A commenter on arrse - the army forum - has it about right, I think:
I am pleased they have been released, but it raises so many questions.If the personnel involved followed their rules of engagement, they can't be blamed for their capture. The fact that they were so exposed, though, is a failure for which the responsible officer should be held accountable.
It has shown the Navy and the government in such a bad light.
Why were they not protected, the hele had returned to ship, why did we not have heavily armed patrol craft. Why did the captives look so happy.
The whole thing was shambolic from start to finish.
I have no doubt that Blair & Co will say nothing and brush it under the carpet and our compliant media will do the same.
The service chiefs will also say nothing till they have retired.
There is no excuse for their sycophantic behaviour towards the Iranians in front of the media. They allowed the Iranians to look stronger, and paternalistic. One sailor refused to smile during the release photo opportunity, and he should be commended. Again, on arrse, someone copied in a quote from The Times:
"The seizure of hostages is based on an ancient tradition first practised by early Islamic conquerors. The Arab general Saad Abi Waqqas realised that Muslim fighters were awestruck by the Byzantine soldiers in the early stages of Islamic conquests in the 7th century. He solved the problem by putting captured Byzantine soldiers on show to demonstrate that the “Infidel” were fragile men, not mythical giants."Whether or not the historical parallel is reasonable, this episode made an elite regiment look weak, and that endangers us all.
And of course, those who rush around trying to find someone - anyone - to surrender to are making hay:
Yesterday even the giant union jack pinned up behind the group could not hide the fact that Iraq has been a British defeat and that this episode has been part of it.And yet, even so, and in a way they didn't intend, even this commentator touches on a difficult truth:
The army, which has borne the brunt of the conflict in Iraq and in Afghanistan, has undergone a huge change since the end of the cold war.To restate this, the armed services have been forced to accommodate social changes and political imperatives that have rendered them less stoic, and less capable, than they would otherwise be. One example has been the increasing use of civilian law to judge military actions. This has imposed on soldiers in combat situations a requirement to behave in a manner appropriate for the streets of Britain, and not a battlefield. In the process, our military is being psychologically crippled.
Warfare, in the form that the government has chosen over the last decade, has made much wider demands on loyalties and skills - and in the main, the armed forces have responded impressively...
The military, unlike reactionary commentators this week, have also come to terms with a world in which it is natural that men and women serve together.
Essential martial values of aggression and tenacity still exist, of course. The units fighting in Afghanistan have been winning impressive skirmishes against often more numerous, and always fierce, opposition. If headlines dwelt on those aspects of military performance, rather than on the inevitable casualties, we'd be a stronger nation and - ironically - the forces faced by our troops would be less confident and less successful. We are endangering our military through our institutional weaknesses. I commented on this few days ago, in a more general context. Failure and weakness are being taught to children, and are lauded as virtues.
The world is not getting safer; we are not in some kind of "post-military" society. Winning a campaign - overwhelmingly and rapidly - is not loss, and so we have not lost in Iraq - we have overthrown Saddam and a new democratic government has replaced him. Voter participation in Iraq is higher than it is here. Sunni insurgents, many of them former Ba'athists, guarded the polling stations during Iraq's last elections, and some Arab tribal leaders who were previously allied with Al Q'aeda have started fighting them instead. The troop surge seems to be working.
We won the war. There is now a second struggle going on - a collection of forces, some aided by or proxies of Iran and Syria, are attacking the Iraqi government, and we're helping keep order while the Iraqis develop proper internal security. As this goes on, we will be able to complete our successful program and withdraw our troops as we intended.
As Benazir Bhutto commented on a recent edition of Question Time, if as looks probable this proves to be a successful, if difficult and protracted, campaign, history will judge Bush and Blair to be statesmen who brought democracy to the Middle East.
Tony Benn sat in the background, shaking his head as Bhutto spoke. As well he might. History will judge him to have been a cheerleader for tyranny, and a supporter of the forces of intolerance and brutality. Benn, The Guardian and The Independent are on the wrong side of History.
But if we cannot reverse our national love affair with weakness, our children won't be in a position to enjoy this verdict.