Via Andrew Sullivan, Scott Horton recounts a question he asked yesterday during a conversation with a British diplomat:The British are no doubt pleased that their personnel are coming home (though frankly that was inevitible) but let's remember that this hare-brained scheme to capture important Iranian officials not only failed, resulting in the seizure of lower-value personnel, but it almost got some American soldiers killed, pissed off the Kurds-our only real allies in Iraq-and resulted in the capture of 15 British personnel in retalation. Whatever "lesson" we hoped to teach the Iranians with this stunt, has been returned in kind to us, and the Iranians have demonstrated their willingness to up the ante in any games we desire to play with them.What were the prospects for a resolution of the current dilemma through a prisoner exchange — namely the 15 British sailors and marines seized by Tehran for the six Iranians held by U.S. forces in Iraq? The question drew a broad smile and this comment: "If everything develops as I hope it will, then about a week from today people may very well be speculating that this is what has happened. They might very well think that. Of course, government representatives would be at pains to convince them that there is no relationship between the releases, because it is the position of each of the governments involved that there can be no quid pro quo when it comes to hostages." That's about as close as a wiley diplomat would come to saying "yes."Now that's entirely likely — though I have to say that Horton's diplomat doesn't really sound all that wiley to me. In fact, a resolution like this sounds very Cuban Missile Crisis-ish: we get something we want in exchange for giving them something we were probably planning to give them anyway. After all, how long were we planning on keeping those Iranians we detained a couple of months ago? Probably not much longer.
Don't get me wrong. There's absolutely nothing wrong with putting pressure on Iran, diplomatically and whatnot, to give up it's quest for nukes. But the fact remains that Iran, thanks to the Iraq war and the Lebanese war last summer, is now in a much stronger position than it was only four short years ago. As a consequence our efforts must be carefully calibrated to provoke the desired response. But there are hawks in Iran too, just waiting for an excuse.
UPDATE: Speaking of provocations, ABC corroborates Seymour Hersh's claim that we are working with Sunni terrorists launching attacks in Iran (via TPMmuckraker):
A Pakistani tribal militant group responsible for a series of deadly guerrilla raids inside Iran has been secretly encouraged and advised by American officials since 2005, U.S. and Pakistani intelligence sources tell ABC News.Where's that funding coming from then? According to Hersh, it's coming from the Saudis, who have no problem sending money to Sunni terrorist groups including, possibly, Al Qaeda. And what is Jundullah anyway?
The group, called Jundullah, is made up of members of the Baluchi tribe and operates out of the Baluchistan province in Pakistan, just across the border from Iran.
U.S. officials say the U.S. relationship with Jundullah is arranged so that the U.S. provides no funding to the group, which would require an official presidential order or "finding" as well as congressional oversight.
A tall and heavily built man in his early 30s, [Attaur] Rehman was associated with Islami Jamiat-Talba, the student wing of the Jamaat-i-Islami. He later broke away from the Jamaat to form his own militant group, Jundullah (Army of God), which draws its cadres mainly from the educated and professional classes.As you can imagine from their affiliation, these people are not our friends:
According to police, Rehman is closely associated with Al-Qaeda's network in Pakistan, which has grown in strength despite the capture of hundreds of its operatives over the last few years.
Nine activists of the newly formed Jundullah militant group, detained in connection with the attack on Karachi Corps Commander last month, have disclosed that they had planned to attack the US Consulate-general in Karachi besides targetting vehicles carrying US military cargo at the Karachi Port, an intelligence official said.That was 2004. Do you think they've come around since then?
Look, I know how these things work. Sometimes you employ unsavory people to get important things done. After all, the Afghan mujahadeen were "allies" of convenience for a time. But once they'd run the Soviets out some of them went on to target us.
It's hard to explain to people just how nutty the melding of the war in Iraq and the "war on terror" has been. But you get a sense when you look at results like this. We're now funding a terrorist group affiliated with the same terrorist group that attacked us on 9/11 and that we are supposedly at war with, because they are opposed to a country that we don't want to have nukes. Something about selling one's soul to the devil comes to mind here.
UPDATE II: There's some chatter that the resolution of this standoff over the captured sailors is a "victory" for Iran. Here's Kim Ponders on the incident:
Despite the despicable parading of the British troops, this incident was a publicity win for Iran and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Iran looked strong, savvy and in control. Britain looked weak and slow to react. And the US looked like a lawless world dominating bully.While I'll agree that Iran looked "strong, savvy and in control" I think this Washington Post analysis also makes some good points:
...Iran is also likely to pay a long-term price for the detention drama, again appearing to undertake rogue actions in violation of international law, experts and officials said. In the end, Iran recognized that the crisis was beginning to exact a cost, as it came under pressure even from allies and other Islamic countries, officials and experts said. Even Syria urged Iran to release the Britons, Syrian and U.S. sources said.In other words, Iran probably succeeded in sending a "message" to us (not that that'll deter anyone in this administration) but they've also fanned the flames of their nuke issue that much more, and reminded other countries-including ones important to their interests in the Middle East, like Syria-that as much as those countries may hate us, they still have good reason not to trust Iran. So a "victory"? Maybe for today, but probably not for tomorrow.
"They are so consumed with short-term issues -- how to undermine the West and how to gain leverage -- at the expense of long-term strategy. They have undermined themselves," said Karim Sadjadpour of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "They're playing the immediate moves of checkers and not the long-term strategy of a chess game. In the long term, it undermines their ability to attract foreign investment and have good relations" with the outside world.
UPDATE III: From Garance Franke-Ruta at Tapped, more evidence of a swap?
An editorial from the exceptionally pro-Cheney Sun, titled "Quid Pro Quo," also picks up on this interesting exchange:Hmmmm...we'll add that to the file titled "Interesting."On Tuesday Iraq and America freed an Iranian "diplomat" they had been holding, and the next day Iran turned around and announced it would release the 15 royal marines it had been holding hostage. Whether there was a connection was the question on everyone's mind yesterday. Ann Compton of ABC News put it directly to Vice President Cheney in an interview touching on the royal marines. "Do you think there was any quid pro quo for their release?" she asked. "I don't know," Mr. Cheney responded. It was an interesting response, given that Mr. Cheney presumably has access to a lot of information about this sort of thing and that if he had wanted to deny flatly that there had been a quid pro quo, he could have answered, "no."I seriously doubt the Sun would have flagged this passage if it had any reason to think an exchange didn't happen.