Iran releases our sailors, but the damage is done

Last night I decided that I would finish watching the State of the Union address (as distasteful as the task might have been) and retire for the evening without writing anything. This was in keeping with my recent determination to not allow myself to push my blood pressure into even more dangerous territory, along with being mindful of my wife’s wishes that I spend less of 2016 screaming at my television and frightening the cats. This was a particularly challenging test because ten of our sailors were being held captive by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, with the nation holding its collective breath to see what would happen next. Juxtapose that with the image on our television screens, as the presumed Leader of the Free World droned on and on about his success in dealing with Iran and securing an important nuclear deal. To describe the moment as surreal fails to do it justice.

When I awoke this morning the sailors had still not been released, despite assurances from the Iranians that they would be freed when the sun came up. That deadline had long since passed and more current reports claimed that they were being “interrogated” by the Revolutionary Guard. Finally, shortly before six in the morning on the east coast, the news came that our sailors were back in international waters. (NBC News. Some emphasis added)

Ten U.S. sailors detained in Iran have been released, according to Iranian state media.

The sailors — nine men and one woman — were held overnight Iran’s Farsi Island. They were taken into custody Tuesday when their two small U.S. navy riverine vessels drifted into Iranian-claimed waters during a training mission.

A statement from Iran’s Revolutionary Guard read aloud on state TV on Wednesday said the sailors had been released back into international waters after the U.S. apologized and clarified the incursion was unintentional.

Tehran earlier had hinted that the sailors would soon be freed when the country’s navy chief said he didn’t believe “harmful” moves were at play when their boats entered Iranian waters.

Given that Iranian state television is somewhat sketchy in their faithful dedication to accuracy (to say the least), we’ll need to get some confirmation from the American side of the negotiations. But if that report is correct then this is a disaster. Did someone from the State Department actually apologize to the Iranians to get our sailors back?

I saw some of the President’s apologists on social media last night trying to explain how we shouldn’t overreact to this, seeking to draw comparisons to other instances where Americans have been held in foreign hands. These included the imprisonment of a Washington Post reporter (also by the Iranians) and Bowe Bergdahl. Allow me a moment to point out why such comparisons are flawed. It’s true that when civilians are held by nations like Iran and North Korea it is an outrage, but it also falls into the byzantine world of diplomacy. Accusations of espionage, laughable as they may be, have to at least be given the appearance of serious consideration. The case of Bergdahl was another matter because he was a member of our military, but he wasn’t being held by a “nation” in a known location. He’d been captured by terrorists and held captive in the wild while we searched for him.

This is entirely different. A foreign nation used their uniformed military to seize two United States vessels, take ten of our sailors into custody and interrogate them. They failed to promptly release them and made demands which they insisted should be met before such a release would take place. This was, in virtually every sense of the word, an act of war. It is not lessened by the fact that it was all over in a matter of fourteen hours or so. All of this can be stacked up on top of Iran’s other recent provocations, such as “test” firing live missiles in close proximity to one of our aircraft carriers. And these people are supposed to be our new “partners” at the international negotiating table?

I probably do have something of a tendency to overreact to this particular Iranian offense for personal reasons and I was reminded of that last night. These ten Americans are sailors and so was I. To make matters worse, I’ve never lost the memory of circling for months on end on an aircraft carrier in the Arabian Sea during the summer and fall of 1980 when Iran held some other Americans hostage. So yes… I suppose it’s personal. But that doesn’t make what they did any better.

What could Iran have done differently? Nearly anything would have been an improvement. If our “partners” saw two of our small vessels in their water they could easily have approached and asked if the sailors required assistance. If the answer was yes, then help could be rendered. If our sailors declined they could have remained in the area and waited for another US vessel to arrive (even in Iran’s territorial waters) and toss out a tow line or remove them. Try to imagine for a moment what would happen if one of our actual allies, such as Great Britain, had a ship drift into the waters off our coast. Would we be seizing their sailors and interrogating them? Hardly. At most we’d offer to bring them over to our ship for coffee while repairs to their vessel were completed. And if they didn’t want to visit we would wait around to ensure their safety and then see them on their way. But Iran is not our ally nor are they our “partner” in any way, shape or form.

If we go through with lifting some of the sanctions on Iran next week after this incident then there is no reason for any of our allies or our foes to take us seriously. And if we actually did apologize to Iran for this event and now do nothing in response then the United States is, quite simply, a joke on the world stage.


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