Iran’s swift processing of US sailors. Why the outrage?

Last week, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps [IRGC] captured, processed and returned two US Navy boats along with 10 sailors. Apparently, one boat had engine trouble and drifted into undisputed Iranian territorial waters, while sailors on the other boat were preparing to assist. The incident began just two hours before President Obama’s final State of the Union Address and just days before the lifting of US-led sanctions on Iran and the return of billions of dollars in frozen assets.

There has been an incredible outcry—especially from anyone who opposes the Iranian nuclear deal and Republican presidential hopefuls—all of them campaigning on an anti-Obama platform. sailors_on_knees-01These individuals insist that the US has nothing to apologize for and that Obama should have retaliated for the humiliation directed at the sailors. They were disarmed and briefly forced to kneel down with arms folded over their heads.

Others have pointed out that airing videos of the sailors in a submissive posture and broadcasting one sailor explaining that their treatment was excellent and that the territorial incursion was accidental—including the words “We apologize for that”—was a further sign of a weak and ineffective president.

Like anyone viewing the Iranian video, I cringe at seeing US service personnel in a submissive posture. But, I wonder on what planet the disarming of soldiers illegally entering a territory on the military boat of a foreign power constitutes an unreasonable response? sailors_on_knees-02With the exception of the video broadcast (it likely violates the Geneva Convention), there is absolutely no evidence that the Iranians were harsh or that the American response bears evidence of a weak US president.

Sure. The sailor’s apology should have been issued or cleared through his military command. It may have been coerced or a tacit condition for his release. But, let’s face it…If the Navy boat was truly adrift (that is, it was not on a mission to gather intelligence or to land and disembark), then it is fairly obvious that the staff would be sorry for the incursion, even if it was an accident or unavoidable.

I get that we are in the midst of a presidential campaign and I get that the Republican candidates are jumping over each other to demonstrate which among them is the supreme Anti-Obama. But c’mon guys! This isn’t rocket science…

  • These sailors drifted into hostile waters
  • Whether or not it was intentional, they certainly didn’t intend to be intercepted
  • Interception by an adversary is a reasonable procedure. It is expected!
  • Using a show of force to disarm foreign sailors and requiring them to sit still is a reasonable way to ensure everyone’s safety
  • Iran neither demanded nor expected concessions or payment for the release of these abu-ghraib-sservicemen
  • The sailors were believed and they were not forced to divulge military information
  • At no time were the sailors treated like we have occasionally treated prisoners at Abu Ghraib
  • The sailors were fed, processed and released within 14 hours to a foreign power; one with which Iran has grave misunderstandings and a hostile relationship.

How often does an enemy treat the military personnel of a foreign antagonizer with such deference and respect. especially after a suspicious incursion? (Yes! respect—even though they were made to briefly kneel down and surrender their weapons). Again, I ask: On what planet is this a bad outcome? On what planet would the initial event be unworthy of an apology?

This is not a partisan analysis nor a pro-Iranian perspective. My request to the US presidential candidates: Please grow up! I realize that Donald Trump cannot suddenly become mature, but to the other Republican candidates, I humbly request a semblance of truth and balance. Please suppress the urge to assert American exceptionalism or to characterize reasonable events as if they are the result of poor leadership.

Ellery Davies is editor at A Wild Duck and an occasional political wonk.

Apple’s Trade Embargo. Is it “racial” discrimination?

I generally shy away from trendy stories of the day. They are covered elsewhere and the wonks are predictable. Columnists and bloggers add spin of their own camp, either liberal or conservative. My take on these stories would be similarly predictable. That’s why I hold out for something with meat on the bone—something to which I can lend a Wild Duck insight. After all, I want the ‘wild’ part to mean something.

But today, a story making news misses a very critical fact. One that changes the conclusion. Let me explain…

Sahar Sabet is a typical America teen. Although she comes from Iran, she is a US citizen. She looks, speaks, dresses and grooms like a typical, white, suburban girl. Of course, even if she looked, dressed or behaved as a foreigner or an immigrant (an absurd determination for a country filled with immigrants), you would expect that in a shopping mall, she would be treated like any other shopper.

This weekend, Sahar and her uncle browsed an Apple store at North Pointe Mall in Alpharetta Georgia. Choosing an iPad, the salesman overheard the couple speaking in Farsi. When Sahar explained that it is the language of Iran–also known as Persia–the salesman prohibited the sale, explaining “Our countries do not have good relations”. He stated that Apple enforces a trade embargo against Iran and several other countries and showed the would be customers a written Apple policy which, itself, cites US trade restrictions.

For consumers of mainstream media, the Apple salesman seemed racist or, at the very least, ignorant. What do trade relations have to do with a retail sale? And how could he miss the fact that Sahar is a citizen of the same county as himself and the late Steve Jobs?

Sitting outside her home and talking to a television reporter, Sahar explains that she left the store in tears. Zack Jafarzadeh had the same experience at the nearby Perimeter Mall. Perhaps more bizarre, he is born in Virginia of Iranian ancestry. In the video clip below, he states that the policy smacks of ethnic profiling. Of course, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) protested the incident immediately.*

You will find a great many news stories about Sahar’s trip to the mall this week. But a few stories, like this firsthand account from an Atlanta television station include a fact that is critical and yet overlooked in the commentary. It makes all the difference in the world:

“The iPad was to be a gift for her cousin who lives in Iran.”

Wohah!…That changes everything! The US trade embargo law specifically mandates that the store shall not sell embargoed technology if they know that the product will be exported, transferred or re-exported to Iran. It’s not clear if the salesman was made aware of the intention to export the iPad, or if he was a closet racist, or perhaps he was expressing his own post-911 anxiety. But either way, this is valid trade law, and Apple would get into a lot of trouble if they violate this law.

Zack was born in Virginia. Both he and Sahar are as American as apple pie. So naturally, news reports slam the Apple salesman for profiling immigrants. They also question the role of a private company in enforcing a federal trade embargo at the point of sale. But again, they miss the point. To illustrate, consider this bump in the success story of Digital Equipment Corporation, the Massachusetts minicomputer manufacturer that rivaled IBM in the 1970s and 80s…

In the early 1980s, Digital’s flagship minicomputer, the VAX 780, had the distinction of being on the original list of embargo technology. Naturally, during the Cold War, sales of fast computers to the Soviet Union were restricted.

During the Cold War, selling fast computers to Soviets was illegal, even if transferred through an intermediary or neutral country.

Sellers of large, expensive computers generally know their buyers. Even if a deal is not initiated by the sales team, sellers defend price and competitive position. Engineers at buyer and builder talk nuts & bolts. This was no exception. But because Digital could not openly sell to Russians, they transferred the machine to an American shill organization, because an intermediary is more likely to fly under the radar while transferring the computer to the Soviets.

Bad move, Digital! The deal was discovered and the company faced an inquiry and stiff penalties. Most importantly, they were disgraced in the press.

Regarding the Apple iPad, one could question the law as it applies to a popular consumer item, one that is available in many other countries. But the law and its clear focus on export awareness by sellers restricted lends a different spin to the Apple salesman’s actions.

Just as with Miss Sabet, Mr. Jafarzadeh was purchasing the iPad for an Iranian friend who accompanied him to the store. He was in the United States on a student visa. If this fact were apparent to the salesman, then he would be compelled to deny the sale.

Incidentally, Sabet’s mother was able to purchase the iPad on a subsequent visit and an Apple spokesperson told reporters that it could also be purchased online to circumvent the policy (or at least the enforcement of the policy). While this may be the case, it might still violate US trade law. The law is clear. Certain products, services, technology and components are prohibited from being sold, directly or indirectly, if they are slated to be exported, transferred or re-exported to countries on a technology embargo list that includes Iran, Cuba, North Korea and Syria.

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* Despite the warm-fuzzy title, CAIR is a widely acknowledged front for terrorists, still operating, openly, within the United States. The group’s actions speak volumes about their agenda, posing as an NGO of tolerance and cultural bridges while seeking to use our western tradition of inclusion, tolerance and accommodation to make Islamic Sharia Law palatable in America. But I digress. We can cover that story in another post.