It’s time to update all those liberal “explainers” — you know, the pieces that patiently instructed conservative rubes that the pallets of cash we shipped to Iran on the exact day they released American hostages were not a “ransom.” The negotiations over the cash and the negotiations over the hostages were completely separate, the explainers assured us. Indeed, they were even separate from the nuclear deal itself. There were different negotiating teams working on different issues at different times, and the timing of the cash delivery was pure coincidence.
Here was State Department spokesman John Kirby, speaking two weeks ago:
As we’ve made clear, the negotiations over the settlement of an outstanding claim . . . were completely separate from the discussions about returning our American citizens home. . . . Not only were the two negotiations separate, they were conducted by different teams on each side, including, in the case of The Hague claims, by technical experts involved in these negotiations for many years.
Sure, the Obama administration knew that Iran was claiming the payments were linked to the hostage release. But administration officials encouraged the public to believe that the Ayotollahs were merely lying to look tough in the eyes of a gullible citizenry.
As new reporting emerged, the State Department was forced to update its story. Here’s the New York Times:
On Thursday, Mr. Kirby conceded that while the deals were negotiated separately, the timing of the final transactions was linked. “As we said at the time, we deliberately leveraged that moment to finalize these outstanding issues nearly simultaneously,” he said.
The State Department and the White House, however, said nothing about using the payment as leverage at the time, and on Thursday Mr. Kirby said, “I certainly would agree that this particular fact is not something that we’ve talked about in the past.”
There’s a word for those who bought the administration’s initial line about separate deals: “suckers.” There’s a different phrase for the journalists who sold the story: “partisan hacks.”
Anyone possessing even the most passing familiarity with complex international negotiations — especially between adversaries — knows that they’re not conducted in completely separate and independent silos. Sure, there may be different teams working on different issues, but all of the teams and all of the issues are directly relevant to the underlying diplomatic and strategic relationships between the parties. Nations, however, use talk of “side deals” and “separate negotiations” to provide a degree of flexibility and deniability. For example, as the Times notes, the United States “agreed to move nuclear missiles out of Turkey as part of the 1962 agreement with the Soviet Union to end the Cuban missile crisis, but denied that the acts were linked. They clearly were.”
Another benefit of fictional “separate” deals is that they allow politicians to spin any given diplomatic outcome as favorable to the U.S. even when the agreement that produced it is a terrible net loss. And so it is here, as pundits and politicians have assured us that America’s agreement to pay $1.6 billion to Iran was a “favorable settlement” of an ongoing dispute over Iranian funds America seized at the onset of the Iran Hostage Crisis in the late 1970s.
But while partisans in the U.S. may plunge their heads into the sand, not one single actual or potential American adversary is fooled. Here’s the bottom line of the various Iran deals: Iran has received $1.6 billion in cash, approximately $150 billion in international sanctions relief, access to international arms markets, access to imported ballistic-missile technology, and the release of seven Iranian criminals held in U.S. jails. In exchange, the United States got four hostages back and a series of extraordinarily difficult-to-enforce promises from Iran that, at best, can only serve to delay, rather than end, the Islamic Republic’s nuclear-weapons program. The Ayatollahs’ sponsorship of terror and their ongoing low-intensity warfare against the United States — warfare that has cost hundreds of American lives — continues apace.
In response to the latest revelations, politicians and pundits have spent days debating whether the Obama administration paid ransom for hostages. Even now, after the State Department’s admission that it used the cash as “leverage” to guarantee the prisoner exchange, Vox’s Zach Beauchamp is confidently declaring that that revelation “doesn’t amount to evidence of a ransom.”
#related#I think Beauchamp needs to meditate on the meaning of the word “evidence.” At the same time, however, focusing like a laser on the circumstances of the prisoner release actually serves the Obama administration’s purpose. They want us to break a national-security disaster into individual, defensible component parts.
Thus, every argument about side deals must be placed in the context of the overall agreement. Even putting aside, for the moment, the critical question of the legality of the Obama administration’s actions, the overlapping and related Iran agreements represent, collectively, a terrible deal for the United States and its key allies. It’s an agreement that will represent perhaps the administration’s most enduring — and deadly — foreign-policy blunder.
I’m thankful four innocent Americans are home. But Iran has secured a decisive diplomatic victory over the world’s greatest military and economic superpower in the bargain.
— David French is an attorney, and a staff writer at National Review.