Editor’s note: In light of Iran’s taking 15 British soldiers to Iran National Review Online asked a group of experts: Is this an act of war? What can be done? What can be done about Iran generally? What can the U.S. do?
Nikolas K. Gvosdev
“Demonstrating to Tehran that adventurism will come at a cost will provide our diplomats with the leverage they need to force Iran to negotiate and make concessions.” So wrote Congressman Jim Saxton (R., N.J.) for The National Interest this past January.
It is sound strategic advice. But it runs up against one of Sun Tzu’s classic maxims: “Do not swallow bait offered by the enemy” — the approach Tony Blair and his government appear to have adopted, at least for now.
So much of the Iran debate — and even over the present crisis — seems to be a series of Tevye-the-milkman style “on the one hand, on the other hand” discussions. Even NRO contributors can’t agree. David Pryce-Jones says the British were inspecting an Iraqi cargo vessel and that “British sailors carrying out such a duty are no concern of Iran’s.” Mario Loyola, in turn, wonders whether the Iranians were responding “to a carefully planned provocation of our own.”
What much of discussion on Iran is avoiding is the reality that there is no cost-free solution. No magic airstrike, no deus ex machine covert operation, no “grand bargain,” no display of Security Council unanimity over anemic sanctions, is going to result in an Iran that gives up its nuclear program, ends support for terrorism, stops its pursuit of regional hegemony and creates conditions for the disappearance of the Islamic Republic — and none of the options now on the table can guarantee that there won’t be profound negative consequences for U.S. interests. So let’s stop the posturing and get down to business of telling both our policymakers as well as the American people in general that Iran policy is going to be about deciding what the least bad option is — and let’s have no more illusions about that.
Fifteen Britons sitting in detention in Tehran should make this abundantly clear.
– Nikolas K. Gvosdev is editor of The National Interest.
The Iranian abduction of 15 British soldiers in the Shatt al Arab area was intended to trigger a regional crisis. Iran’s strategic objectives are clear: First, to precipitate a British action ending in a projected political disaster. Second, to get Britain out of Iraq, thus isolating the U.S. in the region. Coupled with U.S. domestic pressures, Iran intends this event to trigger a swift U.S. withdrawal from Iraq.
The looming economic sanctions, the capture of Iranian agents in Iraq, defections, and internal discontent with Ahmedinejad moved the mullahs make this bold move in their game of chess with the U.S., the U.K, and their regional allies; but it is only their latest move in the ongoing war they are waging.
In response, a multidimensional campaign should be launched, systematically yet gradually, instead of a single retaliation. Along with vigorous diplomatic pressures, the Coalition should formally condemn the regime and call for its isolation. It must create an unbalance of power with Iran via regional deployment while extending an emergency program of support to democracy forces within Iran, including a serious opposition broadcast.
– Walid Phares is a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.
The Iranian government’s decision to take 15 British marines hostage is an act of war. The decision was both deliberate and central. The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps is not a rogue element. The regime created it to conducts the operations which the leading clerics did not trust the army to execute.
That Iranian decision makers took such a step is not the result of too little diplomacy, but rather too much. Since Germany launched its critical dialogue with Iran in 1992, European countries have showered the Islamic Republic with apologies and incentives to compromise. Rather than abandon terrorism as a tool of state or reconsider its clandestine nuclear program, the Iranian government has redoubled its efforts to defy. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s May 31, 2006 offer to engage Tehran resulted not in a suspension of uranium enrichment, but rather public gloating by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei about U.S. weakness. Nor did the British “softly-softly” approach toward Tehran or its proxies in Basra bring peace in our time. Rather, it convinced the Revolutionary Guards that the British were targets of least resistance.
While Western diplomats seek an elusive formula of concessions and incentives, the fact remains that the Iranian regime has yet to offer a single confidence-building measure. Freelance proposals by Swiss diplomats are no substitute.