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Media Libels Obama Over Iran ‘Ransom,’ That’s Actually the Opposite of Ransom

The uproar over the $400 million payment to Iran in January has reached a fever pitch not seen since reporters thought that the plane carrying freed Americans was kept from leaving Iran until a planeload of money arrived, which would have been an outrage. Now, it’s being reported that a plane carrying $400 million was kept from leaving Switzerland until a planeload of freed Americans was allowed to leave Tehran, which is, you guessed it, also an outrage. None of this, by the way, contradicts anything that President Obama said when he was asked directly about it two weeks ago:

The big “revelation” in this case appears to be that State Department Spokesman John Kirby confirmed that the release of the money that President Obama truthfully described as a settlement payment was held up until the freed Americans had departed Tehran, which Kirby described as “leverage.” While it’s to be expected that political opponents like Donald Trump would try to make hay with this, and even for news outlets to inflate the news value of the revelation, it was more than a little bit jarring to hear mainstream reporters like Andrea Mitchell casually accuse President Obama of lying:

As it turns out, this is a popular notion about this story, but no one ever gets around to pointing out what the “lie” President Obama told was. It seems the only real point of contention is over whether or not to call this a “ransom,” because the President did, repeatedly, say we did not pay ransom, we do not pay ransom, for hostages. The truth of his statement is self-evident, unless you disbelieve a fact that no one is disputing, that the $400 million was already Iran’s money. There is no definition of “ransom” that includes giving someone something that is already theirs.

What makes Mitchell’s smear on President Obama particularly disgusting, though, is that to the extent anyone could possibly construe this incident as direct consideration of the freeing of Americans, this would be the exact opposite of a ransom. A ransom is something that you pay in order to secure someone’s release. This was the exact opposite of that. This was Iran, at worst, securing the release of their own money by first releasing the Americans they’d been holding. At best, it is exactly as Obama and Kirby have described it, an unrelated (or indirectly related) settlement that naturally played out in concert with other diplomatic developments.

I don’t think anyone is trying to say that none of the various concerns surrounding diplomacy with Iran affected the others, but to the extent that it matters what we call things, it really matters whether we call this a “ransom,” because as President Obama has said, it would be disastrous public diplomacy for any foreign power to believe that the United States pays ransom for prisoners. That’s also why Donald Trump is so desperate to call this a “ransom.”

But news outlets who wish to participate in this libel campaign need to answer a few questions, like this: given the facts as presented, what sequence of events would they have not reported as a ransom? They’ve already been tested in this regard, and have proven willing to report a pre-release payment as a ransom, as well as to report a post-release payment as a ransom. Aside from ginning up a little bit of extra news value, what’s in it for them?

They could just as easily have reported this honestly, and said that it raises important questions about the types of consideration that should be involved in this sort of diplomacy, or even about the wisdom of any sort of diplomacy with a hostile state like Iran. In essence, isn’t any valuable diplomatic consideration a type of ransom?

If you haven’t figured it out yet, just turn on cable news for about five minutes, and you’re likely to hear something that explains it:

Your president, Ronald Reagan, did the same damn thing. He got caught trading money for hostages.

Yes, this is all about absolving Saint Ronald Reagan and promoting the precious “both sides” religious doctrine that these idiots live by. The problem is, President Obama didn’t “get caught” doing anything, he engaged in diplomacy right in front of everyone, and Reagan didn’t do “the same damn thing,” he secretly sold arms to a terrorist state and secretly used the money to fund an illegal war. Here’s how Reagan initially responded to questions about that deal:

Reagan: I believe our policy goals toward Iran were well-founded. However, the information brought to my attention yesterday convinced me that in one aspect, implementation of that policy was seriously flawed.

[…]

Reporter: Did you make a mistake in sending arms to Tehran, sir?

Reagan: No. And I’m not taking any more questions.

He then fled the stage, and left Attorney General Ed Meese to clean up the mess:

Certain monies which were received in the transaction between representatives of Israel and representatives of Iran were made available to the forces in Central America which are opposing the Sandinista government there.

Eventually, Reagan was forced to admit that his heart and his facts were all messed up:

A few months ago I told the American people I did not trade arms for hostages. My heart and my best intentions still tell me that’s true, but the facts and the evidence tell me it is not.

If Obama had done even one element of what Reagan did, he’d be on his way to Kenyan Gitmo right now. Instead, he’s got Andrea Mitchell calling him a liar so Chris Matthews can say he did the same thing as Ronald Reagan. It’s disgusting, and it’s dangerous, because paying ransom really is the last thing we want the world to think we’re doing.

This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.

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