Administration officials described Iran’s handling of the incident in glowing terms, suggesting that its quick resolution was a positive effect of the nuclear deal concluded July 14 in Vienna. Secretary of State John Kerry went so far as to suggest to Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif that the narrative of how the incident was resolved would benefit Tehran’s image, a senior State Department official told reporters Wednesday.
Administration supporters in the media and elsewhere piled on, accusing conservatives of a “freakout” over the incident, which “looks a bit silly now,” as the Washington Post put it.
“Compared to a similar incident in 2007, this was handled much more quickly and with a minimum of fuss. It’s almost as if U.S. diplomacy toward Iran has yielded some benefits or something,” Tufts University professor Daniel W. Drezner wrote Wednesday in the Post.
But the gap between their perceptions and reality is a lot wider than the Persian Gulf, where Iran has been exploiting the waterway’s relatively tight confines for decades to its advantage with little pushback from the United States or anyone else. Since the 1980s, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps has been aggressively targeting shipping in the Gulf, even naval vessels, to expand to the greatest extent the perception that Tehran controls its waters.
The 2007 incident to which Drezner referred involved a British Royal Navy boat seized by the IRGC in disputed waters off Iraq. The 15 sailors aboard were held for 13 days, publicly humiliated and reportedly also were mistreated before being released.
At the time, U.S. naval leaders warned Iran not to try the same with any of their vessels.
“We’ve got procedures in place which are very much designed to carry out the mission and protect the sailors who are there, and I would not expect any sailors to be able to be seized by the Iranian navy or the Iranian Republican Guard.” Adm. Mike Mullen, then the chief of naval operations, told CNN.
That red line was crossed Tuesday when the IRGC seized the two U.S. Navy patrol boats near Farsi Island, which sits in the middle of the Gulf along the main shipping routes from Kuwait to Bahrain, where they were headed. The boats appeared to have strayed into Iranian waters after some kind of mechanical breakdown, and also lost communication with military commanders, though many questions remain about why this occurred.
The seizure was one of several tests of U.S. resolve that the Obama administration has failed since the nuclear deal was signed. It came less than two weeks after a snap Iranian live-fire exercise sent rockets flying less than 1,500 feet from the carrier Harry S. Truman as it was entering the Gulf through the Strait of Hormuz. Iran also has twice tested advanced ballistic missiles barred by U.N. Security Council resolutions and even went so far as to threaten to withhold compliance over a new U.S. law tightening the visa waiver program to better screen out suspected terrorists.
In each case, the administration has not only failed to act but in many cases has defended Iran for fear of jeopardizing Tehran’s compliance with the nuclear deal. There’s no evidence that the White House plans to delay for a minute the lifting of U.S. sanctions under the deal, which could come any day now.
With his reckless and ill-conceived nuclear deal, Obama has done something even the Iranians have not dared do: He has made all Americans hostage to their ambitions.