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. These 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? With 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 servicemen
- 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.