The White House charged today that a Republican response to the capture of 10 sailors in the Persian Gulf would have put America in a “bloody war” with a country that has an “advanced military.”
Press secretary Josh Earnest said there’s also not “any reason for anybody to be embarrassed” about photos and video Iran released showing the sailors on their knees with their hands above their heads, or their lieutenant apologizing.
“Primarily what we were concerned about when it came to our soldiers is making sure that they were released promptly and unharmed, and all that happened within 14 hours of their urgently being taken into Iranian custody when they drifted into Iranian territorial waters,” Earnest told reporters at today’s briefing, reiterating the administration mantra that diplomatic channels opened by the nuclear deal facilitated the quick release of the American crew.
Pressed on whether the administration was “troubled or embarrassed” by Iran’s use of the humiliating images, Earnest said no.
“Well, I don’t think there’s anybody — any reason for anybody to be embarrassed. I think there’s a reason for us to be certainly relieved that our servicemen and women who are protecting America in a very dangerous part of the world were released very, you know, pretty shortly after they were taken into custody,” he said.
Earnest referred reporters to the Defense Department, which hasn’t offered much information about the incident, for rules of engagement and other questions about the sailors’ movements that day.
Fox News’ Doug McKelway said a senior Pentagon official told the channel that the administration was blocking the Defense Department from releasing details.
“That’s not true. I believe they’re pretty transparent about this and I think we’ve been transparent about that fact that if we had followed the advice of some of the Republican critics of the administration, we’d probably be in a bloody war with Iran right now over our sailors,” Earnest said.
“In fact, as our sailors right now are out of harm’s way, their boats were released and we — there was no loss of life. It is unclear to me, by the way, exactly how the safety and the security of the United States, or our men and women in uniform is advanced by starting a war with a nation like Iran that has an advanced military.”
The press secretary said he’s “pretty confident” that the Fifth Fleet in the Persian Gulf “didn’t just do nothing” in response to the sailors’ capture, but “whatever it was, it was consistent with the president’s strategy that led to the prompt and safe return of those sailors about 14 hours after they were originally taken into custody.”
“I know that the only people who are unhappy about it are Republicans for some reason,” Earnest added, boasting that the administration got the sailors back “without delaying the start of the State of the Union, and without launching any sort of military action against the nation of Iran.”
“It underscores the value of responsible, mature presidential leadership. The president didn’t start a war over this; the president pursued diplomatic engagement through is secretary of state, who had an open diplomatic channel of communication with his Iranian counterpart,” he said.
Iran has claimed that Secretary of State John Kerry apologized, while the administration has asserted that no “official” apology was offered.