Last week two U.S. patrol boats and ten U.S. sailors were captured in Iranian waters. Most who remember or have learned about the USS Pueblo and SS Mayaguez incidents in 1968 and 1975 (not to mention the Iranian hostage crisis of 1979–1981) were probably relieved when the sailors were returned the next day, none the worse for wear.
But rightbloggers are exceptional in many ways, and they found the sailors’ brief interception an insufferable provocation that should have been handled with violence, or at least bluster. And they stuck to that position even when Iran later released American prisoners in a swap. It’s almost as if they don’t want U.S.-Iranian relations to improve, for some mysterious, electoral reason.
Just before the State of the Union address on Tuesday, word came that the boats and crew had been seized. Colorado Republican Senator Cory Gardner called for Obama to cancel the SOTU, which instead went on as scheduled with no mention of the incident.
Rightbloggers patriotically whined: “But there will be no #EmptySeat for the American sailors,” wrote Ben Shapiro at the Daily Wire. “The state of our union is, as of tonight, pathetic.” “President Obama realizes 10 American sailors are being held tonight in Iran, right? #SOTU,” tweeted Meghan “My Father Is John” McCain.
National Review’s Jonah Goldberg admitted he’d heard that the sailors might be released quickly but nonetheless fantasized, “If it turns out that this becomes anything like a hostage situation, Obama’s final State of the Union will may be remembered [sic] as symbolic of his denial and delusions.”
Ah, what might have been! But rightbloggers didn’t give up — and tried to jingo up some rage among their fellow Americans by claiming the soldiers had been “humiliated” during their brief captivity. How? By being tortured and stacked in naked pyramids? No, by being treated like ordinary military detainees — and also by being fed a traditional Iranian meal. Ed Morrissey at Hot Air, for example, complained that the sailors were shown sitting on a carpet. “Iran had no chairs or couches for their ‘guests’ to use?” he asked. “This hardly seems like Good Samaritan hospitality. It looks more like deliberate humiliation.”
“This photograph [of sailors lounging on a carpet] violates international law,” claimed David French at National Review, citing the Geneva Conventions, a body of law not traditionally respected by American conservatives. This was because video of U.S. sailors having lunch has “enormous propaganda value in Iran’s ongoing war against the United States.” French added parenthetically, “And if you don’t think Iran is in a state of armed conflict against the United States, tell that to the families of hundreds of American soldiers who’ve lost their lives to Iranians and Iranian-backed terrorists.” He did not, alas, list the dates of America’s war with Iran, nor its battles nor territories seized in it, but wait till Texas approves another history textbook.
The brethren also complained that when their boats were boarded, the sailors were told to kneel and put their hands on their heads, which seems logical under the circumstances but enraged Shapiro, who also wondered, “Why is our female soldier in a hijab? Did she enter Iranian waters wearing it? Why are our sailors not wearing their boots — does it have something to do with the Islamic custom of removing your shoes on Islamic property?” Bad enough they were captured — did they have to be polite about it?
The net-net was that our sailors were made to look as if they were captured, which they were, but you can’t say so because it would be like dipping our flag at the Olympics — and it all happened because Obama is a coward. Inevitably, as their outrage failed to catch fire, some of the brethren hatched conspiracy theories.
Thomas Lipscomb of American Thinker thought the sailors were part of a secret “mission ferrying SEALS somewhere,” which explained “why the captured sailors were so much more fit than the average sailor these days, and how a woman could be among them,” as Lipscomb perhaps determined by obsessively studying the video of the sailors eating lunch on a rug. “If the American people were not suffering from an incompetent and incurious press and media,” he added, “some of these discrepancies would have come to light and been subject to public debate. One would think the questions remaining over what are now the clear lies about Benghazi would excite some editorial interest.” (??)
“While Iranian destroyers or frigates, possibly with support from aircraft and antiship missiles, might have constituted overwhelming force against ten sailors in two small boats, why were the U.S. destroyers and aircraft carriers that should have supported the boats out of position to do so?” asked William A. Levinson at the same publication. “The same question might be asked, by the way, why military support was not provided to our ambassador and his staff in Benghazi.” (!!)
(This disease was catching: A couple of GOP congressmen started talking about hearings to ascertain whether the State Department instructed one of the sailors to apologize to the Iranians, in a spectacle undoubtedly to be called #Sorryghazi.)
After the release, Arthur Herman huffed at National Review, “What About the Other Five Americans Iran Is Still Holding?” He listed Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian, accused spy Amir Hekmati, pastor Saeed Abedini, “retired FBI and DEA agent” Robert Levinson, and businessman Siamak Namazi. A few days later, guess what: Three of those guys were returned in a prisoner swap. (Iran claims Levinson, missing since 2007, is not in its custody; Namazi remains under arrest.)
Rightbloggers had gotten in the habit of bringing up the Americans prisoners in Iran as a way to twit Obama — for example: “If Obama Wants a Nuclear Deal, He Must Free Iran’s U.S. Hostages,” as Jonathan S. Tobin headlined over a picture of Rezaian in Commentary in May 2015. “Iran deal: Obama leaves Pastor Saeed, other Americans behind,” said Fox News in July; “THESE ARE THE THREE AMERICAN PRISONERS ABANDONED BY THE IRAN NUCLEAR DEAL,” hollered Breitbart.com, etc. But when these prisoners were released, rightbloggers did nothing but bitch.
Caleb Howe of RedState claimed Obama didn’t really free anybody — “Each of these [prisoners] has had advocates working on his behalf in appeals to the Obama administration, who simply dragged their feet,” he wrote. And if Obama did free them — not saying he did, now! — “their freedom comes as part of an exchange, rather than as part of the ‘historic’ Iran deal.” So there!
“Anyone doubt those four Americans rotted in Iranian dungeon for months longer than necessary so Obama would have better optics today?” tweeted Noah Pollak, also the author of such stories as “Iran: Obama Makes It Easy for Us.”
David French returned to say the release was still ObamaBad because, “If anything, Iran has ramped up its bellicosity and is just days removed from publicly humiliating American sailors in violation of international law.” He also couldn’t understand why Obama had to trade American prisoners for them when he could have just swung in on a rope and scooped them up.
Neither could Terresa Monroe-Hamilton of Right Wing News: “We should not have had to swap prisoners for these men. Not only did Iran get everything they wanted and more in the atrocious nuke deal, they now get six prisoners.” “Four innocent Americans for seven guilty Iranians,” griped the Right Scoop. (When another prisoner was released, they added, “They just randomly released this guy on the same day by coincidence?” No pleasing some people.)
“One just has to ask, how did the recent episode with our Sailors, who were publicly humiliated by the Iranians, come into play here?” asked former Congressman Allen B. West. “What can be surmised by all of this is Iran is about to be portrayed as a regional hegemony that has brought America to its knees.” West managed to add, “Depends on what your definition of is, is. Then again, what difference at this point does it make?” but maybe he says that at certain times of day no matter what, like Rain Man talking about Judge Wapner.
The rightbloggers’ lead was picked up by Republican politicians, including their presidential contenders — for example, Chris Christie: “We shouldn’t have to swap prisoners…you know, the Iranians have treated this president with disrespect for years and he continues to take it. I would not take it as president.”
If this sort of attitude toward peaceful resolution of longstanding enmities sounds like a bad way to reach the American people, remember that Christie and his co-candidates are not trying to appeal to America, but to Republicans. And for them, if the polls mean anything, rightblogger talk is probably good enough.