The 15 in Iran

I didn't comment on the capture of the Naval personnel in the Gulf, because I think it's fundamentally a bad idea to make such a big deal out of it. It becomes impossible to use military force effectively if you're prepared to look at your troops as hostages that way.

If the 15 had been killed by Iraqis two weeks ago the media would pretty nearly have forgotten them by now. If they'd been killed by Iranians, there would be a bit of fuss, but everybody knows that people get trigger-happy on borders sometimes, and it would probably be on the way to blowing over by now.

The British government has been made to look very foolish, not so much by the way the situation was handled, but by getting into it in the first place. It does seem to demonstrate that Blair believes his own propaganda - that Britain has a perfect right to be in Iraq, and no-one else has any right to interfere. As I've said before, while Britain's intervention can be defended, Iran's taking steps can be defended just as well. Britain's right to be in control of southern Iraq rests at least in part on possession of superior force. That being the case, there can be no excuse for the navy wandering around the Shatt-Al-Arab with its hands in its pockets as if it was the Serpentine. The accounts I have seen seem to indicate that the boarding party should have been well able to defend itself if not caught unprepared, and that in any case plenty of force was available to protect it had it occurred to anyone that it might be needed. That the party was caught both unprepared and unprotected suggests to me that they did not understand they were in a hostile part of the world among people who did not recognise their God- or UN- given right to be there bossing people around. I find that lack of awareness extremely worrying.