In a piece by the New York Times posted on 27 December 2011, we learned that the Obama Administration is going to allow the embattled Yemeni leader Ali Abdullah Saleh to receive state of the art healthcare in the United States before facing any of his numerous legal ramifications. Various people have different opinions on the medical treatment of personnel we regard as “enemy’. I know on the battlefield, it seems counterintuitive to offer medical treatment to the enemy when you have plenty of American soldiers who have been wounded or killed (often by the same enemy fighter’s actions) and yet both get treated in the order that they come into the gate; regardless of political allegiance.
But I’ve seen first hand that the offer of medical aid by the United States is actually the most formidable weapon system we have in a counterinsurgency and counterterrorist environment. So much of our success in these fields is out of our control, but actually in the hands of the local populations who either tolerate or are intimidated into supporting anti-American elements. Whether it’s the leader of an unstable country, or the leader of an unstable tribe, the adage from our kindergarten days holds true: you attract far more flies with honey than vinegar.
You could certainly also argue that accepting Saleh into our hands and treating him medically further exacerbates the anger and resentment of the people of Yemen. Why should this elite receive care from a foreign government when he has clearly neglected his own people for the past couple decades? That being said, a journey of a million miles begins with one step, and Saleh no doubt still has influential supporters–alienated from politics, though entrenched in other legitimate and illegitimate businesses– who will look at this act and remember it in their future decisions in the Arab world. And it could keep us safer in the long run. Interested to hear your thoughts.
But when it was China who had captured a US aircraft earlier this decade, there was at least some underlying assumptions that, no matter how tense our relations may be with China at any given point, our two nations clearly have so many common economic interests that an all out conflict was really not probably in the short term over this matter. In fact, as I reference the Chinese take-over of the American aircraft in early 2001, most readers probably don’t even remember it. To refresh your memory, read here: Spy Plane Standoff
That all being said, now that it is Iran who has refused to return a captured drone, instinctively, Iran is walking a fine line between sovereignty and provocation. But the interesting question in my mind is, what would happen if the tables were turned? What would (does) the United States do when uncovering espionage attempts from foreign countries? Well, when it happens, it remains largely a secret. When your enemy knows that you are aware of his current attempts and procedures, the enemy adapts and continues to transform in a game of cat and mouse. But in even the most rudimentary counterintelligence training I’ve received, rule number one: don’t change your behavior…at least not at initial discovery.
What this tells me is Iran is falling into one of two categories
1) It has tremendous inexperience with counterintelligence and doesn’t know when or how to use its discoveries
2) It’s looking for attention
My limited experience in this space tells me that drones and unmanned vehicles are prepped for loss of communication and malfunction. After all, it’s a robot flying thousands of feet above the surface, and often hundreds or thousands of miles away from its operators…mistakes are assumed to happen. Thus, the actual capture of the drone is of little relative value to Iran, and this isn’t really much of the story that everyone seems to be making of it. But then again, I’m not the guy in the hot seat.