it. It’s the word “easy” that sends just the wrong note of weakness to the Iranians, revealing what I’ve come to think is the true mindset of much of the West, and certainly of Europe: we’re psychologically unready for this fight.

Is there any sane person who thought that dealing with Iran was going to be “easy?” Is there anyone who thinks it wise to convey to the Iranians that we even want it to be “easy?”

Blair, of course, is speaking here at least partly to his own people, reassuring them that the result of this particular hostage-taking is not going to be another highly unpopular war like that in Iraq. In so doing, he reassures Iran that he’s not going to push all that hard against their own push.

When we study the events of Munich in September of 1938, it’s easy to forget one important aspect: Chamberlain’s actions were highly popular with British subjects. When he returned waving that piece of paper and speaking of “Peace for our time,” their reaction is described as having been “ecstatic.”

One can hardly blame the British of the time. It was only twenty years after the end of World War I, fought against the same country, Germany, and causing such widespread loss of life that an entire generation of England’s best and brightest had been literally decimated.

And I mean the word “literally”–well, literally. Take a look. Of about 5,400,000 mobilized, 703,000 were killed and over a million and a half wounded. The death rate therefore was around thirteen percent, well over the ten percent that constitutes the definition of the word “decimate.” And the casualty rate of the British in that war was forty-four percent. One can forgive them for being war weary, after what they’d been through.

When criticizing Chamberlain, it’s also easy to forget that he wised up pretty quickly, although it was tragically too late. In the spring of 1939, less than six months after Munich, Hitler broke the pact and invaded Czechoslovakia. To his credit, Chamberlain realized that this constituted a betrayal, and started to mobilize Britain for the inevitable war to follow.

When Hitler invaded Poland a few months later, Chamberlain had this to say:

The time has come when action rather than speech is required…No man can say that the Government could have done more to try to keep open the way for an honorable and equitable settlement of the dispute between Germany and Poland. Nor have we neglected any means of making it crystal clear to the German Government that if they insisted on using force again in the manner in which they had used it in the past we were resolved to oppose them by force.

So, at least Chamberlain felt that he had previously conveyed to Hitler that, if Hitler went too far, Britain would go to war. My guess is that Chamberlain may have mouthed some words to that effect, but Hitler took the measure of the man and didn’t quite believe them. Or perhaps he did, and didn’t much care; Hitler may have been playing for more time, trying to get what he could “easily,” without fighting for it. In this, the Chamberlain government initially cooperated.

Hitler apparently had contempt for Chamberlain after Munich, in the way that bullies often size up their opponents and seize on those they perceive as weak. “If ever that silly old man comes interfering here again with his umbrella, I’ll kick him downstairs and jump on his stomach in front of the photographers” Hitler is quoted as having said.

One wonders what Ahmadinejad and his superiors, the mullahs, are saying about Tony Blair right now. One wonders what they (and their predecessors) said about Jimmy Carter way back when.

It appears at this moment that Western muscles have become rather flaccid, even though the tools they could manipulate with those weakened muscles are highly powerful. The Iranians, of course, seek control of some of those fancy tools themselves. When they obtain them, perhaps they won’t lack the muscle–both mental and physical–to use them.

Churchill, Chamberlain’s successor, never talked about what was easy. He may have hoped that it would be easy or prayed that it would be easy, but to the British people (and to the listening enemy) he conveyed a very different idea.

On first taking office in May of 1940, many Conservatives still wanted Chamberlain. Churchill himself knew he had a tough message; he confided in a general, “Poor people, poor people. They trust me, and I can give them nothing but disaster for quite a long time.”

In his first speech to Parliament, Churchill made this clear, saying the famous words, “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.” Later in the speech he conveyed—to Britain, its allies, and to Hitler—what else he had to offer: resolve and hope.

You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: It is victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival.

No, the situations are not parallel. The seizure of the sailors and marines by Iran is not tantamount to a declaration of war, and war is not a proper response at this time. My point, however, is that rhetoric is not irrelevant, nor is it empty. How can we convey actual resolve to the Iranians if we don’t even speak as though we have it?

20 Responses to “Tony Blair, the West, and the big “easy””

  1. sergey Says:

    There are lots of things that can be done less drastic than the war but more powerful than diplomacy. For example, taking hostages among Iranian officials and close relatives of Iranian leaders, hunting and arresting known agents, arresting Iranian vessels and complete naval blocade. Some sonic booms above Tehran also can make things clearer. If it would not give immediate results, add some carpet bombing.

  2. Cappy Says:

    There are many things that can be done. English history speaks to a lot of that, such as the seizure of Karg Island in the 1800s. It all depends on the willingness to upset the trolls at home.

  3. Ymarsakar Says:

    Testing our strength isn’t all Iran is doing right now in its capture of fifteen British sailors, who are seemingly about to be used as bargaining chips in a game of “free the prisoners.”

    hey Neo, that’s why we even have terrorists at GitMo still alive. We’re going to execute one every 30 minutes if an American isn’t returned alive and unharmed, right? Or maybe not…

    So I know, we’re keeping them alive and in prison complexes because we want our enemies to kidnap people to exchange for ours? Indeed, that must be the strategy.

    Btw, I don’t give a damn what terrorists use as a justification for their crimes against humanity. So, if we have one of them, and he is useless, I say kill him. Keeping him alive presents problems, if you aren’t willing to bargain body parts for American/Western hostages. I mean what’s the point of keeping them around if you won’t use them.

    will to win.

    Will to win… what’s that Neo?

    Blair adds, “I want to get it resolved in as easy and diplomatic a way as possible.”

    Oh… you want easy? I got an easy way. I’m sure if Blair asked Bush to borrow a couple of GitMo detainees for … things, Bush would agree. At least Blair could ask for forgiveness instead of permission.

    Of course diplomacy has to be tried here.

    Exactly Neo. People should send this message to the terrorists and give it a try first.

    “We want our people back, and every hour on the hour that they are not, we are going to send you a body part of one of your fellow brothers in the jihad. And we have more brothers than you have sailors”

    I’m a big fan of diplomacy with terrorists. Negotiations must be tried, right?

    Is there any sane person who thought that dealing with Iran was going to be “easy?” Is there anyone who thinks it wise to convey to the Iranians that we even want it to be “easy?”

    It depends Neo. Easy doing what? Easy for whom? Easy for us? Or Easy for them? Different meanings here. If the Iranians actually expected us to be able to get the British hostages back easily… they would be in a far weaker negotiation position. It is only when they think it is a bluff that it really isn’t easy.

    but to the British people (and to the listening enemy) he conveyed a very different idea.

    A different expectation as I see it.

  4. Al Reasin Says:

    The Pentagon received “considerable pressure” from officials in the State department and CIA to release some or all of the Iran-linked prisoners to facilitate discussions between Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Iranian officials. Apparently, Gen. Petraeus sharply disagreed, saying that he intends to hold the prisoners “until they run out of information or we run out of food,” according to sources who heard these remarks through channels. If this is true, we have already shown a weak hand. The 15 captives may have been taken to sweeten the pot for our capitulation. Ah, you see, we have captured over 300 Iranian soldiers in Iraq including a few Generals; we have also had at least one border skirmish in eastern Iraq. Want to bet on who blinks.

  5. Lee Says:

    Don’t give Chamberlain too much credit for “seeing he’d been duped” and beginning mobilization. After “laying down the law” over Poland, he the French(I can never remember the French PM’s name, Reynaud? Someone please help with that.) settled into what became known as the “Phoney War”. The French hid behind the Maginot Line and the British did very little other than try to bomb the German North Sea ports(reminds me a little of Clinton shooting cruise missiles at bin Laden and the Taliban). Oh, sure, they got the Graf Spee, but they didn’t intervene directly in support of Poland when such action at the time would have put an end to things quite quickly, considering the state of the German military at the time(although I’m sure the Allies had a differrent assessment at the time). So, strong words WITHOUT action can be as disastrous as “soft” language.
    As far as I’m concerned, we’ve “talked” to Iran long enough. Captain Kirk said it best in the Capone gangster government episode: “I’m tired of playing patty-cake with these penny-ante operators!”

  6. Ymarsakar Says:

    Chamberlain was a notorious “realpoliteker” which aligns him with people like… Bush Senior and the Baker’s Dozen.

    Chamberlain was also head of the Conservative Party, which was one excuse the Labour Party used to get rid of Winston Churchill after the war.

  7. Jimmy J. Says:

    Yeah, I’m betting that the Iranians want to use the Brits for bargaining chips.

    What happens next in this drama will tell a lot about what lies ahead. Is this 1938? Or will Blair, backed by the U.S., stand up to these thugs. And if he does, will our Congress want to back him? I doubt his own Parliament will want to.

    Yes, it’s history in the making. Unfortunately it may also be history repeating.

  8. camojack Says:

    Something’s gotta give…

  9. strcpy Says:

    The problem isn’t so much a diplomatic solution vs a war solution, it is the scope of the problem.

    For many of the diplomatic people “the problem” is that 15 soldiers have been detained. This isn’t really *that* hard a problem to fix, and I relatively suspect it will shortly be fixed (though, if you believe I think that is good, please read the next few paragraphs). It will be a success and we (the US) ought to look at that as to how to conduct foreign policy.

    The other problem is that Iran wants to be *the* major power in the gulf, destroy the west and Israel, and generally ascend to the pre-eminent power in the world. Simply solving the “15 soldiers held” problem is counter productive to this one – this is a battle in the overall war, not the war. There may very well be a diplomatic solution – my guess is that there is, Iran is too weak if we pursue it.

    My other guess is that “the west” will not accept such a thing and will push for the smaller “victory” in just getting the soldiers back. Neo mentions pre-WWII Europe and there is a VERY similar thing going on. Germany considered all of the actions as an ongoing war, the allies considered them individual actions. We won every one as an individual action, we lost every one as a war – at least until there was absolutely no other option than full out war. In both cases, had we the resolve to treat it as an overall campaign, action, war, or whatever you want to call it we may very well have had a mostly diplomatic solution.

    In the end diplomacy only works if both sides are working towards the same basic goal. The cold war is an excellent example – the saying that the hope is that the Russians love their children as much as we do is quite apt. They did, they didn’t want war, they wanted mostly the same goals we did (the Nazi’s wanted the ascendancy of the Arian/German race – much as the Iranians do). The people of Iran probably mostly want the same things we do, however the govt of Iran doesn’t. Thus “solving” this single problem with diplomacy will eventually come back and bite us and I see no way to do otherwise if we remain a democracy, republic, or parliamentary system (depending on which country you are discussing and your knowledge of what those words mean).

    Though in the end full out total war is going to be unavoidable if we do not recognize what the battle actually is – and I think we will win no matter what, there are too many that will not allow it to get to the point we can not. But it will suck more than it needs too when it finally happens.

  10. colagirl Says:

    Very cogent post, neoneo, and great rundown of the situation, strcpy. I hope that you’re right about how if it comes to full-out war, there are too many people who will not allow us to lose but I fear you may be wrong.

  11. TC Says:

    cbsnews.comHave to disagree with the notion that we don’t speak as though we have any resolve.

    From declaring Iran part of an “axis of evil” to our constantly threatening to bomb them and goading Israel to do the same we certainly have taken the rhetorical bluster to lofty heights.

    On a side note – read this today and found it quite astonishing – apparently 1 in 3 homeless men in the U.S is a veteran.

    http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2007/03/25/eveningnews/main2607024.shtml

  12. OverGourd Says:

    I believe that the “veteran” label is self ascribed. See Stolen Valor, Burkett for the unreliability of this “data”.

  13. Trimegistus Says:

    I don’t know why everyone keeps expressing wonder and/or hope about how America and the West will react to each new provocation.

    We answered that question last November. The voters chose defeat. Right now we’re in a race to see if we can dhimmify ourselves before the new caliphate can do it by force.

    The war is over. We lost. All we can do now is watch humanity descend into barbarism.

  14. sergey Says:

    To be exact, voters simply did not believe that US are at war. They have two years to understand their error and not repeat it. And these two years hardly would be calm enough to support this dandgerous illusion. The natural course of events leads to more bloody confrontations, not otherwise. Very soon Iran nuclear crisis will explode, and causa belli became to clear to deny.

  15. Chuck Says:

    Great post :)

  16. Lee Says:

    Don’t worry, TC. Israel won’t need to be “goaded” into bombing Iran when the time comes. If Israel feels the need to bomb them, they will bomb them. Even if it’s not in “our” interest. Besides, most of the time you(TC) are bitching that we’re the ones being manipulated by “the Israeli Lobby”. So, which nazi conspiracy are we supposed to believe: “we’re being duped by the ‘joooos’!”, or “Israel is a “puppet” in our imperial designs.? I wish you nazis could stick to ONE consistent lie, TC.

  17. TC Says:

    I’m not worried, Lee.

    You seem worried about what position I hold, though…..

  18. Lee Says:

    TC, not “concerned”, just recognize it as nazi propaganda, that’s all.

  19. Daniel in Brookline Says:

    The seizure of the sailors and marines by Iran is not tantamount to a declaration of war, and war is not a proper response at this time.

    With all due respect, Neo, if the seizure of a nation’s military forces and holding them hostage, in blatant violation of the Geneva Conventions, does not constitute a casus belli, then what does?

    Britain needs to get its act together, and fast. Every day spent dithering over this sends one message to the Iranian mullahs, as you have so eloquently described. But it sends another message entirely to British troops: if you’re captured, we won’t come to get you.

    Britain needs to keep the faith with her troops, if she hopes to have anyone willing to fight for her at all.

    And so do we.

    respectfully,
    Daniel in Brookline

  20. gameboys 2007 Says:

    gameboys 2007…

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.
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