Our Opinion: Defused Iran incident attests to value of cool heads

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An incident involving US Navy sailors and Iran that could have ended badly ended well. But nothing is good enough for congressional Republicans and presidential candidates when it comes to President Obama.

The 10 sailors were detained when their two boats moved into Iranian waters because of navigational errors. They were sailing between Kuwait and Bahrain in the Persian Gulf on a training mission when they were detained by Iran.

A day later they were released and returned to their fleet, facing at worst a failing grade for their mission. US Secretary of State John Kerry tapped into the good personal relationship he has developed with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif in the three years of negotiations that resulted in an agreement to dismantle Iran's nuclear program and ideally end the threat of the nation's development of a nuclear weapon. President Hassan Rouhani, who is trying to end Iran's pariah status in much of the world, obviously had much to gain by a peaceful resolution to the incident and much to lose from an ongoing controversy because of it.

If the Obama administration had not sought a diplomatic solution to its disagreements with Iran it is likely that the soldiers would still be there. We could only imagine the disaster that would have ensued if any of the hotheaded contenders for the Republican presidential nomination was in the White House when the Navy boats went off course.

The candidates expressed outrage over photos of the sailors with their hands in the air or over their heads. If the situation had been reversed, it can be assumed that Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush et al. would have demanded that the US show similar caution until it was determined exactly how the Iranian sailors had found themselves in US waters. Then they would have demanded that the sailors be exiled to Guantanamo.

They complained that the Obama administration had apologized to Iran, although there is no evidence of this. There is also no record of any Republicans criticizing President George W. Bush when he (rightly) apologized to China after an American spy plane landed on a Chinese island 15 years ago after colliding with a Chinese military jet in mid-air. President Bush's uncharacteristically cool response led to the release of the 10-man American crew.

It would be welcome if Republicans would show similar outrage over the detention in Iran of Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, who after 16 months in an Iranian prison was sentenced to jail last November for alleged espionage. The trial was held in secret, Iran has offered no evidence of espionage by the reporter, and The Washington Post maintains his innocence. The GOP, however, has no interest in the news media beyond their use as punching bags to distract voters from their own failings.

The Obama administration should put the heat on Iran for Mr. Rezaian's release as well. Iran reported Thursday that it had finished removing the core of the nation's only nuclear reactor, an action that still must be verified by outside experts. As Iran continues to move forward on its part of the nuclear agreement, it should conclude that detaining the Post reporter only works against its own larger interests on the world stage.

Senator Cruz fumed that the capture of the Navy boats was "a direct consequence of the weakness of the Obama-Clinton foreign policy," when in fact it was a direct consequence of a training mission gone awry. The rapid, successful resolution of the incident is a direct result of old-fashioned diplomacy conducted by the Obama administration, specifically by Secretary of State Kerry.

A President Cruz may have responded to the capture with carpet-bombing. A party that mocks diplomacy, even when proven successful, and has learned none of the lessons of the Bush White House's costly — in terms of blood and treasure — Iraqi misadventure could do considerable damage to the nation and the world if in control of the White House.


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