Monday, April 02, 2007

Speculating about Iran's motives 

Stranded as I am in the Newtown, Pennsylvania Starbucks -- I am waiting for my son to finish choir practice at the George School -- I have a few minutes to speculate about Iran's motives in the current crisis over the imprisoned British sailors.

Let's set the table. Our astute and regular commenter Escort81 rather directly makes the case that Iran's motives go beyond the resolution of a case for trespassing:

OK, so you are in charge of the coastal patrols in Iran. Do you:

A) Send a single patrol boat out and radio the U.K. RIBS on the VHF that they are out of Iraqi waters and need to return ASAP to avoid an incident;

B) Send two patrol boats out with a friendly attitude and tie up to the same ship the U.K. RIBS are tied up to, take a GPS reading (as well as a dead reckoning reading), and exchange pleasantries and perhaps small gifts in the spirit of international goodwill and the camaraderie of good seamanship;

C) Send two patrol boats out with a friendly attitude, and (knowing the British ROEs) then four other larger well armed boats to force the Brits to stand down from their mission, go back to the Iranian harbor with the Brits for three hours of detention and questioning, after which it is clear it is all a misunderstanding either as to where the border is or what the Brits thought their position was, and then allow them to return in their RIBS to the Cornwall;

D) Send the two boats followed by the four boats as in (C), but quickly move the prisoners to a facility inland (perhaps near Tehran) after handing them off to another section of your government, and quickly escalate what might have been a minor incident into a potentially major international and diplomatic crisis.

Will somebody from the Rosie O'Donnell school of political theory ("Gulf of Tonkin -- Google it") and seamanship tell me why (D) is the response that the Iranians picked?

In fact, the Iranian actions are so absurd that they make a mockery of all the legalistic hanky-twisting about GPS coordinates. The Iranians who grabbed these sailors and detain and humiliate them to this day did so for a political purpose. The questions are, what is the political purpose, and whose is it?

More background, this time in the form of naked assertions -- things I believe but cannot support with much in the way of linkage:

The United States and Iran are at odds over several issues, but the two most immediate points of confrontation involve Iran's support for violent factions inside Iraq and its program to develop nuclear weapons.

As recently as January, Iran was confident that it could avoid backing down on either issue. The United States was bogged down in Iraq, the Democrats in the new Congress were agitating for a quick withdrawal, and the Russians were opposed to stiff sanctions over the nuclear program. The United States looked as though it had no hand.

Since January, the United States has substantially improved its leverage. The Bush administration filled up the Persian Gulf with aircraft carriers. The "surge" has at least intimidated the Shiite groups with the closest ties to Iran (see, e.g., Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi "army," which is at least lying low). Most importantly, revised rules of engagement have resulted in the detention of any number of Iranians in Iraq, most famously the five agents we grabbed in Irbil in January.

Suddenly the United States doesn't look quite so helpless.

Diplomatically, Iran had been willing to hold talks with the United States over Iraq only, but imagined that the U.S. would not agree to bypass the nuclear issue. The United States called Iran's bluff, though, and trumped Iran with a new card: Russia has come in from the cold, at least for the moment. The Russians have picked a fight with Tehran over accounts receivable, hinted that further progress depended on Iran's renunciation of the fuel cycle, and have just voted for tougher sanctions, with further steps promised if Iran does not cooperate with the IAEA in 60 days.

[UPDATE: I forgot to mention the persistent rumors that the strange deaths of various Iranian atomic scientists were at the hands of the Mossad. If Iran's technical establishment thinks that it has a death sentence hanging over it, the nuclear program may be less viable over the short term than Tehran once hoped.]

Suddenly, Iran's position doesn't look so unassailable.

The upshot is that the Bush administration -- which was not in December willing to negotiate with Iran from a position of weakness, and had therefore ignored that recommendation of the Iraq Study Group -- by mid-March was engaging with Iran. American diplomats had met with Iranians at a group grope with Syria and other regional powers, and there were at least hints that direct negotiations were just around the corner. There was momentum, perhaps in the direction of a grand bargain. Just as only Nixon could go to Mao's China, perhaps only George W. Bush could go to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's Tehran.

That momentum has dissipated in the last week. The imprisonment of the British sailors has clearly again altered the trajectory of U.S.-Iranian relations. Since we know, or virtually know, that this operation involved more than a tactical level decision in response to an actual incursion, and since it is obvious from the conduct of the regime since that it is trying to stir up trouble, the purpose of the seizure had to be to affect these impending negotiations.

The first question is, did Iran grab the sailors because it expects to be negotiating with the United States and wanted to improve its leverage? Or was Iran trying to prevent the negotiations from happening in the first place? Yes, it could have simply refused to negotiate, but it had painted itself into something of a corner by insisting that it was willing to negotiate if the United States decoupled the nuclear issue. Face may have required that Iran manufacture a crisis that would justify its new decision not to negotiate.

I have seen the argument that the Iranian military, which is upset that Iran has not done anything about the Iranian nationals now held in Iraqi prisons, wanted something to trade and decided that British sailors would do just fine whether or not the mullahs were in favor of an escalation. Possibly, but since I do not think that even the Iranians would believe that George W. Bush would permit negotiations while British sailors were in Iranian prisons, I believe that the purpose of this operation was to shut down impending talks between Iran and the United States.

Assuming that the purpose of this crisis is, indeed, to forestall or prevent face-to-face negotiations with the United States, who wants to accomplish the purpose? Well, if the government was looking for a face-saving way out of its called bluff, perhaps Ahmadinejad ordered the operation. He certainly supports it after the fact, and he of all people should understand the value of hostages in a confrontation. Or a powerful internal faction that might or might not have included Ahmadinejad might have been trying to stop negotiations that the Iranian establishment hoped to see bear fruit. So far, we do not know.

It is also possible, however, that the main purpose of the crisis is to realign domestic Iranian political power to the advantage of the plotters. The Embassy hostages crisis of almost 30 years ago was instrumental in the Ayatollah Khomeini's consolidation of power versus the secular liberals because it polarized the post-Shah polity, driving it away from liberalism and into radical theocracy. Perhaps again this crisis will be used to crush the few remaining secular liberals.

Finally, it is also possible that the main purpose of this new hostage crisis is to drive Britain from the United States. If Iran promises to release the British sailors only if we release the Irbil Five, it could sorely test our relationship with Britain, not just in Iraq but elsewhere. That, in turn, would weaken the United States in Iraq, and diminish the chances even further that Iran will have to back down.

Your thoughts are most welcome.

MORE: A reader points to this article by Mario Loyola, which is a more professional attempt at the same sort of analysis. It essentially says the same thing with more facts -- that Iran grabbed the sailors to improve its negotiating position on other fronts, specifically with the hope of forestalling an American attack.

Maybe, but that is a bit too precise for my taste. As I wrote above, I think there is a good chance that the capture of the British was planned and executed without the full complicity of the central government, that it is primarily a factional power play. That is, after all, what happened in 1979. I also think that Loyola puts too much emphasis on the unwillingness of the United States to jeopardize the British sailors. Ex ante, Iran was at no small risk that Tony Blair would find his inner Thatcher and request allied military retaliation. Finally, these hostages are a wasting asset, in that once it becomes clear they are being used to cover a withdrawal from the non-proliferation treaty their lives will shrink as a consideration, even in Europe.


By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Apr 02, 12:15:00 AM:

Mario Loyola's article in the National Review offers a plausible scenario...


By Blogger Shochu John, at Mon Apr 02, 01:48:00 AM:

Gotta love Mario Loyola. He starts out evenly enough, but by the end of the arty, he's jumping up and down screaming "Kill, kill, kill!"

Another possibility, if I may point it out, is that, being that the border situation in the Gulf is a bit fuzzy, two nations that do not get along that smashingly are having a chest-thumping contest. Perhaps there are deeper plots afoot, but one must not dismiss the possibility that the cries of "No, YOU admit you were wrong." may be as petty as they sound.

Occam's razor and all that.  

By Blogger Mycroft, at Mon Apr 02, 02:17:00 AM:

It wasn't the Iranian navy that grabbed the British sailors. It was the naval section of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. Entirely different chain of command, different functions.

Hitler didn't use the Waffen SS for border patrol guards, and I rather doubt the IRGC is used as a coastal patrol.  

By Blogger HoosierDaddy, at Mon Apr 02, 05:46:00 AM:

It seems sadly smilar to our nasty little spat with China some time back  

By Blogger Dan, at Mon Apr 02, 10:21:00 AM:

Seems as likely that the IRGC grabbed the sailors at the behest of Ahmadinejad in order to foment a crisis that would force anti-nuclear factions within the Iranian government to toe the aggressive line - something like the last option Tigerhawk mentions. After all, Iran has plenty of grounds to presume the capture of 15 sailors and marines would not justify war to a government that can be daily observed to do as little as possible to rile the natives or provide more ammo to domestic political opposition. And despite our own improved ROE, we too have constantly demurred from using the full resources at our disposal in any number of situations (which is the major reason why, of course, we are having so many problems in old Araby in general), so it was reasonable to presume the US would do nothing to shift the cost-benefit analysis to the minus side.

Seems most likely to me that, although all the other benefits Tiger mentions might accrue to it, Ahmadinejad probably saw the leverage granted to anti-Ahmadinejad features of the government through the recent Russian pull-out, general's defection, IRGC detainments in Iraq, and the shift of the Iraqi government toward more permissive engagement particularly in Shiite areas, was causing a split that undermines its ability to force its nuclear and aggressive agenda. Iran is a weak, piece of crap country whose two major assets are (1) its fanaticism, and (2) our uncanny way of retreating in the face of most of their advances. It must rely heavily on the unanimity of its government; its policies, launched in the face of overwhelming odds, must be even more vulnerable to direct manipulation and defections than we know.

Did we shoot the looters? No. Did we kill Moqtada al-Sadr when he proclaimed a rival sovereignty? No. Did we destroy Fallujah? No. Did we destroy Ramadi? No. Do we assault training camps in Syria and Iran? No. Do we even heavily police Mehdi Army, Badr Brigade, whomever? No. Do we assasinate insurgent sheikhs? Well not that we hear about.

This is not Kansas. And, frankly, if it were Kansas, all those No's would be Yes's, particularly with respect to al-Sadr. So what's happening? I sort of presume it's largely internal, as an immediate matter. The rest of their game is working very well, so if the current pressures have started to work - surely some Iranian notables must be getting nervous in this high-stakes game - then Ahmadinejad must be calculating that something must be done about that. Besides, at this point they must be wondering what in the hell they have to do to provoke an actual assault on Iran itself.  

By Blogger Georgfelis, at Mon Apr 02, 11:19:00 AM:

I’ll agree with you and Dan all the way down to the word “Kansas”. Since I live here, I have a little credibility. Ft. Riley, home of the Big Red One is deployed in Iraq, and even in Kansas all those “No’s” are still “No’s”.

Linked to TH, and posted my summary (since I didn’t want to blather on in the comments as long as I normally do).  

By Blogger Christopher Chambers, at Mon Apr 02, 12:00:00 PM:

Man, this is really co-ol...like a Tom Clancy Rainbow Six game! Well, how about some grim reality...why don't we just let the Iraqis (whichever gang of goons we happen to back at the moment) deal with their coastline and call it a day. Frankly, I'm a little puzzled how a tough group of chaps like Royal Marines and jack tars could get "captured." I mean, weren't these the same type of fellows who swept aside the sabre rattling ancestors of many of the sabre-rattling clowns who comment on this blog at Bladensburg in 1814? Came in and ransacked/burned Washington DC? Hell, not even Osama could boast that, or other well known terrorists such as Mosby or Bedford Forrest. Indeed, these chaps even freed a nice group of some of my ancestors in the process. Slaves...recall them?

And they just up and surrender...and zounds..."confess?" My my what would Leonidas in "300" say? Oops...that leonidas is a fictional character. I guess the Iranians learned some boss interrogation methods from the Shah's old secret police to get those tough Limeys the crack and betray their country, eh?

Look, those Limeys shouln't have even been there...and to get pinched so effortlessly like a bunch of fratboys on their way home from a party getting pulled over by a pissed-off African American cop? Something's fishy in the Shatt-el-Arab...  

By Blogger Dan, at Mon Apr 02, 01:32:00 PM:

It is just like Rainbow Six! Nice, Chris. I don't think you ever get airstrikes in that game either.  

By Blogger Purple Avenger, at Mon Apr 02, 04:09:00 PM:

If the Guardian Council didn't go along, they'd have been released the next day, and those responsible would be sleeping with the fishes.  

By Blogger Escort81, at Mon Apr 02, 06:40:00 PM:

TH -

Thanks for the nice (if undeserved) words and the attribution.

Regarding the Loyola piece, he sometimes makes for interesting reading, but I am discounting much of his take on this incident because his first piece, where he stated that this may (well, 10% chance) have been a British provocation. I expect better from a professional than the kind of wanton speculation that we all engage in.

Shocu and Chris, please do the multiple choice above and explain why the Iranians chose D. The set-up to the section of my post that TH cited says "Let's accept the Iranian version of the facts for the moment, for purposes of the following exercise --" meaning, take the charts which the Iranians have put on TV twice are the real story, and assume the Brits are either lying or incompetent. I am all for simple explanations (Occam's), but the simple solution was (A), maybe (B), possibly (C), and only (D) if this was a pre-planned operation to intercept a routine interdiction that was operating under U.N. ROEs, and cause a political blow-up.

Mycroft, you make an important distinction, and, yes, I was aware (by around day 2 of this incident) that it was IRGC forces that had been involved, and they clearly have coastal installations that are distict from and augment the regular Iranian Navy. The use of the IRGC to do the intercept points to this being a pre-planned operation. By the way, I believe that the Waffen SS were used in the initial border provocation in August/September 1939 that provided Hitler with the pretext to invade Poland and start WWII.

Dan, Iran is "weak" relative to U.S. Navy forces, but:

1) it still could inflict some degree of damage

2) let's not forget that it fought Iraq to a standstill in a horrible war (with more casualties than GW1 plus GW2) during the 1980s

3) Iran did not have the same constraints on it to rebuild its forces in the 1990s that Iraq did

4) Iran has been able to use Hezbollah as a beta site for testing.

That said, I would convert to Shia Islam if Iran defeats the combined U.S./U.K. naval forces in a strait-up full-fledged tactical conflict.

hoosierdaddy, China did the right thing early in 2000 and released the Navy aviators fairly quickly and without much noise -- they understood that it was an ELINT mission (we spy on them, they spy on us, and overall, more ELINT information makes everyone calmer and better informed) and that their fighter jet pilot (with a more maneuverable aircraft) had a responsibility to avoid the collision that cost him his life. Great name/identity/double entendre by the way, any chance you are from the Covington area in Fountain County?

Purple, I think every thread should have at least one Godfather reference.

The latest developments point to a wind-down of this mini-crisis, which I believe has had more to do with internal Iranian politics (as TH explains well) than with any wedge tactics or probing action. Hopefully, the 15 will be returned this week and we can digest and ponder the outcome of all of this shortly thereafter.  

By Blogger Shochu John, at Mon Apr 02, 07:45:00 PM:


There are plenty of reasons why D would be the effect without such sinister underpinnings.

The IRGC Navy guys could have been out there for another reason. Alternatively, perhaps they knew the Brits were poking about near their waters and they wanted the IRGC to keep an eye on them and move on them if they got too close. Bear in mind that the border in the northern Gulf is disputed and not at all clear. perhaps the Iranians wanted to assert themselves to keep unfriendly foreigners away from their coastline.

In sum, there are a million perfectly simple explanations for option D being the result. There is nothing to suggest it is anything more than the silly games countries play.

As you note, it appears to be winding down. Going forward, no doubt the Royal Navy will give the Iranians a bit more space.  

By Blogger Dawnfire82, at Mon Apr 02, 08:15:00 PM:

"Going forward, no doubt the Royal Navy will give the Iranians a bit more space."

Mission accomplished, I suppose.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Apr 02, 08:42:00 PM:

Duel for Leverage Fuels Conflict, Not Diplomacy
By Trita Parsi


By Blogger Escort81, at Mon Apr 02, 10:03:00 PM:

Shocu -

Thanks for the response.

I am unclear how (C) fails to accomplish for the Iranians (or perhaps, more precisely, the IRGC faction) what you describe in the scenario(s) in your second paragraph. Why go to (D) when (C) makes it clear you are pushing back in a big way, and demonstrates your naval ability to capture and detain "hostile" forces? (Again, this all assumes the Iranian version of the fact set in terms of the positions of the various boats and ships).

I don't mean to be thick, but I just can't think of any simple explanations as to why the Iranians chose to take and keep hostages/detainees in what would otherwise be a run-of-the-mill waterway border dispute (or, as you so aptly phrase it, "the silly games countries play") -- a dispute that need not have escalated, unless the IRGC wanted it escalated. My analysis rests partly on the notion of proportionality, and partly on the notion that we can discern intent through the selection of the instrument.

Dawnfire is probably right that in the near term, the Brits will establish a slightly bigger buffer zone (or no-travel zone) near the "disputed" area, giving up some real estate that would otherwise be fair game for ship inspections. Hopefully, the Brits will provide better air cover to their boarding craft, though without a change in ROEs, I suppose the Iranians could push their borderline south to the near the Kuwaiti coast.  

By Blogger Escort81, at Mon Apr 02, 10:29:00 PM:

Shocu -

Well, at halftime of the NCAA hoops game here, I guess I can think of a way that (C) evolves into (D), once the IRGC forces call Tehran and says, "hey, we have 15 U.K. military personnel here on base, and we just scared the crap out of them for a few hours, and we're about to let them go back to their ship on their two RIBS," and the response from Tehran is "are you crazy, you have hostages and you are letting them go for nothing, what are you, not from the Middle East or something?"

Point is, it should never even get to (C) or (D) if it is a run-of-the-mill border dispute. Even a (D) can and should be resolved in the first 72 hours, if the trespass was as minor as the Iranians claim (remember, the rhetoric coming out of Blair and London in the first few days was fairly mild). All of the circumstantial evidence points to a pre-planned operation.

Is it your belief that the IRGC just kind of happened to be out there, saw an opportunity to intimidate a small British force, quickly came up with a game plan on the fly of two friendly boats followed by two meaner bigger boats, played capture the flag, and then things got out of hand and escalated from there?

I want you as my defense attorney if I'm ever accused of a crime -- it's all about creating reasonable doubt.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Apr 02, 11:36:00 PM:

Iran's game is a total winner.

Those hostages won't go home any time soon. If ever.

Britain will have to bust sanctions, pay lots of ransom, grovel and visibly show well, "kneeling" to quote the movie 300 and the Xerxes character. A tribute of earth and water.

Of course Britons are quickly surrendering. They've been searching for someone, anyone to surrender to for years.

Iran's moves are political. Straight up they'll lose in a fight. But challenge the West particularly weak non-states like Britain (where Muslims defacto rule in all sorts of areas) and the West just collapses. Into abject surrender.

Look at Britain: can't even teach the Holocaust or Crusades because Muslims object. Germany allows Muslim men to beat their wives with impunity because they're Muslim.

No one in the West actually believes that the West is worth fighting for. Iran knows that so the answer is None of the Above. They chose a political confrontation ala 1979 and just like then Jimmy Carter Blair will crumble and grovel and surrender.  

By Blogger Shochu John, at Mon Apr 02, 11:42:00 PM:

In diplomacy, as in basketball, Escort, sometimes you get what you want by taking a dramatic flop on a small foul. The Iranians could have not made a big deal about it, but because they did, they got to assert their national soverighty, face down the Brits, and get a larger buffer zone around their coast. All in all, it looks like a good week for them. You're right in that they probably phoned news of the incursion back to Tehran, which then sent them the orders to take the sailors captive. Either that or some enterprising IRGC navy officer took the initiative and is likely soon moving up in the world.

I certainly don't think anything "got out of hand" from an Iranian point of view. They probably knew full well the Brits were poking around up there and were ready to take them if they got too close.

I doubt the Iranians engineered this, but I think they were ready for it if it came up.  

By Blogger honestpartisan, at Mon Apr 02, 11:52:00 PM:

News stories like this one support TH's view that domestic Iranian politics have some possible connection to the Iranians' conduct.

But I don't know that I buy the narrative that Iran is the one resistant to diplomacy with the US. The Bush administration has a history of rejecting promising overtures from Iran. Who knows, maybe they think that this kind of behavior is the kind of thing that can both serve to initiate negotiations over something at least, and to do so from a (perceived?) position of strength.  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Tue Apr 03, 06:59:00 AM:

HP -

It isn't that Iran is resistant to diplomacy. It is that the Islamic Republic has a long track record of trying to use it to embarrass the United States. During the 1979 hostage crisis, they repeatedly sent back channel signals of a favorable resolution to draw out concessions from the Carter administration, and then essentially rejected the concession as inadequate. Mark Bowden's Guests of the Ayatollah is illuminating on that history. More recently, they twice humiliated the Clinton administration. The first time they sent signals that it would be very positive if Bill Clinton "accidentally" encountered Muhammad Khatami in a certain hallway at the United Nations when they were both otherwise scheduled to be there. At the appointed time, the president of the United States was left pacing the hall like a jackass. The "liberal reformer Khatami had stood him up. Then, they sent the signal through intermediaries that the real obstacle to better relations was that the United States had not "apologized" for the coup against Mossadegh engineered by Kermit Roosevelt in 1953. Madeleine Albright delivered her rather famous apology in a public deep bow, and this time they rejected the apology very publicly. When Albright was in Princeton a year ago, I asked her about this and she agreed with my characterization that this was the "diplomatic equivalent of a stiff arm."

The Iranians, therefore, have reaped what they have sown. The United States under Bush has been unwilling to negotiate officially with Iran except unless specified conditions have been met in advance. Of course, there have been lengthy back-channel and unofficial talks, particularly in advance of the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, but we correctly regard Iranian invitations for public talks as a trap. That is why Bush has, at least until very recently, insisted on some major concession even before the talks can begin (such as Iran at least suspending uranium enrichment). It is also why the United States has preferred to deal with Iran in large gatherings, such as through the E-3 over the nuclear issue and the regional groups over Iraq.  

By Blogger Georgfelis, at Tue Apr 03, 01:38:00 PM:

TH, I think the phrase you are looking for is “Good Faith”. In any deal with unbelievers, and to a lesser extent believers of a different sect, Iran has shown a remarkable lack of dealing in Good Faith and has shown considerable consistency in taking the short-term gain instead of the long-term.

I think they’re about out of short-term gain and may be turning in their British coupons before they hit the expiration date. (I hope)  

By Blogger Escort81, at Tue Apr 03, 02:11:00 PM:

By way of VDH at NRO, we now know that this entire incident, according to The Independent, is really Bush's fault for ordering a January raid in northern Iraq that was botched.

Who knew?

The biggest howler in The Independent article is:

"The attempt by the US to seize the two high-ranking Iranian security officers openly meeting with Iraqi leaders is somewhat as if Iran had tried to kidnap the heads of the CIA and MI6 while they were on an official visit to a country neighbouring Iran, such as Pakistan or Afghanistan."

Umm, I think Iran has gone one better than that and has kidnapped U.S. embassy officials (not discriminating between those that may have been intelligence officials or ordinary embassy personnel) in Tehran, I seem to recall.

This is what passes for a news piece in the British press? Hint: if you are using the phrase "somewhat as if," do it in a blog such as this and not a newspaper.

For some warped reason, this reminds me of the Seinfeld episode where Kramer is telling Jerry that Jerry doesn't like dentists:

Jerry: So you won't believe what happened with Whatley today. It got back to him that I made this little dentist joke and he got all offended. Those people can be so touchy.

Kramer: Those people, listen to yourself.

Jerry: What?

Kramer: You think that dentists are so different from me and you? They came to this country just like everybody else, in search of a dream.

Jerry: Kramer, he's just a dentist.

Kramer: Yeah, and you're an anti-dentite.

Jerry: I am not an anti-dentite!

Kramer: You're a rabid anti-dentite! Oh, it starts with a few jokes and some slurs. "Hey, denty!" Next thing you know you're saying they should have their own schools.

Jerry: They do have their own schools!

Iran does kidnap people!  

By Blogger Kat, at Tue Apr 03, 06:49:00 PM:

don't forget the economic situation inside Iran has gone from bad to worse.

My original analysis:

Economic Wafare: Iranian Economy and the British Sailors

One thing that you can't miss is that this crisis has precipitated an almost $10/bbl of oil increase just from risk assessments on the stock market alone.

I think that we are all trying too hard to second guess Russia's reason for pulling out of the Bushehr facility. Occam's razor says that the Russians were telling it like it was, or close enough to be the truth: they hadn't been paid.

In fact, a later article says that Iran was only able to come up with half of the monthly construction fee.

That coupled with other cash crunch issues, many ongoing efforts to crash and burn Iran's economic nad banking system tells me Iran is in a very difficult situation money wise.

I think that the IRGC knew what the sanctions entailed in terms of their own leadership and control services and businesses inside Iran. Not to mention the general issues like a falling oil market last quarter of 2006 and equally low compared to last years highs have put them in a serious bind. I think that because at least 50% (officially) of their revenue comes from oil and natural gas.

I think it had to do with the things you spoke of, but are very much more closely related to what the sanctions did to them economically.

A similar article appeared here:

The Guardian on Economic Warfare  

By Blogger K. Pablo, at Tue Apr 03, 08:58:00 PM:

This liberal trope about the U.S. "not willing to engage in diplomacy" with Iran, exemplified by Kevin Drum via HP, is hopelessly flawed. True, it provides an outlet for the characteristically sentimental yearning for negotiation and diplomacy mustered so readily by Carteresque liberals. But it is quite ignorant of both the mechanics of negotiation, and of the history of all prior relationships of the U.S. vis a vis the mullahs of Iran.

In the former instance, liberals NEVER recognize the value of "sticks" in a negotiation. Sticks are verboten, whether they take the form of economic sanctions or (heaven forbid) threatening military demonstrations. It's a Woodstock world out there to these Lennonists; imagine nothing to kill or die for. And no religion, too, especially not one of several disagreeable variants of imperialistic muslim totalitarianism.

And in the latter instance, ignorance of the history of prior AND CURRENT negotiations with Iran is rampant on the liberal side. TH provided an excellent precis of a lot of the eighties and nineties experience; it is noteworthy that contemporary liberal democrats are unable (or unwilling?) to learn from the failures of the Clinton Administration. It is still more disturbing that the EU is unable to learn from their own failures during the "Dual Containment" years.

Both Drum and HP also seem unable (or unwilling?) to recognize that a type of negotiatory style or regime has arisen over the past few years between the U.S. and Iran. I mean to say, a dialog of both actions and words is daily played out by both actors. Thus, e.g., capture of Qods Force personnel in Irbil is an ACT which has negotiatory impact in the diplomatic regime. True, this dance does not resemble the atmospherics of vintage U.S.S.R./U.S.A. summit meetings of the seventies and eighties, but it is the form contemporary diplomacy takes these days between the belligerents in question. Sentimental yearning for Kissingerian shuttle diplomacy, or Reykjavikian summits plagues the Worldwide Left; how insulting do they find it, since both of these mechanisms were established by Republicans?  

By Blogger honestpartisan, at Tue Apr 03, 09:26:00 PM:

Given that the U.S. hasn't had diplomatic relations with the Iranians since our own hostage crisis with them, I guess I am a little nonplussed to hear about all of this diplomatic history with them. I'd be happy to learn more about it.

What I do know about in terms of the back-channel diplomacy is that Reagan of Reykjavik fame sent arms to them in return for the release of hostages and that they were on our side as against the Taliban in 2001.

So whatever other problems diplomacy with them may entail -- and I don't doubt that they may have made Bill Clinton pace for a while -- it strikes me as churlish and self-defeating to rule out diplomatic relations with Iran (unless they fulfill conditions that we know they won't fulfill). If all options should be on the table as, contra KP, every Democrat is quick to declaim, then diplomatic relations are encompassed therein, too. Otherwise, talk about "verboten." Geesh.

Even Madeline Albright, who TH cites, believes this is the case regardless of her perception of their response to the apology for overthrowing Mossadeq (you can hear her discuss it in an interview if you click on the "listen" link on this page).  

By Blogger Dawnfire82, at Tue Apr 03, 09:42:00 PM:

There are Diplomatic Relations and there are diplomatic relations. We do *not* have Diplomatic Relations with Iran because they find it to be kind of a fun hobby to kidnap and slaughter American citizens pretty much whenever they want, whether in Lebanon, Iraq, or Saudi Arabia. Remember, Diplomatic Relations comes with Diplomatic Immunity. Giving such powers to the Revolutionary Guard and their ilk is beyond stupid. It's like inviting them to plan terrorist operations in the US with legal immunity. So yes, ruling out Diplomatic Relations makes perfect sense.

However, all countries with coinciding or conflicting interests have diplomatic relations. It's just a matter of changing the language from Ambassadors and summits to raids, warning shots, and military demonstrations.  

By Blogger Kat, at Tue Apr 03, 11:26:00 PM:

I think many people are surprised because there are two types of "relations": formal/normalized and informal through "diplomatic channels" of other nations.

England and Switzerland are two nations that have been "go betweens" for the US and Iran. Thus we are able to pass messages and at least share our displeasure.

Though, I believe that some of these "go between" sessions were in relation to travelers who were lost or had problems while they were in country.

We also, obviously had some sort of discussion with Iran prior to starting OIF and OEF. I recall some discussions about missiles following certain geographical locations, such as the mountains that divide the nations of Iraq and Iran since we did not have "fly over" rights from Saudi Arabia, our missiles had to be programmed to fly a very narrow flight pattern due to Iraq's narrow shore line.

Thus, you know we had SOME conversation with them.  

By Blogger Escort81, at Wed Apr 04, 10:17:00 AM:

There's a small chance that it's a false alarm, but it looks like the mini-crisis is over. Ahmadinejad says that he will return the detainees as a "gift" to the British people.

He also tries to take a page from Republican Party terminology (with respect to the female detainee):

"How can you justify seeing a mother away from her home, her children? Why don't they respect family values in the West?" he asked of the British government.

I don't think that there are many Republicans (or any Americans or Britons, for that matter) who are still troubled by females serving in the military (although whether it should be in front line combat / shooter positions is subject to more debate). Of course, Turney's family back in the U.K. would feel much better if the IRGC hadn't snatched her in the first place.

What a piece of work this guy is.

Looking forward to an after-action analysis / post-mortem in another thread.  

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