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A Gentler, Softer Iran

Filed under: Middle East

Now that Iran is planning to release the 15 captures British sailors, the blogosphere's post-mortem is already beginning. It's necessary to look back over the past few weeks and ascertain just exactly how this began, what was went wrong and right throughout, and especially what should have been done instead. Austin Bay, for example, takes a look at this in the context of the intelligence operations wars between the United States and Iran.

In fact, most people are looking at this entire affairs in those terms. The U.S. has taken a few of their guys, so they took some Brits. It's all a huge effort to humiliate us, and especially our governments, by testing just how pacifist they'll be in dealing with the situation. Given how long this dragged out and the response they received, I'm willing to bet that the mullahs are feeling pretty smug and snug right now.

Another benefit that Iran got out of this was the media attention. Austin Bay describes the entire crisis as a diversion from other pressing issues like UNSC sanctions and the developments of Tehran's nuclear weapons program. No doubt this is true, but more importantly, Iran knew what to do with this media attention. All cameras on the crew, Ahmadinejad worked the Western public.

While most people are adamant that the sailors were forced to confess and act happy on camera, or were just too unwilling to resist, unless they say otherwise in the freedom of their homeland I am absolutely convinced that the Iranian government treated them with the utmost respect and generosity. It only makes sense. Though the media is now redirecting attention to the hostage crisis rather than sanctions or nuclear weapons, Iran has been using the attention to convince the Western public that indeed Iran does not deserve such sanctions or treatment. While the British and American governments talk about the unacceptability of Iran's actions, people are seeing video confessions and smiles. Some people don't know what to think. On the one hand, according to our governments, Iran is the arch-enemy of Western civilization. On the other, it's all right there -- Iran is treating the sailors with great respect and their capture was just a mistake.

Unlike the Iranian government, the Western democracies are actually susceptible to public opinion. While at least a majority of people won't believe a word that Ahmadinejad says, there will always be the internationalist, anti-American Left that does. Furthermore, as the legitimacy of the Bush Administration and Tony's Blair's government continues to crumble as the war in Iraq continues, more and more doubters are likely to appear. Doubters of the West, that is.

The reason that sanctions have been steadily moving forward at the UN Security Council is because America has brought the Europeans on board. But if Ahmadinejad can convince enough of the European public that indeed the entire affair was a misunderstanding on their part and that the British sailors were treated well, then -- against all evidence of rampant human rights abuses in the country -- people will believe that Iran is not such a bad place. Why should we place sanctions on it, or consider it a renegade country trying to blow up the world with nuclear weapons? There will no longer be large support for it, and if we can use history as any precedent, the Europeans will quickly back away from any further action. Game, set, match.

There is no way to know what the now-released British sailors will say once they've been debriefed. But one thing is certain -- they will be the most sought after people in the media. Iran knows this. Do not be surprised if they tell all of Britain that they were not tortured, forced to confess, and kept in a jail cell. Do not be surprised if they tell us that they were treated with respect, fed well, and allowed to play games. Do not be surprised if they say that they freely confessed to crossing into Iranian territorial waters after being told that there is no clear agreement specifying the border. And last, do not be surprised if they think that Ahmadinejad is a pretty swell guy after they met with him.

It would be a lie if they didn't say that if it were true, because to them Ahmadinejad actually is a pretty swell guy and gave them a pretty leisurely accidental capture. That's their own personal story. But they would also be naive to believe that it is the overall policy of his government, that their treatment is the rule rather than the exception.

They are just pawns in a greater strategy to disarm Western civilization, not through nuclear weapons, but through the media.

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