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Iran’s Hostage Victory

During Sunday’s Democratic primary debate, Senator Bernie Sanders argued that it’s time to bring Iran in from the cold. “I think what we’ve got to do is move as aggressively as we can to normalize relations with Iran,” he said.

If Iran had a representative government, if it wasn’t ruled by Ayatollah Khamenei, his dark theocratic Guardian Council and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, the United States and Iran would restore normal relations almost as a matter of course.

Iran would, in all likelihood, take its proper place as one of America’s premier allies in the Middle East alongside the Kurds and the Israelis. The extreme and often fantastical anti-Americanism so endemic in the Arab world is far weaker among the Persians, Azeris and Kurds who make up the Iranian nation.

Iran right now is like Poland under the Warsaw Pact—a would-be friendly nation occupied and ruled by a hostile regime. Good and proper relations will have to wait until the government is overthrown or reformed out of all recognition like Vietnam's current communist-in-name-only government.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton takes a harder line than Sanders, naturally. “We’ve had one good day over 36 years, and I think we need more good days before we move more rapidly toward any kind of normalization.”

She was referring to the release of three American citizens—journalist Jason Rezaian, Christian pastor Saeed Abedini and former Marine Amir Hekmati—whom the Iranians held hostage until a couple of days ago.

It’s not at all clear that their release counts as a good day. It’s terrific for the freed prisoners, obviously, and it’s almost as terrific for their friends, family and colleagues, but the ransom was insanely steep.

First the United States had to release seven Iranian criminals who were convicted of sanctions violations in a properly functioning judicial system. Second, Washington had to scrub the names of 14 Iranians from an Interpol watch list. And third, the United States is kicking 100 billion dollars in frozen assets back to the Iranian government.

A fair swap would have been three innocent prisoners for three innocent prisoners, but the United States doesn’t randomly grab foreign nationals off the streets to use as bargaining chips, so that was never an option.

If the Iranian government had released innocent people because they’re innocent like it’s supposed to—then we could say we had a good day. But that’s not what happened. That’s not even close to what happened.

It could have been worse, though. Secretary of State John Kerry said he thought he’d secured these peoples’ release months ago, but the deal fell apart because the Iranian government wanted the United States to release convicted murderers.

That demand shouldn’t surprise anyone. Iran’s Lebanese proxy Hezbollah convinced the Israelis to release convicted murderers like the notorious Samir Kuntar in exchange for  the bodies of kidnapped soldiers who weren’t even alive anymore, who had in fact been mutilated by Hezbollah.

That’s how Iran and its proxies roll, but the US doesn’t cave like the Israelis.

And at least the US got something out of the deal. At least our people are still among the living when they come home. Jason Rezaian is one of my colleagues. I don’t know him personally, but it will be good to have him back all the same. He holds dual Iranian-American citizenship, but he was born in the San Francisco Bay Area and was the Tehran bureau chief for the Washington Post when the Iranians grabbed him 18 months ago on trumped up espionage charges.

It was instantly obvious to almost everybody that he wasn’t snatched because he’s some kind of a spy. He was simply the latest hostage taken by the government that made a name for itself on the world stage by taking hostages. No doubt he’ll write some very interesting articles, and perhaps even a book, when he gets settled in and recovers.

Anthony Bourdain interviewed him in Tehran shortly before he and his wife were dispatched to Evin Prison. (She was later released.)

“I miss certain things about home,” he said. “I miss my buddies. I miss burritos.” He laughed and added, “I miss having certain beverages with my buddies and burritos in certain types of establishments.”

He missed booze and bars, in other words, both of which have been banned in Iran since the 1979 revolution. (Contrary to popular belief, Iran is one of only a small minority of Muslim countries that actually ban alcohol.)

“I love (Iran) and I hate it, but it’s home,” he said. “It’s become home.”

It’s not home for him anymore. That’s for damn sure. He’s on his way back to his real home in America where he was born.

Iran committed three criminal acts against American citizens and paid no price. We put kidnappers in prison for a very long time in this country, but the Iranian government was rewarded.

What’s to stop that government from doing it again?

Nothing.

Why should the Iranian government stop? Kidnapping and ransoming hostages works. And the regime is already gearing up to do it again.

In October of last year they grabbed Siamak Namazi, one of the founders of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC). He’s still being held hostage despite the prisoner swap.

NIAC lobbied hard for the nuclear deal signed earlier by Washington and Tehran. Its principle founder and president Trita Parsi has been fighting even longer—since 1997—to have sanctions against Iran lifted.

One of those guys is Iran’s current hostage. Not some CIA spook. Not a wannabe revolutionary. Not even a crusading journalist. No. The regime’s current hostage is a man who worked for years to normalize relations with Iran.

Bernie Sanders wants to pick up where Namazi left off. He’ll fare no better.

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