As they said they would, this morning the Iranians released all ten of those detained US sailors and their boats. It seems pretty apparent (because the US isn’t challenging it) that both boats did somehow slip into Iranian territorial waters before they were picked up by the Revolutionary Guard Navy, although the initial story that one of the boats was malfunctioning may not have been accurate, so the cause is still unknown (signs now are pointing to a navigational error rather than a mechanical problem). All told, the sailors and their boats were in Iranian custody for less than 24 hours. They recorded a video “apology” for violating Iranian waters, which is maybe a little distasteful, but this could have been a lot worse, really, so people are pretty relieved at how it played out.
Well, most people. There are those whose tough-guy response to this incident yesterday suggests that they’re probably feeling a little disappointed at how smoothly the situation was resolved. My technical issues today kept me from writing about them, but luckily other people have done so and I can just link to their stuff. Ah, the internet.
Daniel Drezner at The Washington Post listed a few of the most macho reactions:
While the sailors were in Iranian custody, however, President Obama delivered his State of the Union speech and the 2016 campaign proceeded apace. Which meant that a number of prominent Americans felt free to vent their spleen about the matter on camera and on Twitter:
While Donald Trump gets points for tweeting this after Iran had returned the U.S. sailors, I do believe that MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough wins the prize for most over-the-top silliness on Twitter by a Very Serious Person:
Clearly these are the kind of sensible, level-headed folks who should be running the country and to whom most Americans should turn for insight into key events.
Glenn Greenwald, meanwhile, looked at the Iran Derangement Syndrome angle. IDS is the condition where every action Iran takes is perceived as inherently aggressive and hostile no matter what the details or circumstances might be. To wit:
But, as usual, the most alarmist, jingoistic coverage came from the always-war-hungry CNN. For hours, the network emphasized in the most alarmist of tones that the sailors had been picked up by the Revolutionary Guard, which, in the words of Starr, is “one of the most aggressive elements of the military and national security apparatus in that country.” CNN host Erin Burnett intoned at the top of her prime-time show: “Next, breaking news: American sailors seized by Iran. The revolutionary guard arresting 10 American sailors in the Persian Gulf.”
For hours, CNN anchors and guests all but declared war on Iran, insisting that this behavior demonstrated how aggressive and menacing it was, while warning that this could turn into another “hostage crisis.”
You may be surprised to learn that at no point did Burnett clue her viewers in to the fact that the boats were reportedly in Iranian waters when they were picked up. The whole network spent the rest of the night, apart from covering President Obama’s State of the Union address, trying to pump this incident up into a new hostage crisis, turning the entry of two US naval vessels into Iranian waters into an act of Iranian aggression against the United States. Greenwald called it “Baghdad Bob-level propaganda,” and it’s hard to argue with that interpretation. I get that a major incident between the US and Iran would be awesome for CNN’s ratings, but they probably shouldn’t root for it quite so openly.
Greenwald also highlighted the reaction of Woodrow Wilson Center scholar and former US diplomat Aaron David Miller, who tweeted this last night:
and this, this morning:
I’m happy too, not so much for the sailors but because Aaron David Miller managed to cover himself last night by arguing that detaining American boats in Iranian waters is a hostile act whether the boats and sailors are “released promptly or not.” This is textbook IDS, but at least he doesn’t look as silly today as those people Drezner mentioned.
UPDATE (January 16): As more is being learned about what happened, my somewhat glib comment about the “distasteful” apology above looks like it may have been too glib. Questions have been raised about whether or not the Iranians who detained those US sailors violated international law by filming and photographing them and then publicly releasing the films and photos. Such actions probably violate Geneva Conventions protocols on protecting prisoners of war from “insults and public curiosity.” The problem with applying that standard to this situation is that, perhaps to some people’s chagrin, America and Iran aren’t at war, so these sailors weren’t POWs and therefore Geneva doesn’t apply. If that seems like splitting hairs to you, well, you’re not the only one–I would agree with Ali Gharib, for example, that what the Iranians did was wrong, and violated the spirit of international law if not its letter.
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