Sticks and stones

Like a lot of people, I was outraged when it was revealed that the United States and Iran had had its first face-to-face diplomatic talks this week — on Memorial Day, of all days. The fact that we had chosen to break decades of opposition with a nation that has killed so many Americans on the day when we honor those who died in our nation’s service seemed, to me, a grotesque insult to their sacrifice.

In retrospect, though, I am starting to wonder if it was such a bad move.

Theodore Roosevelt famously said “Speak softly and carry a big stick, and you will go far.”

Will Rogers once defined diplomacy as “the art of saying ‘Nice doggie’ until you can find a rock.”

It now turns out that the timing of the talks might have been deliberate, but not because of Memorial Day. Because it turns out that the very same day that we sat down with Iran in Iraq to discuss their conduct inside Iraq, the United States Navy was waving around a very big stick.

Actually, two very big sticks.

A United States Navy Aircraft Carrier Strike Group (CSG) is, quite bluntly, the most powerful, most potentially devastating, most destructive force ever assembled in history. It consists of an aircraft carrier, about 90 warplanes of various models and capabilities, one or two cruisers, a squadron of two or three destroyers, one or two submarines, and non-combatant support ships.

Five days before the talks started, two of these forces sailed unannounced through the Straits of Hormuz into the Persian Gulf, along with an Amphibious Task Force. (Hat tip to Charles, who needs no linkage but deserves it anyway.)

This force is nowhere near sufficient to invade and occupy Iran. But it represents enough firepower to — if I may use the appropriate military terminology here — blow the motherloving shit out of large portions of the country. I would hazard a guess that within a week of all-out effort by the 20,000 sailors and Marines in these groups, Iran’s military capabilities would be reduced to somewhere between “a pot to piss in” and “jack shit.”

And those forces are hanging out just “below” Iran, off their shores in the Persian Gulf, sharpening their bayonets, rattling their sabres, and smiling evil grins.

Even more to the point, the ships crossed the Straits on the day that marked the precise expiration of a 60-day “grace period” the UN granted Iran over its nuclear weapons program.

Yeah, I wish the talks had been postponed a single day, to avoid their coinciding with Memorial Day. But in the bigger picture, I think that the timing was pretty damned good.

Now we just need to see how things play out. But I think that they’re off on the right foot.

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Double crossed