Few of the young Marines we meet here are old enough to remember what happened to the U.S. Embassy in Tehran 32 years ago this month. But the "old guys" do. That's why senior officers and noncommissioned officers here had a déjà vu moment when images of Iranian "students" sacking the British Embassy in Tehran flashed around the world this week.
Iranian regime officials, the ayatollahs' propaganda organs and most of the Western media described the perpetrators as students. But those who stormed and trashed the British diplomatic mission weren't really scholars at all -- unless matriculating in mayhem, mass intimidation and murder is considered a legitimate academic pursuit in today's Iran. According to expatriate Iranians with whom I have spoken, the entire event was planned and carried out by members of the Basij militia -- the "civilian auxiliary" of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.
These aren't students. They are Islamist thugs supported and directed by the regime in Tehran. In 2009, they were the primary mechanism for brutally suppressing popular discontent after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was re-elected to the presidency after widespread voting irregularities. Then, Western media outlets were barred from covering the massive street protests. Visual documentation of the confrontations -- as with those taking place in Syria today -- was generally limited to what could be captured by protesters using cellphones, small hand-held cameras and social media outlets.
That's not what happened at the British Embassy in Tehran this week. Iran's state-controlled television network cameras and reporters arrived before the so-called students and their government handlers began shouting "Death to Britain." Government security personnel and police -- responsible for providing security for diplomatic facilities -- initially did nothing to prevent waves of berserkers from breaking in to the compound, smashing their way into buildings, dumping documents from broken windows and burning a diplomat's vehicle. It was only after the interlopers seized six British diplomats inside the embassy that the police intervened.
Though the six Britons were released within six hours, the reaction in London was immediate. After withdrawing all remaining official government personnel from Iran, Prime Minister David Cameron expelled every Iranian diplomat -- giving them just 48 hours to vacate British soil. Washington's response was, well, flaccid. Our president, apparently speaking without the aid of a teleprompter, made the unusual demand that the Iranian regime should "hold those responsible to task." Whatever that means.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, speaking at an international aid conference in Seoul, South Korea, carried the tough talk even further. She described the invasion of the British Embassy as an "affront" and condemned the attack "in the strongest possible terms."
Meaningless words such as those have become the Obama administration's default position for a string of egregious acts committed by the theocrats in Tehran over the past three years. The O-Team's limp reaction to the latest International Atomic Energy Agency report showing significant advances in Iran's nuclear weapons program was so tepid that Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. Senate are actually working together to toughen unilateral U.S. sanctions against Iran's Central Bank.
None of this bodes well for a region of the world where U.S. influence and presence diminishes every day. There are now fewer than 12,000 U.S. troops remaining in Iraq -- and all of them are due to be out by the end of the year.
That's why the Marines here are constantly asking questions that begin with the words "What if." Thinking ahead is a hallmark for members of our armed forces. No one in uniform wants to be assailed for preparing to re-fight the "last war." But it's difficult to be ready for the next fight when all of our military services are facing potentially catastrophic budget cuts.
None of the Marines we spoke with at this "Crossroads of the Marine Corps" is predicting they will have to fight a ground war in Iran. But they also know that the theocrats in Tehran are completely unpredictable.