On January 16, 2016, as the United States, Iran, and other world powers began to implement the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the diplomatic deal to constrain Iran's nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of sanctions, four long-imprisoned Iranian-American hostages boarded a flight in Tehran to begin their long trek home.
Secretary of State John Kerry credited the importance of "the relationships forged and the diplomatic channels unlocked over the course of the nuclear talks." He vehemently denied any talk of ransom.
Kerry was lying. The Obama administration sent Iran $400 million in pallets stacked with euros, Swiss francs and other currencies on an unmarked cargo plane before the hostages could depart, according to The Wall Street Journal.
"Taking this much money back was in return for the release of the American spies," Gen. Mohammad Reza Naghdi, a Revolutionary Guards officer who commands Iran's paramilitary said. The money came despite the fact that President Obama pardoned three Iranians charged with sanctions violations and dropped charges or commuted prison sentences for five other Iranians.
Kerry may believe he made a Nobel-worthy breakthrough akin to Nixon going to China, but what he actually did was repeat the Reagan-era Arms-for-Hostages scandal, almost to a tee. It's useful to remember the genesis of that scandal, like today's, was a desire for diplomacy.
On August 31, 1984, National Security Advisor Robert (Bud) McFarlane asked officials at a National Security Council meeting whether rapprochement with Iran was possible. After all, the shah's death had rendered many Iranian demands moot and negotiations ending the initial hostage crisis had created arbitration process where the two sides could settle other disputes. Both countries also found common ground in their opposition to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
Reagan's team recognized the Supreme Leader's radicalism and intransigence. They believed, however, they could bolster reformers and moderates inside Iran by working through them to deliver much needed arms and spare parts, and they dismissed continued "Death to America" rhetoric as for internal consumption only. In effect, this is what the Obama administration has done.
The Revolutionary Guards received the bulk of the hard currency windfall Iran reaped with the lifting of sanctions. Iranian military leaders have already been spotted buying arms in Russia and China. The $25 billion Boeing deal may be more of the same. After all, if Iran receives all the airplanes Boeing seeks to sell, it would furnish a fleet to exceed more than twice Iran's current capacity. The only plausible explanation since Iran Air can't afford to fly empty aircraft is that Iran seeks to cannibalize planes to bolster its military or use them to transport troops.
Still, Obama and Kerry applauded the January hostage release as a sign their nuclear calculation worked. They may have convinced themselves that a ransom payment and misleading Congress was worth the price because Tehran was turning a page. Reagan administration officials also fell victim to self-delusion. Iran did initially free hostages held by its militias in Lebanon, but no sooner had American officials offloaded the last shipment of military equipment, then kidnappers seized three more Americans. Simply put, then as now, ransoming hostages only incentivized terror.
Obama and Kerry have become like gamblers who believe that they can win the jackpot of a new, moderate Iran if only they can place one more bet. They have become so desperate for their legacy agreement to succeed that they are willing to place more trust in Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif than they do in the U.S. Congress. They ignore that while in charge of Iran's nuclear program, Rouhani bragged about lulling America into complacency with diplomacy before delivering the knock-out blow.
Alas, what happens in Tehran does not stay in Tehran. America's willingness to ransom hostages will not only mean more Iranian-Americans victimized in Iran, but a virtual open-season for rogues and terrorists on American everywhere.