The 15 British sailors and marines who were held for the better part of two weeks by the Iranians should thank their lucky stars that they were under the command of Prime Minister Tony Blair, as opposed to President George Bush.
Blair believes in diplomacy. And he and his aides employed it ably to secure the safe release of the sailors and marines with a minimum of trouble.
Bush makes a point of rejecting diplomacy. He condemns those who would dare even to speak with the Syrians or Iranians – most recently House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, whose meetings with officials in Syria happened to coincide with Syrian moves to encourage the release of the British sailors.
Bush, a foreign policy incompetent who in thick of preparations for his Iraq War was still trying to figure out the differences between Shiites and Sunnis, probably does not understand that, in addition to Pelosi, other U.S. officials were helping the Brits behind the scenes. No one seriously suggests that it was a coincidence that, as the Brits were being released, the U.S. was quietly agreeing to allow the International Committee of the Red Cross to visit five Iranians seized by U.S. forces in Iraq in January under disputed circumstances.
Indeed, while Bush and his dwindling circle of apologists will try and suggest that diplomacy had nothing to do with the release of the Brits, Bruce Riedel, a former Middle East expert for the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Council who now works with the Brookings Institution, a former CIA specialist on the Middle East, says, "There's certainly a circumstantial case that the Iranians, at least, have some assurances that the five Revolutionary Guards in Baghdad are going to be treated in a different way than they have."
Asked if the Iranians had been given assurances that the men in U.S. custody would be treated differently, Riedel said, "I think it's self-evident that there is at least an understanding..."
"An understanding?" You mean like what comes after behind-the-scenes negotiations? You mean like what you get when countries that disagree with one another try to sort out those disagreements without resorting to violence?
You mean like, gads, the byproduct of engaging in diplomacy?
Perish the thought, at least from George Bush's mind.
In the end, it's a good thing that Bush is out of the loop. He can rant and rave about how Iran and Syria should be isolated, while others – including Blair and the still-functioning remains of the U.S. State Department – efficiently deal with the challenges and the opportunities presented by the real world.
John Nichols' new book is THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure forRoyalism. Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson hails it as a "nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic [that] combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use ofthe 'heroic medicine' that is impeachment with a call for Democraticleaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by thefounders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"