Belmont Club

Let's make a deal

Michael Ledeen has come out and said what’s been circulating on the grapevine about the release of the Qods detainees in Iraq to Iran. “I’ll Give You Dozens of Terrorists, You Give Me One Journalist, OK?” Ledeen writes:

It’s a bit more complicated than that, but the bottom line is that we are turning loose Iranian terrorists in exchange for the release of Roxana Saberi, plus, probably, three British hostages. The first payment arrived today in Tehran, to a triumphant reception. Ugh. The terrorists in question are officers in the Iranian Quds Force, the foreign arm of the Revolutionary Guards Corps. They were captured in Irbil, Iraq, in January, 2007, as the “surge” was getting under way. …

But then Roxana Saberi was thrown into Evin Prison in Tehran, and the Obama Administration started negotiations with the mullahs. I have been told that the key office in the American Government was Vice President Joe Biden’s, and that the Swiss Government (our official liaison to Tehran) played an active role. In early May, the deal was arranged: more than thirty Iranian “VIP” detainees would be released (first to the Iraqis, then to the Iranians), and then, in the fullness of time, several hundred (repeat, several hundred) others of less importance. Within days, Iraqi leader Maliki flew to Iran to work out the details. Saberi was quickly released, and the triumphal return to Iran for the Five was scheduled for shortly after the Iranian elections. …

The British hostages are yet another complicating factor. The Iranians held five of them, civilian workers rounded up in Iraq. The Iranians demanded the release of some of their terrorists in Guantanamo, and various other humiliating acts by the British Government, including, at last report, public endorsement of Ahmadinezhad’s “reelection.” As the negotiations played out, the Brits made a series of gestures to Hezbollah, and asked us to release various Iranian prisoners, from Guantanamo to Iraq (Qazali apparently being one such). Last time I checked, two of the unfortunate British souls turned up dead. Perhaps the failure to accept Iranian conditions explains the recent vitriol against the British government.

It may be argued that critics don’t know the “whole picture”; that the President with all his sources of secret intelligence, has reasons of his own for releasing the Qods, which if we but knew would explain everything. Maybe. But there’s another explanation which also fits the facts. Maybe the Obama administration is just going through the complicated dance of containing Iran to satisfy some constituents while trying to mollify Iran, to satisfy other constituents; with a lot of little side deals thrown in for extra measure, just to keep the special pleaders happy. War — if you can call it that — by lobbyist and committee. It is erroneously believed that politicians want definite outcomes like “victory”. That would be too simple. Politics doesn’t do poster colors, only shades of gray. It is already being openly said in Britain that Gordon Brown is simply pretending to fight the War on Terror. Open disgust is rife within the British Army, according to distinguished military historian Max Hastings, who says that Brown’s government is being accused of simply keeping up the appearances of fighting in Afghanistan while in reality abandoning it. Hastings writes:

At the heart of the Army’s anger is a belief that, because Gordon Brown has never been enthusiastic about either the armed forces or the wars to which Tony Blair committed them, he is trying to conduct operations at bargain-basement prices. Soldiers pay with their lives for his cynicism. No prime minister likes having to pay bills for wars, which are always hugely expensive. But historically, governments which have committed the nation to fight have accepted the cash consequences of doing so. …

Soldiers are robust about casualties, even the painful losses of recent days. ‘Risking our lives is what we get paid for – sometimes we must expect to lose them,’ as one put it to me at the weekend.

But it is another matter to be obliged to shed blood because ministers grudge mere cash for equipment, helicopters and troop numbers – and to feel that the Ministry of Defence has been entrusted to third-rate politicians.

‘What we are saying to the Government’, in the words of a senior officer, ‘is that it must resource this war properly, and start sounding as if ministers believe in it.

‘If they do not, then why should our chaps at the sharp end be taking the losses and sending mates home in body bags?’

What fool would fight wars without wanting to win them? Who captures prisoners in order to release them? Too bad we can’t ask Robert Strange McNamara, who died only recently. He might have known the answer. Maybe winning is so yesterday. Perhaps everything is about sending messages., trading signals. In the calculus of politics lives and money are fungible. You can trade one for another. The objective function that must be maximized is votes. In fact, the BBC says “Brown is also coming under increasing pressure from Labour backbenchers to scale back his planned multi-billion investment in Trident to help deal with Britain’s escalating debts.” It’s entirely possible that in the aftermath of an unanswered nuclear strike on Britain, the first question that will be asked among surviving politicians in the bunker is how to win the first post-apocalyptic election. For politicians, winning is not the most important thing; it’s the only thing. That means compromises; Roxani Saberi’s release means votes!  Perhaps the saddest thing about history is that political dealmaking maps so poorly into the binary world of battlefield life and death.

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