On January 12th, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard seized two U.S. naval patrol boats with ten sailors aboard. The vessels had evidently strayed a little over a mile into Iranian territorial waters. Iran released the sailors a day later, but not before trying to reap as much propaganda value from the incident as possible. The semiofficial Fars news agency claimed “the American ships were ‘snooping’ around in Iranian waters.” The captors photographed the sailors after they were evidently forced to their knees with their hands over their heads. The display of such humiliating photographs of disarmed military prisoners is arguably a violation of the Geneva Convention.
Iran used the incident to send a message to Congress – don’t even think about instituting new sanctions. "This incident in the Persian Gulf, which probably will not be the American forces' last mistake in the region, should be a lesson to troublemakers in the US Congress," Major General Hassan Firouzabadi, head of Iran's armed forces, was quoted as saying by Tasnim news agency.
This incident followed the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s provocative firing late last December of missiles within 1,500 yards of the Harry S. Truman aircraft carrier, which had been traveling in international waters.
Secretary of State John Kerry put a happy face on the release of the sailors. Kerry thanked the Iranians for their “cooperation” and characterized the positive outcome as proof that the diplomacy leading to the nuclear deal had paid off.
“I want to express my gratitude to Iranian authorities for their cooperation in swiftly resolving this matter,” Kerry said. “That this issue was resolved peacefully and efficiently is a testament to the critical role diplomacy plays in keeping our country safe, secure, and strong.” Evidently, the humiliating photographs were of no consequence to the Secretary of State. All he could say was thank you. And he did not revise his prediction that the lifting of sanctions imposed on Iran is just "days away."
Kerry had been in contact with his Iranian counterpart Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, asking him to intervene to help bring about the sailors’ release. Denis McDonough, the White House chief of staff, pointed to the constructive relationship that had developed between Kerry and Zarif during their negotiation of the nuclear deal. “Secretary Kerry’s aggressive and early engagement in this, and open channel that he had and he has with his foreign minister counterpart is important,” McDonough said.
Such expressions of good will are pure spin. In reality, the Iranian regime is continuing to twist the Obama administration around its little finger. Kerry had to figuratively get on his own knees to implore the Iranians to release our sailors whom had been disgracefully photographed on their knees. Iran insisted on an apology, which the commander of Iran's Revolutionary Guards naval forces said Iran had received, although the Obama administration has denied that claim. Meanwhile, far from Iran apologizing for its own provocative firing of missiles very close to a U.S. vessel while it was operating in international waters, an Iran Revolutionary Guard spokesman accused the United States of engaging in "psychological warfare" with its comments about the near-miss from the missile firing.
Talking about missiles, Iran had insisted on a time certain of 8 years for ending the UN Security Council ban on Iran’s missile program as a condition for finalizing the nuclear deal. Yet within 3 months of the deal’s announcement and endorsement by the Security Council, Iran flagrantly violated the ban, which is still in effect, by testing a ballistic missile capable of delivering a nuclear weapon. It did so again in November. The Obama administration groaned and complained to the Security Council, where nothing was done to enforce its past resolutions. The administration devised some unilateral sanctions, but put them on ice indefinitely. The administration astoundingly agreed with Iran’s position that the missile ban was not part of the nuclear deal itself, even though Iran had made the eventual lifting of the ban a condition for moving forward with the deal!
The Iranian regime had nothing to lose from releasing the sailors after reaping the benefits of their propaganda coup. Iran released the sailors to remove a potential obstacle to ending its economic isolation, not because of a mutual Kerry-Zarif admiration society. All Iran’s leaders really care about at this time is getting their hands on the frozen $100 billion plus in Iranian assets and having the oil and financial sanctions lifted. As Kerry had said, this was expected to happen in a matter of days, triggered by Iran’s demonstration to the International Atomic Energy Agency that it has complied with key milestones. The milestones include Iran sharply reducing its uranium enrichment program and decommissioning its Arak heavy-water reactor so that Iran would not be capable of producing plutonium for a nuclear bomb.
The Obama administration is touting the sailors’ release to prove the worth of its negotiations with Iran and to divert attention from at least two unpleasant facts. American hostages, including a pastor and a journalist, are still languishing in an Iranian prison. And, as mentioned above, Iran continues to flout UN Security Council resolutions and the spirit, if not the letter, of the nuclear deal by testing missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons.
President Obama’s appeasement and malignant neglect of Iran’s escalating provocations have made the United States into Iran's hostage. As Arthur L. Herman wrote in the National Review:
“Tehran clearly views America with contempt, pegging us as a feeble former superpower trapped in death-spiral decline. Our own president sees us the same way, so why shouldn’t one of our leading enemies?”
President Obama claimed in his final State of the Union address that “our standing around the world is higher than when I was elected to this office, and when it comes to every important international issue, people of the world do not look to Beijing or Moscow to lead -- they call us.”
As to Iran, President Obama said that “as we speak, Iran has rolled back its nuclear program, shipped out its uranium stockpile, and the world has avoided another war.”
Obama is living in a state of delusion. The world is far less safe than when he took office. Jihadists have metastasized with ever more lethal attacks globally and bases spreading throughout the Middle East and parts of Africa, thanks to Obama’s feckless “lead from behind” policies. And Iran will soon receive huge windfalls to pay for its proxy wars and to develop or procure missile and explosive device technologies without any consequence. The world has not avoided another war any more than it did with Neville Chamberlain’s “peace for our time” proclamation. At best, Obama’s nuclear deal has kicked the can down the road, placing our children and grandchildren under the constant threat of a nuclear armed Iran.
Hopefully, Obama’s damage to the security interests of the United States is not beyond repair. That will depend in good measure on the determination and good judgment of our next president - one who does not live in Obama’s state of delusion.