Under George W. Bush, we suffered the worst terrorist attack in history on American soil (thousands murdered on 9/11), we became embroiled in a pointless war in Iraq where 4,000 more Americans were killed, and North Korea acquired nuclear weapons.
Under President Obama, there have been no terrorist attacks anywhere near the magnitude of 9/11, we killed Osama bin Laden, we rid Syria of chemical weapons without firing a shot, and last week not only did Iran release five American hostages (as well as the sailors who strayed into Iranian waters), but we implemented the Iran deal, which prevents Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.
During the few hours when the fate of the sailors who strayed into Iranian waters was uncertain, many Republicans could not resist the opportunity to exploit their plight for partisan gain. Typical was Rep. Robert Dold (R-Kenilworth), who attacked President Obama for not acknowledging “the ten U.S. sailors who were being held in Iranian custody” in his State of the Union speech. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) demanded that the Iran deal itself be held hostage to the return of the sailors.
We now know that while President Obama was delivering his speech, his administration was (successfully) negotiating not only for the peaceful release of the sailors, but for the release of other American hostages. Talking about it would only have endangered those negotiations.
Kirk and his Republican friends also attacked President Obama for not sanctioning Iran for its ballistic missile tests. But the administration had its eye on the ball, and once the Iran deal was implemented, the administration announced the sanctions that it said all along that it had every intention of imposing.
Have you seen statements from these Republicans thanking President Obama for securing the release of the sailors, thanking him for securing the release of the hostages, thanking him for implementing a deal under which all of Iran’s pathways to a nuclear weapon are now blocked (literally, with cement, in the case of the Arak reactor), or thanking him for imposing sanctions on Iran for its ballistic missile tests?
Neither have I.
The Iran deal was not intended to address hostage taking, ballistic missile testing, or Iran’s support for terrorism. Its sole objective was to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, and that is the sole criterion on which it should be judged. But we learned last week that what the administration told us all along was true: The Iran deal does not remove any tools previously available to us to address these other issues, and in some cases (such as the lines of communication that led to the quick release of the sailors), the Iran deal provides ancillary benefits.
Daniel Drezner has a lesson for our Republican friends: In thinking about foreign policy, it’s best to count to 10 slowly before speaking. And yet there is a foreign threat that President Obama has failed to deter.