There is Life Before Violence
The first rule of international diplomacy has always been: identify your national strategic interests.
The second rule is similar to the first: identify everyone else’s strategic interests. For a long time, the objective here was to determine where the other country’s strategic interests ran up against your own and therefore where you had to be ready to fight if necessary.
This is still the motive for some applications of the second rule. For the Bush administration, the rule seems to hold for Iran, North Korea, Syria, Cuba, Venezuela, and an assortment of other countries that have decided not to jump any more every time the White House says “boo.”
Into this category, more and more, one has to place Great Britain. Early on, the public rhetoric was blunt, demanding, even vaguely threatening about the hostages’ fates and possible retaliation. The reported absence in Iran of extensive news coverage early in the crisis suggested that the Iranians were not seeking an excuse to go to war with the UK. But they were making a point internationally: claiming (or reclaiming) part of the upper Gulf where Iran, Iraq, and Kuwait overlap. It was constant but low key negotiation, discussion, horse-trading, whatever one wants to call it, that ended the stand-off over the 15 UK sailors and Marines “arrested” by Iranian Revolutionary Guards two weeks ago.
Iranians and the British have been at loggerheads for well over a century. The British originally were not so much oriented on Iran itself but on the “jewel in the crown – India. The real opponent was Russia both in Afghanistan and in Iran. Ironically, having left everything “East of Suez” in the 1950s and 1960s, the British remained heavily engaged diplomatically in The Persian Gulf as dictated by their strategic interests – cheap, easily accessible, reliable petroleum.
As a petroleum-devouring “cookie monster,” the U.S. also has vital strategic interests in play in the Gulf. Unlike London, however, Washington finds itself paralyzed largely because it has no (or few) diplomatic initiatives on which to build, causes around which to rally other governments, or – indeed – consensus between Congress and the Executive on the next steps in the hot wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Before leaving 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW for his retreat at Camp David, Bush castigated Congress for going off on their Easter recess while the supplemental appropriations bill is still in joint committee awaiting reconciliation of dissimilar provisions. A key provision reportedly in the original House bill would have barred the president from starting a war with Iran until he had consulted Congress. The proposed legislation, while not specifically requiring a declaration of war, could well jump-start that currently dormant “genteel” custom of old – and even go so far as to bring the country full circle to the 1780s and the original Founding Fathers.
And in the “I’m glad you asked” category, Senator Robert Byrd proposed Senate Resolution 39 on January 24, 2700, “Expressing the sense of the Senate on the need for approval by the Congress before any offensive military action by the United States against another nation.”
So hang on. It’s going to be a bumpy ride. But it seems to be underway.