I really haven't been following Iran's detaining of 15 British sailors and marines, now released, but I did see (with the sound off) ten seconds of a Brit on Iranian television narrating in front of a large map, presumably explaining how his ship had blundered into Iranians waters. He displayed the perky body language of an enthusiastic young Communication Studies major auditioning to be an ingratiating TV weatherman, which was reassuring. If the Iranians had been beating him with saps too much, he probably wouldn't have been so damn Katie Couric-like chipper. (On this YouTube clip, he's the second marine, the one who comes on at 19 and 52 seconds.)
So, if you are Iranian, how would you induce Stockholm Syndrome in your prisoners? I'd guess that all it take to play Good Cop is to be less horrible than the Bad Cop Americans are to their detainees. They "were not physically maltreated in any way" according to the Guardian (although it might be too early to be sure of that). Don't waterboard the poor Brits or stack them in big naked piles and they'll be so relieved they'll think you're just swell.
Leon Hadar had a prophetic article in The American Conservative a couple of months ago, "The Persian Gulf of Tonkin Incident," reviewing the confused story of the murky 1964 event that allowed LBJ to get Congressional backing for a bigger American role in Vietnam. The first North Vietnamese attack on a U.S. destroyer was probably provoked by U.S. commando raids on North Vietnam, while the crucial second attack probably never actually happened, just nervous sailors unloading on something out in the dark. LBJ laughed, "“Hell, those dumb, stupid sailors were just shooting at flying fish.”
We know now that the Brits' mission was to go up to near the watery border between Iran and Iraq territorial seas and collect intelligence on Iran. Looking at this motley crew, they wouldn't appear to be crack commandos assigned to infiltrate Iran, but they might have blundered over the unmarked and disputed border at sea.
"If the incident occurred where the MoD claims, the British position appears strong but there are sufficient uncertainties over boundary definition to make it inadvisable to state categorically that the vessel was in Iraqi waters at the time of the arrest," said Martin Pratt, of Durham University's International Boundaries Research Unit."
With a GPS system, you should be able to avoid that, but mistakes get made in the military. Or the Iranians might have blundered the other way. Or maybe it was part of a complicated Iranian plot to respond to American abductions of Iranians.
In any case, best to just call it all off rather than fight a war over it.
Judging by the palpable disappointment of Bush supporters at the benign outcome of the crisis, they must have wanted this to be a new Tonkin Gulf. But, as Dr. Phil would say, how'd that last one work out for you?