On Sunday, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei tweeted a photo of the American sailors that Iran captured and briefly held hostage earlier in January. The sailors were kneeling with their hands behind their heads. Khamenei added other photos of himself smiling with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps forces that captured the Americans along with a text congratulating them.
Watching the Obama team take on the Islamic Republic on this incident was like watching Mister Rogers deal with Darth Vader. While Iran broadcast its reality to the world, Obama and Kerry lied, treating Americans as children unable to process grown-up dangers.
The incongruities began as soon as the incident became public knowledge, and U.S. officials struggled to put the best possible spin on the events. Obama White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the hostage taking illustrated why the nuclear deal was so urgently needed:
We continue to be concerned about this situation. That precisely is why the president made preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon a top national security priority, and we’re making progress in actually accomplishing that goal.
Earnest seemed to be saying Iran was indeed a rogue regime, and that was why it was so good to have the nuclear deal in place to contain it. Iranian officials, however, were speaking as if it was the U.S. that had been contained. The head of Iran’s armed forces, Major General Hassan Firouzabadi, declared:
This incident in the Persian Gulf, which probably will not be the American forces’ last mistake in the region, should be a lesson to troublemakers in the U.S. Congress.
Vice President Joe Biden, after the sailors were released, dismissed the entire incident as the routine treatment of boats with mechanical difficulties. Denying that the U.S. had apologized to Iran over the incident, as had been widely rumored, Biden said:
When you have a problem with the boat, (do) you apologize the boat had a problem? No. And there was no looking for any apology. This was just standard nautical practice.
The sailors were blindfolded, made to kneel at gunpoint, and interrogated for hours.
Biden called this a rescue:
The Iranians picked up both boats — as we have picked up Iranian boats that needed to be rescued … [The Iranians] realized they were there in distress and said they would release them, and released them like ordinary nations would do.
Defense Secretary Ash Carter sounded similar notes, thanking Secretary of State John Kerry:
… for his diplomatic engagement with Iran to secure our sailors’ swift return. Around the world, the U.S. Navy routinely provides assistance to foreign sailors in distress, and we appreciate the timely way in which this situation was resolved.
Kerry, for his part, was grateful to the Iranians:
All indications suggest or tell us that our sailors were well taken care of, provided with blankets and food and assisted with their return to the fleet earlier today.
He ascribed the Iranians’ swift release of the sailors to communications channels that had been opened during the nuclear negotiations:
I think we can all imagine how a similar situation might have played out three or four years ago, and in fact it is clear that today this kind of issue was able to be peacefully resolved and officially resolved, and that is a testament to the critical role that diplomacy plays in keeping our country safe, secure and strong.
He further thanked the Iranians for their “cooperation and quick response.”
That was that: it was all just a triumph of diplomacy. Kerry added:
These are situations which, as everybody here knows, have the ability, if not properly guided, to get out of control.
But this situation, in his view, had been “properly guided.”
Hossein Salami, the deputy commander of the IRGC, was also glad that things didn’t get out of control, but in a slightly different way. He claimed:
American sailors, started crying after arrest, but the kindness of our Guard made them feel calm.
He also boasted that “since the end of the Second World War, no country has been able to arrest American military personnel” until the Iranians captured these ten sailors.
IRGC commander Ahmad Dolabi exulted:
I saw the weakness, cowardice, and fear of American soldiers myself. Despite having all of the weapons and equipment, they surrendered themselves with the first action of the guardians of Islam. American forces receive the best training and have the most advanced weapons in the world, but they did not have the power to confront the Guard due to weakness of faith and belief.
Kerry did acknowledge that when he saw the footage that the Iranians released of the sailors kneeling gunpoint, his first thought was not conciliatory:
I was very angry. I was very, very frustrated and angry that that was released. I raised it immediately with the Iranians. It was not put out by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or the government directly, it was put out I think by the military over there, the (Revolutionary Guard), who is opposed to what we are doing.
However, Kerry did not produce any evidence that the Iranian government was opposed to what the military was doing. And Khamenei himself immediately conflicted Kerry, tweeting his words to the IRGC forces involved in seizing the Navy boats:
What you did was very great, interesting and timely and it was in fact God’s deed that took Americans to our waters so that through your timely job they raised their hands over their heads and were arrested.
That doesn’t sound as if the Iranian government is opposed in the slightest degree to what the military is doing. In fact, it sounds like Khamenei thinks that Iran is embroiled in a war. And it may well be. But only one side is fighting.