So the 15 British sailors and marines held by Iran will apparently be released. This strikes me as the least expected outcome, since I assumed that the Iranians who were foolish enough to detain these people would also want to maximise the propaganda value of their captivity for as long as possible. Sad to say, that is what Mr. Bush would do and has done with our own detainees. However, the overwrought display of clemency by Ahmadinejad (not one generally associated with clemency) is a very nicely calculcated move, as if to say, “We have so much leverage over you that we will be magnanimous and give you a little gift.” The only way that Tehran could have humiliated the British more than by holding the detainees was by releasing them as a goodwill gesture, managing at once to defuse the ‘crisis’ and deflate to some degree the anti-Iranian rhetoric that these people are all soulless monsters. All of the people hyperventilating about the uselessness of NATO, the EU, the UN and the British Government all now appear to be fairly silly, insofar as the ‘crisis’ to which they failed to respond “effectively” (i.e., by massively counterproductive sanctions and/or military action) was resolved quickly and without recourse to the usual hamfisted attempts to intimidate and bludgeon this or that country. The jingoes have lost their latest pretext for a war with Iran, which will not by any means diminish their enthusiasm to find another one.
All this said, the gullibility of some people in the antiwar movement that Faye Tunney’s letters were genuine or “eloquent” (!) has been as stunning as the particularly pathetic de rigueur outrage that the Iranians are holding a woman captive. As for those letters and her interview, the big giveaway for me (besides the obviously staged nature of her “confession” as Tunney stares at what must have been her cue card or script) was the frequent use of the word “compassionate,” as if the Iranian propagandists were trying to find the English word that most epitomises the opposite of what most Westerners associate with the Tehran government. As for the other phenomenon, we are supposed to simultaneously think the Iranians brutes for capturing the woman sailor, while deploring a mother’s lack of willingness to fight to the death for (allegedly) the sake of Iraqi territorial integrity, while actively pretending that there is nothing at all strange about sending a mother on patrol in potentially dangerous waters.
Ahmadinejad’s “family values” line works so well rhetorically because so many people in the West know just how crazy it is to have women on patrol and in potential combat zones, but you wouldn’t have heard a single pundit, particularly none on the right, say peep about this. Virtually every conservative pundit has learned to mechanically utter the set phrase, “our servicemen and women,” and they all know that right-thinking people no longer make a great fuss about having women in what could potentially be combat situations. Why, that’s the sort of thing Jim Webb used to do (as George Allen so lamely tried to argue in ’06), and if there’s one thing that unites conventional conservative pundits it is reflexive opposition to whatever Jim Webb believed or believes. Naturally, Sullivan still distinguishes himself with the most asinine comment about the entire affair:
The only downside for Ahmadinejad was his ugly, stupid statement about women servicemembers. But it may go down well with the D’Souzaite masses in the Middle East.
D’Souzaite masses? The masses in the Middle East are probably not likely to identify with a secular Westernised intellectual with a Portugese last name–just guessing!
The remark wasn’t ugly or stupid, except to a utopian egalitarian who thinks that mothers should be sent to the front lines (apparently because they have nothing better to do, such as, say, raise their children). It was a valid observation made for completely cynical, self-serving purposes by a demagogue who cares no more about “family values” necessarily than he actually cares about destroying Israel; these are useful things for him to say to play to the sentiments of the crowd and embarrass the foreigners (which also works as a crowd-pleaser in pretty much every country), but Ahmadinejad must fundamentally be a survivor and a smart manipulator if he has lasted as long as he has and climbed to the position where he is.
Had the Iranians taken an extreme opposite route and executed the fifteen as spies or for whatever other made-up charge they could think of, that woman’s child would grow up to tell people, “My mother died to keep the Shatt al-Arab under the control of the Iraqi ‘government’ controlled by Iranian influence.” And there are actually a lot of people, at least over here, who think that would be a worthwhile sacrifice, and they would say as much, right before they decry the breakdown of the family.
Note on the use of language: many people have referred to the detainees as hostages, which doesn’t have much difference in the way of real meaning historically from detainee, but it carries with it strong emotional and moral connotations. To detain someone sounds vaguely legal or appropriate (thus when pro-administration flacks speak of the torture of prisoners, they always speak of “treatment of detainees” rather than, say, ”abuse of hostages”), while to take a hostage sounds aggressive and vicious, because we have become accustomed to thinking of hostage-taking as relating to terrorists or bank robbers taking civilians hostage during their attacks (or as the main target of their attacks). However, applying this sense of hostage to captured soldiers or sailors is perverse and ridiculous, much as it was idiotic how every media report referred to the “kidnapping” of Israeli soldiers in the summer of last year, as if the captured soldiers had been picked up after school by a strange man offering them candy.