No Threat

In Robert Kagan's fine small book Of Paradise and Power, he uses a simply analogy to describe different attitudes toward the use of military power. If you are alone in the woods with an aggressive bear and have only a knife (Europe), you hole up at home and hope the bear stays away. But if you have a gun (America), you head out into the woods and hunt down the bear, so he that he can do no harm.

Today Victor David Hanson suggests that the European "knife" is now so small that these countries simply cannot project "hard power", nor make credible threats of force against rogue regimes. Political bodies like the UN and the EU have no recourse against the likes of Iran or North Korea because their member states lack any military credibility. And because NATO is so dominated by US power, it has ceased to function as an alliance.

Hanson's view is playing out in real time as the Iranian hostage crisis drags into Day Eight. Lacking any "hard" options, the British approach is to slap a happy face on events and say that Iran is overplaying its hand. British commentators like Gerard Baker suggest that internal Iranian politics are being played out on the world stage and that the longer British sailors and marines are held captive, the more strengthened are moderates in Iran.

From an Iranian perspective, the hostage taking does appear to have been perpetrated for domestic consumption. Hostage crises are popular in Iran and allow the Mullahs some latitude domestically to deal with the economic impact of the new UN sanctions. The Mullahs also know that European sentiment against American power will keep the British and Europeans in the lead on this so called crisis, and that Iran risks little in terms of further sanctions or military strikes.

This kind of calculation couldn't be made if the Brits and Europeans had the capacity to take a threatening posture. But they don't. So their soldiers and sailors become targets for diplomatic blackmail, while contributing little against terrorists or their host nations.