Why Iran Did It (Or, Bill O'Reilly is an asshole)
Bill O'Reilly is an asshole. I don't think I need to explain myself if you've seen this recent explosion of bloviating arrogance.
Of course, the reason O'Reilly exploded (besides being an asshole) is fairly obvious: the Bushies, the theo-conservatives, and the rest of the pro-torture right have been defending frequent US violation of the Geneva conventions on prisoners of war. It is therefore now impossible for the US to take the moral high ground against Iran. By torturing prisoners in US custody, the United States has been in frequent violation of Geneva. Granted, Iran has also been in frequent violation of International Human Rights law of all sorts, but that was never the point. Of course the Iranian government tortures people! They're the bad guys! That's what bad guys do! But the United States ceded the right to lecture other countries on following the Geneva conventions when its official policy became to openly and consistently violate the conventions. The United States has joined that list of nations that used to be known less than ten years ago in America itself as "the bad guys."
This is why O'Reilly exploded. He knows that all of the above is true, and that no amount of spin can get him out of the ideological hole he's dug himself. So the only thing he has left to do is pull out all the usual tricks - "You're blaming America!" "You're attacking America!" "You hate America!" and on and on - that have served him so well. People aren't buying it anymore, Bill. Your particular brand of bullshit went out of style in November of 2006. Get with the program. What Bill should really be angry about is the fact that the Bush administration has just handed all of its most vile enemies a huge propaganda victory. No longer can the United States condemn them with any credibility.
Iran definitely had a reason for this little diplomatic game. My theory at this point is that they knew they could embarass the hell out of the United States. Britain faced some embarassment itself, as it is generally thought that Britain is likely not capable of winning a war with Iran on its own, and this incident reinforced that perception. But the United States came away from this the far greater loser.
Throughout the standoff, no one seriously seemed to believe that this was going to escalate into a war because it is well known that the United States is in no condition to fight a war with Iran. It would certainly will militarily, but occupying the country is simply out of the question at least until Iraq has been dealt with, and even then it would likely prove impossible. If you think Iraq is particularly bad, you obviously haven't thought about the Vietnam-waiting-to-happen that is Iran, which is more than double the size of Iraq. So a military strike against Iran was never seriously on the table.
Moreover, the United States was alienated from the entire process. Its own flouting of the Geneva conventions was drawn out into the open when they started to lecture Iran about them. US credibility was futher hurt when the prisoners were released unharmed earlier today, unlike many of the prisoners in US care. Not only had it ceded its credibility on the issue of Geneva, but Bush and co.'s tough-talking stance was actually a set-back, according to the Brits. In other words, "Go away, George, you're not helping."
The Iranians never had any intention of provoking an incident. They simply wanted to watch Bush and Blair squirm for a few days, as well as make it clear that they are prepared to defend themselves if attacked. That's my theory, anyway.