An ongoing theme of Spoiler Alerts’ foreign policy coverage is that a lot of allegedly smart people don’t say terribly smart things when a foreign policy crisis is occurring. Remember the Chinese stock market meltdown? No, not this one, the one that happened last year? Yeah, the 2016 presidential candidates didn’t exactly distinguish themselves then. It’s important to remember, after moments of crises have passed, just who kept their head and who overreacted.
Which brings me to the past 24 hours and Iran’s seizure and subsequent release of 10 U.S. sailors and two Riverine Command Boats (RCBs). My Washington Post colleagues Fred Barbash, Missy Ryan and Thomas Gibbons-Neff provide the coverage:
Iran has freed the sailors from two small American naval vessels that had strayed into Iranian waters, prompting their seizure and detention by Iranian coastal forces. . . .
Iran’s Fars News Agency first reported the release. Fars quoted a statement by the “Islamic Revolution Guard Corps” saying Iran “has released the U.S. marines and their vessels in international waters after its investigations showed that they had gone astray during their voyage in the Persian Gulf. In its statement, the IRGC pointed out that its investigations show that the U.S. combat vessels illegal entry into Iranian water was not the result of a purposeful act,” Fars said. . . .
A senior defense official said of Tuesday’s incident that there was no indication of hostile intent and that the American crews were being well-treated. “In some ways this has been very professional,” the official said.
Scanning the coverage, there appears to be an acceptance of the fact that the U.S. RCBs were, in fact, in within Iran’s 12-mile territorial waters. Unintentional or not, this was a U.S. naval incursion into Iran’s jurisdiction.
Fortunately, Iran did not respond to this incident in the same way that, oh, I don’t know, a NATO ally recently responded to an aerial incursion. They seized the ships, did not harm any of the sailors and eventually returned both the crew and the ships.
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:
Lots of very macho talk. And yet, in the wake of the sailors’ timely release, the New York Times’s Thomas Erdbrink, Helene Cooper and David Sanger provide some useful context about how this kerfuffle was resolved:
The release of the sailors in less than 24 hours stands in sharp contrast to a similar incident eight years ago that developed into a major international standoff.
In 2007, 15 British marines in dinghies were arrested by the Revolutionary Guards Navy, which accused them of entering Iranian waters. The sailors were held for 13 days before the government of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, then the president, set them free during a televised farewell ceremony in which they were given new suits and carpets as parting gifts.
A year later, the British Navy released a report saying that its vessels had been in an area with disputed borders between Iran and Iraq.
A prominent Iranian analyst with ties to the senior leadership said that the prompt resolution of the current incident was a reflection of how much Iran’s relations with the West had evolved since the signing of the nuclear accord this year.
So, to sum up: Compared to a similar incident in 2007, this was handled much more quickly and with a minimum of fuss. It’s almost as if U.S. diplomacy toward Iran has yielded some benefits or something.
Lest one think that I’m excoriating everyone who excoriates Iran, compare everything above with how GOP presidential candidate Marco Rubio handled the issue on Bret Baier’s show Tuesday night:
I vehemently disagree with Rubio’s desire to cancel the Iran deal on day one, for reasons I’ve gone into before. But at least Rubio was smart enough to understand the situation and smart enough to pivot away from this latest incident and focus on genuine Iranian provocations and other U.S. citizens unfairly held in Iran that merit some response.
So now that U.S. sailors and ships have been safely returned in a relatively prompt manner, remember who flew off the handle and who kept their cool.
Oh, and I’d like to ask Joe Scarborough a question: Is it possible that maybe, just maybe, you overreacted a wee bit? That maybe, the next time something like this happens, it would be a good idea to count to 10 slowly, think about the situation a little bit and then respond?