If President Obama wanted to orchestrate a PR moment to garner newfound public support for his Iranian nuclear deal, he could have hardly scripted anything more effective than the prisoner swap that restored freedom to five Americans, including Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian. Americans love nothing more than a heartwarming homecoming; the stories these returning prisoners bring with them may be powerful enough to make people forget the images of Navy sailors on their knees.
“This is a good day because once again we are seeing what’s possible through strong American diplomacy,” said Obama. “These things are a reminder of what we can achieve when we lead with strength and with wisdom.”
Hours after the swap, which also saw seven Iranians released from U.S. custody, the International Atomic Energy Agency announced that Tehran had lived up to their end of the nuclear agreement, having shut down more than 12,000 centrifuges and having shipped 98% of their fuel to Russia. This prompted the U.S. and its partner nations to lift the oil and financial sanctions that have stifled Iran’s economy. Depending on which estimate you use, this could immediately give the Islamic Republic access to $50 to $100 billion in frozen assets.
The elimination of sanctions could return Iran to the global stage in a big way; the European Commission has announced a February “technical assessment mission” to explore bringing more Iranian oil and gas to the EU. Countries in the region are understandably eager to pull away from Russia’s stranglehold over a third of the market.
But it can’t be forgotten that Iran is still very much the embodiment of a rogue state, with or without the sanctions in place. And while everyone should be glad to see these unjustly-imprisoned Americans return home, we’ve set another dangerous precedent. Republican Senator Marco Rubio put it best, saying, “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.”
See, while Obama talks about strength and wisdom, his administration’s negotiations with Iran have been built on nothing of the kind. Instead, Obama has given away the farm in exchange for Tehran’s empty promises and a deal that has already been edited and transformed in the Iranian parliament. What looks like a major diplomatic achievement from the outside could very well turn out to be one of the biggest geopolitical blunders of the modern era. Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu is not alone when he surmises that Iran has not “abandoned its aspirations to acquire nuclear weapons.”
A day for celebration? Perhaps. Unfortunately, we won’t really know the full extent of what we sacrificed for years and years. And when we do understand, we may look back on this day with great regret.