UK Has Limited Options in Iran Hostage Standoff
Thomas Harding, the London Daily Telegraph‘s Defence Correspondent, argues that the British government has few viable options in its attempt to force Iran to return the 15 marines it is holding hostage. “Military action is unfeasible without American support and so is a military blockade of the Gulf. Unless the United Nations shows more rigour, sanctions are unlikely to hurt Iran in the short term” and therefore it is feared that “the 15 could be in for a long stay in Iran and face the nightmare prospect for Britain of a show trial.”
The phrase, “Unless the United Nations shows more rigour” is presumably rhetorical, unless Harding is referring to rigor mortis. Thus, the ball is the Tony Blair’s court and, if he so choses, George W. Bush’s.
Walid Phares believes that Iran took this gambit hoping to “trigger a regional crisis” and “precipitate a British action ending in a projected political disaster.” He recommends that,
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.
Various other expert contributors to the NRO symposium on the crisis advocate even stronger measures. Still, I think Nick Gvosdev is right that ultimately this “is going to be about deciding what the least bad option is.”
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.
The United States government should work with the Brits to calculate the least bad option. If a naval blockade is part of it–and I’m skeptical that it is–we should support it. Coming to a solution to the Iran mess is at least as much in American interests as Britain’s, notwithstanding the fate of 15 hostages.
While I agree with Ray Takeyh that our ultimate Iran policy is going to have to accept that they are a major regional power and agree to détente, that must come at the price of the regime playing by the basic rules of the international community.