The Devil went down to Georgia. / He was lookin’ for a soul to steal. / He was in a bind ‘cause he was way behind. / He was willing to make a deal. — Charlie Daniels
Saturday, news broke that the Obama administration made a deal with Iran to exchange prisoners. The administration lifted sanctions and offered clemency to seven Iranians who were either awaiting trial or convicted. In return, four U.S. citizens were released from prison, three of whom landed in Germany Sunday while en route to the United States. (A fifth, curiously, decided to stay in Iran.)
As much as these prisoners deserve to be free and home, President Obama’s “deal” demonstrates weakness and will come at a price.
Iran Is the Bad Guy
Democrats Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders and members of the media praised the deal. Hillary said, “We got our prisoners back.” But it’s not quite that simple. For example, Pastor Saeed Abedini—like the other prisoners freed and unlike the seven Iranians we were holding—should not have been in prison in the first place.
As I wrote in this publication a year ago this week:
Saeed Abedini is an Iranian-American pastor, father, and husband from Boise, Idaho (he became an American citizen in 2010). He was arrested on July 28, 2012, during a visit to Tehran to see family and finalize plans for an orphanage he was helping build. Charged with proselytizing his Christian faith, Abedini is currently serving an eight-year prison sentence in Iran. He was recently transferred from their notorious political prison, Evin, to a more obscure, dangerous prison, Rajaei Shahr, then apparently back. Since his imprisonment two years ago, he has been subjected to multiple beatings and subsequently suffered multiple internal injuries due to the abuse. After suffering for a year, he was finally allowed to go to a hospital, although he was returned to prison before he could receive the treatment he desperately needed.
In Abedini’s case, to say nothing of the others, Iran has held an American in prison for more than three years. He should have been released, not pending sanctions lifted, not pending a prisoner swap for convicted Iranians, but because keeping him violated international law.
A major reason prudent governments refuse to negotiate with terrorists over hostage situations (much less cough up bribe money!) is that this encourages bad actors to keep taking hostages. This is why we pressure rogue governments to do the right thing or lose face and international negotiating positions, rather than effectively rewarding them for abusing their people and foreign citizens.
This Deal Is Bad for Foreign Relations
The Washington Post reported, “As international sanctions on Iran were lifted in exchange for ‘the verified disabling of much of [Iran’s] nuclear infrastructure,’ Secretary of State John Kerry declared the beginning of a ‘safer world.’” The very next day, he issued a statement describing a direct payment from the United States to the Iranian government, of $1.7 billion. Happenstance? I think not.
Exactly in what universe does lifting sanctions on a country like Iran, which is known to be a terrorist hotspot and developing nuclear weapons, translate to “a safer world?” This is like giving a toddler a sucker in exchange for the promise he isn’t going to poop his pants: He’s going to eat the sucker, just before pooping his pants again. He can’t help himself; it’s what toddlers do.
House Speaker Paul Ryan agreed and said, through his spokeswoman, “We’re glad that Iran has reportedly finally released four American citizens who were unjustly detained. They should never have been held in the first place. We’re awaiting details from the administration on the ransom paid for their freedom.”
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie voiced a similar sentiment: “We shouldn’t have to swap prisoners. These [Americans] were taken illegally in violation of international law and they should have been released without condition, but you know, the Iranians have treated this president with disrespect for years and he continues to take it.”
Weak Presidents Invite Hostage Situations
In a letter to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani dated last year, Sen. Rand Paul tried to offer a solution: “I wish to remain cautiously optimistic regarding the recent diplomatic progress between our two nations. However, I must point out that if something were to happen to Pastor Abedini while he is incarcerated, any good will forged over the past few months would likely evaporate. Conversely, granting clemency to Pastor Abedini and allowing him to return to the United States would do much to create a positive atmosphere that would reflect well on future discussions.” Unfortunately, this didn’t work. But Paul has little authority compared to President Obama.
It’s Obama’s last year as president. As he implied in his state of the union address, he’s fairly optimistic about what he’s done and what’s to come. If that’s the case, he might have approached this situation with a little more bravado than we’ve seen him demonstrate before (we haven’t seen much, ever). What would he have to lose if he simply demanded the release of innocent Americans? Has anyone ever done this?
President Jimmy Carter attempted to retrieve Americans held hostage in Iran by imposing economic sanctions, and again through a rescue mission in 1980, which ultimately failed. Reagan defeated Carter on the one-year anniversary of when the hostages had been taken. While Carter continued to try to negotiate for the hostages released, his talks proved futile.
As soon as Reagan took office, the hostages were released. Of course, there’s debate whether back-door talks took place even before the election, but many believe it was Reagan’s gravitas and authority that secured the release, sans the need for an exchange or “deal.”
President Obama should have conjured up some gravitas, stuck to his guns, and demanded for the release of our innocent citizens, period. Iran will forever see the United States and the Obama administration as ones who willingly negotiate with terrorists, because we lack the confidence to demand what is rightfully ours.
While it’s tremendous these four Americans will now be free after wrongful Iranian captivity, it’s unfortunate their freedom came at such an immeasurable cost.