Saturday, January 16, 2016


A lot of people, mostly Obama-haters, never thought this day would come, or at least never thought it would come before January 20, 2017, but I've been expecting it ever since the Iran nuclear deal was announced:
Iran will release Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian and three other detained Iranian Americans on Saturday in exchange for at least six people imprisoned or charged in the United States, Iranian officials said, a swap linked to the imminent implementation of a landmark nuclear deal between Tehran and six world powers....

Secretary of State John F. Kerry frequently raised the plight of Rezaian and other imprisoned U.S. citizens during last year’s nuclear negotiations, but their release was not part of the resulting agreement between Iran and the six world powers: the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany....

The Americans’ release came as the International Atomic Energy Agency prepared to certify Iran’s compliance with the nuclear deal, triggering steps to lift U.N. sanctions against the country and return an estimated $50 billion in frozen Iranian funds. (Tens of billions more in frozen funds are to be used to pay Iranian debts.)
We're told that the prisoners' release "was not part of" the nuclear deal. Officially, that may be true, but I've imagined all along that the release was worked out as part of the deal negotiations, and that the Iranians just wanted to put some distance between the announcement of the deal and the release.

Republicans, of course, said the prisoners had been abandoned by the Obama administration, a view echoed by Very Serious People who claim not to be right-wing partisans.

I thought the release had been delayed by the Iranians as a means of saving face, but now I assume the delay was tied to the lifting of sanctions.

Thank you, President Obama and Secretary Kerry, for staying the course, and for keeping cool as the haters howled.

But now what are we supposed to think about this week's capture of a U.S. Navy patrol boat by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, and the quick release of the boat and crew by the Iranian government? Glenn Greenwald is pointing out that the official story has changed:
When news first broke of the detention of two U.S. ships in Iranian territorial waters, the U.S. media ... uncritically cited the U.S. government’s explanation for what happened. One of the boats, we were told, experienced “mechanical failure” and thus “inadvertently drifted” into Iranian waters....

The U.S. government itself now says this story was false. There was no engine failure, and the boats were never “in distress.” Once the sailors were released, AP reported, “In Washington, a defense official said the Navy has ruled out engine or propulsion failure as the reason the boats entered Iranian waters.”

Instead, said Defense Secretary Ashton Carter at a press conference this morning, the sailors “made a navigational error that mistakenly took them into Iranian territorial waters.”
Greenwald doesn't believe the new story, either:
It is, of course, theoretically possible that this newest rendition of events is what happened. But there are multiple reasons to suspect otherwise. To begin with, U.S. sailors frequently travel between Bahrain and Kuwait, two key U.S. allies, the former of which hosts the Fifth Fleet headquarters; these were familiar waters.

Moreover, at no point did either of the ships notify anyone that they had inadvertently “misnavigated” into Iranian territorial waters, a significant enough event that would warrant some sort of radio or other notification.... Beyond that, “misnavigating” within a few miles of an Iranian Guard Corps naval base is a striking coincidence....
I don't believe it, either -- but I don't think it was a sinister act. The parties to the nuclear deal have been working out the process of lifting the sanctions on Iran; my guess is that this incursion by the U.S. Navy was a test of Iran's goodwill as this moment approached. Hardliners ultimately didn't control the process, the Iranian government resolved the crisis swiftly -- and so our sense that we can work with these these guys was confirmed. Plausible?


This was obviously the result of Obama administration diplomacy, but I wonder if some Republican -- Trump? Cruz? Santorum? Tom Cotton? -- will claim that the prisoners were released because the Iranians have looked at the polls and are now certain, as Ted Cruz said in this week's debate, that the next commander in chief will be a tough, manly Republican. That would be plausible, right? They're so scared of a GOP administration that they'd release these prisoners ... a year before our next presidential inaugural?


Ten Bears said...

It's long been my observation that Benghazi!TM was a Romney/Ryan attempt to stage a reprise Reaganisque October Surprise, so it wouldn't surprise me in the least if this were another attempt to manufacture a crisis that would reflect negatively on Obama/Clinton.

mlbxxxxxx said...

I have a hard time believing that they'd risk the lives of 10 American sailors like that. Not sure I'd approve, if they did.

I had wondered if the other hostages might not be resolved as our relations thaw and, voila! Did not expect it to happen so expeditiously, though. I'm interested to learn how/why this new development is yet more proof of the weakness and fecklessness of Barack Obama.

Victor said...

The Iranians aren't worried about having a GOP POTUS in 2017.

Hell - LOL! - they got their greatest deals from GOP Presidents!
Reagan sent them missiles.
Papa Doc Bush took on Saddam over Kuwait, and destroyed a good chunk of Iraq's military.
And Baby Doc Bush gave them Iraq on a silver platter (on a Chinese Credit Card).

The Iranians made the best deal that they could at this time, with Obama.

And if we put in a GOP President, they'll do what the North Koreans did! And that't to wait until the new GOP idiot gets us involved militarily somewhere else, and, like North Korea, restart their nuke program while our attention is focused somewhere else!


Tom239 said...

Plausible? My guess is no. It doesn't seem like the right risk to take, nor the right moment to take it at. And if it was intentional as you speculate, I imagine that whoever ordered it wouldn't do it again if they could go back. Even though it turned out better than when Iran detained British seamen in 2007, pics of a US crew kneeling do not look good.

Steve M. said...

I have a hard time believing that they'd risk the lives of 10 American sailors like that.

I'm just thinking that our troops are at risk when they're deployed, by definition.

Ebon Krieg said...

In the long run we must look at a counter. Obama wanted this to happen on the eve of another boring debate.

Unknown said...

I think that it's not safe to conclude that the levels of byzantine complication, superficial inconsistency, and mystifying weirdness in all this derives chiefly or necessarily at all from the American or Obama administration side of this drama. There've been highly politicized and sophisticated human civilizations in Persia including around Tehran in the north central area of what's now called Iran for well over 3 millenia, going back to the Sassinid Empire that gave rise to the Phoenicians & Carthaginians & pre-Roman Spain, to say nothing of it influence into what are now Pakistan, India, and every place from Greece to China and the Mediterranean up deep into the steppes of Ukraine and the southern regions of modern Russia. Iran's a big, old, complicated, REPUBLIC-based (checks-and-balances designed) state with enemies on all sides everywhere from contiguous to it and to far from it (us, in particular in 1953 and thru the 1980s).

IOW it's now always about us.

Do people really think that's escape the notice of key government institutional players in Iran that our countries have enjoyed our mutually MOST positive and progressive relations in times when we've been under American Democratic administrations (particularly under FDR, at least prior to WWII, and to an extent during that really didn't injure the relationship), and that, in contrast, our mutual relations were plunged into the most existential danger when we've been under American Republican administrations (the CIA coup in 1953 when Ike was president, the Reagan & GHWB admins' active funding of Iraq in the context of Iraq's attempts to invade Iran and depose the Islamic State in the Iraq-Iran War thru the 1980's)?

This prison-release/prisoner-exchange theater may have a lot less, even nothing, to do with the politics over here, and a lot more, perhaps everything, to do with the politics there. In addition, there's real complications involved in the relationships among Iran, Putin's Russia and the Assad regime in Syria, and 'prisoner exchange theater' is something we know that the little thug in Moscow admires.

Ten Bears said...

Uhmmm... it didn't happen on the eve of another debate, it happened on the eve of his farewell State of the Union address.

Ebon Krieg said...

stupid me...

Yastreblyansky said...

Unknown's point is central and needs to be reinforced. Iran has lots of politics of its own, and legislative elections coming up on February 26, for not only the parliament but also the Assembly of Experts that will likely name the next Supreme Leader. The extraordinary speed and discipline with which the foreign ministry accomplished their job in implementing the agreement has everything to do with President Rouhani's positioning his liberalizing faction to do well. The reactionary hardliners have been hoping to torpedo the deal for the same reason, just like their GOP counterparts here in the US, and it was a hardline force, the Revolutionary Guard Corps, that captured the US Navy boats. They were never going to harm the Americans, just try to provoke a lot of screaming, but somebody from the Supreme Leader's orbit came down on the side of Rouhani and the deal and forced them to let it go.

But in Iran too, all politics is local. When the history is written, I think it will say that Obama's and Kerry's greatest merit on the foreign policy side has been their ability to recognize this in a way and with a depth no US administration ever really has. (Including the secretaryship of Hillary Clinton, I'm afraid; and I don't have much faith in Bernie Sanders on this either.)

Yastreblyansky said...

That was kind of a downer place to stop. I should add the progress made in this administration is something that's not going to be undone if Clinton or Sanders is elected.

Ten Bears said...

We would do well to recall that Iran, regardless the narrative, is not the aggressor. Discounting Reagan's engineered "October Surprise", Iran hasn't started a war, hasn't invaded anyone, has pretty much minded their own damned business, for going on seven hundred years now.

They would have been well within their rights to blow those boats, and those sailors, right out of the water.

Any day now, we will be tested, and found wanting.

tgchicago said...

I agree with Tom239. Highly unlikely this happened like you suggest, Steve. Are troops at risk every time they're in the field? Sure. But you don't add to their risk exponentially just to try out a theory. All it would take is an itchy trigger finger -- on either side -- for this to potentially snowball way out of proportion. That's not a reasonable risk.

Plus, how does this go down the chain of command? What commander is going to say "Oh, I'm supposed to just send my troops into Iranian territory to let them get picked up? No problem!" If such a scenario got out -- and all it would take is one wingnut in the chain of command to leak the info -- it would fuel all sorts of already-simmering "Obama wants to destroy the military" conspiracy theories on the right. And the fire would start to spread out of the rightwing bubble.

It's just outlandish. Ridiculous.

And an aside to Ten Bears: while I agree with the broad strokes of your view of Iran, to say they mind their own business without a mention of Hezbollah is... incomplete at best.

Ten Bears said...

I can accept that, I am often obtuse.

But that opens up another can of worms.