Sometimes it pays not to play Rambo.
Several voices in the media have been critical of the conduct of the recently released British service members captured by Iran. Among those critics is retired U.S. Army Colonel Jack Jacobs, MSNBC military analyst and Congressional Medal of Honor Winner.
On Friday, Jacobs castigated the British sailors and marines for allowing themselves to be captured without putting up a fight, and for cooperating with Iranian propaganda efforts.
I'm very glad Jack Jacobs wasn't with that British boarding party.
Pavlov's Dogs of War
Right wing blog NewsBusters provides a partial transcript and a video of one of Jacobs's Friday interviews:
I don't know where to begin, I've gotta tell you, that was the most disgusting, disreputable, dishonorable performance I can remember in more than forty years of my relationship with the military service. I think every man, every woman who wears the uniform, or who has ever worn the uniform of his country, no matter what country it is, ought to be disgusted by this… And I can tell you that my feelings are almost undoubtedly echoed by everyone I know who's worn the uniform.
Well, no, Colonel. Some of us think that the British sailors and marines played the situation as smartly as it could have been played by anyone.
At a press conference with six members of the recently released boarding party on Friday, Royal Marine Captain Chris Air said, "Let me be absolutely clear: From the outset, it was very apparent that fighting back was simply not an option… We were not prepared to fight a heavily armed force who, it is our impression, came out deliberately into Iraqi waters to take us prisoner."
The "heavily armed force," according to Air, consisted of eight Revolutionary Guard speedboats armed with heavy machine guns and rocket propelled grenades. "We realized that had we resisted, there would have been a major fight, one we could not have won with consequences that would have had major strategic impact." (Italics added.)
Bingo. By committing themselves to a battle that would have led to their certain slaughter, the British boarding party would have created a far more shocking international incident than the one that actually occurred. Mr. Bush might have used such an incident to justify a full scale naval and air strike on Iran.
As to the "confessions" that they were in Iranian waters, Royal Navy Lieutenant Felix Carmen said "We were interrogated most nights, and presented with two options. ... If we admitted we had strayed, we would be on a plane back to the U.K. soon. If we didn't, we faced up to seven years in prison." He also said "At all times, if you listen carefully to what we said, we always used words like 'apparently' or 'we were perceived' or 'according to this evidence.' At no time did we actually say, 'We apologize for intruding in Iranian waters.' At all times, we stuck to our guns, and we were conducting our operations legally."
And it's obvious to anyone familiar with prisoner of war resistance techniques that the sailors and marines who made taped statements were sending clear verbal and physical cues that they were speaking under duress.
The 15 British sailors and marines are home safe now. Thanks to the level headed thinking of a small team of junior British troops, led by a Royal Marine captain and a Royal Navy lieutenant, they did not turn into a cause for war by getting themselves killed in a hopeless battle, nor did they make themselves into a critical vulnerability by becoming long-term hostages.
With all due (and well deserved) respect to Colonel Jacobs and his magnificent service record, he displays the classic symptoms of the Pavlov's Dogs of War syndrome. Like many U.S. military officers of his generation, he can think analytically about military and foreign policy issues, but only up to a certain level. At some point, his cognitive processes short circuit and migrate from the head on his neck to somewhere below his belt.
In a written commentary, Jacobs wrote "one can recall few instances in recent memory in which a group of uniformed service members acted with less professionalism and more dishonor."
Jacobs seems to have forgotten the laundry list of scandalous behavior by U.S. troops in Guantanamo, Iraq and Afghanistan. Guys like Jacobs have selective memories when it comes to grinding their pet axes.
Jacobs quoted the part of the U.S. Military Code of Conduct that says: "I will never surrender of my own free will. If in command, I will never surrender the members of my command while they still have the means to resist," and added "By contrast, these British geniuses surrendered without a shot being fired in their own defense."
These "British geniuses" were trapped in rigid rafts and armed with relatively small caliber side arms, and were surrounded by superior numbers of speedboats equipped with significantly superior firepower. They did not have the "means to resist." Nothing in the U.S. Code of Conduct or Standing Rules of Engagement requires an individual or a commander to commit certain suicide, and surrendering in the face of hopeless circumstances is hardly an act of "free will." The way Jacobs frames things, all fighting men and women who allowed themselves to become prisoners of war are cowards. One has to wonder how the survivors of the Baatan Death March or the Hanoi Hilton like being marked with that label.
In print and on air, Jacobs inferred that U.S. troops taken captive are sworn to only give their names, ranks, serial numbers and dates of birth. As a graduate of the U.S. Navy's Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) training, I can assure you that is not true. For hopefully obvious reasons, I won't go into details of what SERE teaches about resistance techniques, but from everything I've heard and read, the British captives were isolated from each other (contrary to Jacobs's assertions that they weren't) and the threat of seven years imprisonment if they didn't confess to having been operating in Iranian waters was an entirely credible.
The Brits had no hope of escape. Even if, unarmed and unequipped, they managed to slip their captors, they never would have made it out of Iran. They had no hope of rescue either. As good as the British Special Air Service commando force is, it couldn't possibly have snatched them from captivity deep inside of Iran. The captives' only hope was to seek release, and the best way to achieve that was to make the non-confessional confessions they made. As far as we can tell, they didn't give up any vital operational details or strategic intentions information that might have presented a security breach.
Jack Jacobs referred to Royal Marine Captain Chris Air as a "meathead," but the biggest meathead in this scenario is Jack Jacobs. Captain Air appears to be a modern warrior who understands the strategic consequences of tactical actions. Jacobs is an old soldier who thinks we're still fighting World War II, the kind of warrior who still thinks that "brave" and "smart" are mutually exclusive virtues, and who likes to hide his lack of intellectual integrity behind his combat decorations.
Note to MSNBC: it's time for Jacobs to fade away.
Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Read his commentaries at Pen and Sword.