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Opinion Why the joy over Iran’s release of Americans is tempered

The Post reported earlier Saturday, “Iran released Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian and three other detained Iranian Americans on Saturday in exchange for seven people imprisoned or charged in the United States, U.S. and Iranian officials said, a swap linked to the imminent implementation of a landmark nuclear deal between Tehran and six world powers.” Relief in the return of our fellow citizens does not, however, equate to kudos to the administration.

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) summed up the attitude of many Americans in his Saturday statement:

Today the four Americans who have been unjustly held in in Iran are finally returning home and we welcome them with open arms. They and their families have been through unspeakable pain and suffering and their freedom brings relief to not only them, but the entire country.
But in our elation over their safe return we must be careful not to forget the dangerous circumstances of their release. President Obama has appeased Iran’s terror-sponsoring ayatollahs, this time with a ‘prisoner’ swap to secure the overdue release of four innocent American hostages in return for which Iran gets seven lawfully convicted terrorists and criminals, fourteen terrorism prosecutions halted, $100 billion in sanctions relief, and an industrial-scale nuclear program—and Iran gets to keep Americans Siamak Namazi and Robert Levinson to extract future concessions.  While we exult in the return of American hostages, one must also wonder how many more Americans will be taken hostage in the future as a result of President Obama’s shameful decision to negotiate with these terrorists.

The moral equivalency at the heart of the trade — convicted Iranian criminals for innocents unjustly held — is not new for this administration. “In the Alan Gross case, the Obama administration traded several Cuban spies to Castro for the release of an unjustly imprisoned USAID worker,” recalled former deputy national security adviser Elliott Abrams. “Here, unjustly imprisoned Americans are traded for Iranian criminals — and the U.S. agrees to stop trying to prosecute fourteen other Iranians engaged in arms trafficking. Our delight at the release of our fellow citizens has to be tempered by our understanding that evil regimes are learning it’s profitable to seize American hostages.” He further observed, ” When Ronald Reagan freed our hostages in 1980, he paid no price to Iran. We’ve come a long way since then — unfortunately.”

Several of the GOP presidential candidates reacted with outrage. “This is not a guy I would let negotiate buying a car for me, let alone anything else. I mean, he makes bad deals and he seems to become an expert at making bad deals with the Iranians,” New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said from the campaign trail in Iowa. “The fact is that we shouldn’t have to trade anything to get our citizens back home. They were taken illegally by a rogue regime of mullahs over in Iran, and this is the problem with this president, he gets no respect around the world. No respect. If we had a president who was respected around the world, we wouldn’t have these folks taken in the first place.” He too recalled that “as soon as Ronald Reagan took the Oath of Office, those Iranians returned our citizens immediately because they knew if they didn’t, they would have to face the strength of character and the wrath of Ronald Reagan.”

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Donald Trump declared, “It’s a disgrace they have been there for so long,” a sentiment echoed by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.). “If these reports are true, of course we’re happy for them and their families, but they should have never been there,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said. “The fact of the matter is that this tells us everything we need to know about the Iranian regime — that they take people hostage in order to gain concessions. And the fact that they can get away with it with this administration I think has created an incentive for more governments to do this around the world.”

No American can be displeased with the release of our hostages, but neither should we be delighted with the administration. This is a crew that again and again gives up far more than seems reasonable or possible at the expense of U.S. interests. In doing so, these officials invite further outrages by Iran. “What it means is that decades of hostage-taking by the Iranian mullahs has show yet again to work,” remarks sanctions expert Mark Dubowitz. “We should expect more more hostage taking of Americans.” It is for that reason that a new commander in chief is so badly needed.