Let’s Not Kid Ourselves Over Iran’s Payment

Iran Payoff: A Ransom, Is A Ransom, Is A Ransom

Some years back, before he squandered his reputation for truth-seeking and plain-spoken honesty, Dan Rather elevated a homespun maxim to candidacy for inclusion in Bartlett’s “Familiar Quotations.”

Remember? Testifying in a 1983 slander trial against CBS and himself, Rather smirked, “If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck — it’s a duck.”

Rather’s broad insight has fresh application this week in the aftermath of a bombshell report in the Wall Street Journal that compellingly links the release of four innocent Americans held by Iran to the arrival in Tehran of $400 million in cash, a transfer authorized by the White House.

US Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif have deal Congress can't block

There are qualifying details, of course, and the White House would prefer we fixate on those. The release was part of a larger series of negotiations going on with the mullahs. Our guys were going free in exchange for about eight times as many Iranian thugs either being repatriated or erased from Interpol’s most-wanted list.

Also, we’d already agreed to pay back, with interest, money Iran fronted for U.S. weapons just before the Shah was deposed in 1979, and the $400 million was a down payment. And there was that whole (awful, terrible, horrible, no good nuclear deal — the one Iran has already serially violated) going on. So there were a lot of loose ends coming together.

Well. You can believe that if you want to.

In fact, what happened on that lonesome January night is ultimately and appallingly simple. We put $400 million on an unmarked airplane and sent it to the mullahs. In exchange, four illegally jailed Americans came home. On the same date.

Barack Obama

The White House wants us to believe it was all a silly coincidence, one of those random moments that are bound to come together in a seemingly awkward fashion when so many moving parts are involved. It’s like in a class of 30 kids, at least two are likely to have the same birthday. Seriously! Statisticians will back them up.

If that’s the case, how come they kept it secret? No one in the administration even briefed Congress. Is the habit of the Obama White House to camouflage transactions that are entirely on the up-and-up? No, they preen endlessly about such things.

So, to explain the true nature of the transfer, we prefer Rather, the Occam’s Razor of appearances. To paraphrase, if it looks like ransom, smells like ransom and Iranian officials quack over it as ransom — you’ve got a ransom.

There’s even a delicious John le Carré-worthy flourish: Because it remains illegal, even in the eighth year of Obama’s United States of Executive Orders, to send American greenbacks to Iran, the administration’s cash had to be laundered through Switzerland, where the no-questions-asked bankers to the world converted dollars into foreign currency, and sent it on its way to becoming untraceable walking-around money (hat tip, Jonah Goldberg) to spread among the mullahs’ preferred terrorists.

gun control

There is a term for the conversion of currency, and that term is “money laundering.”

And what did the Iranians do when all this non-ransom cash passed inspection? (You half expect the delivery clerks muttered the obligatory, “You kin count it. It’s all dere.”) They declared triumphantly, as Gen. Mohammad Reza Naghdi of the Revolutionary Guard proclaimed on Iranian state media, “Taking this much money back was in return for the release of the American spies.”

The aforementioned Goldberg has it precisely right:

Sometimes you just have to marvel at the way smart people can talk themselves into stupidity. The whole point of not paying ransoms to terrorists isn’t to save money. The reason we don’t pay kidnappers is that we understand that it will only encourage more kidnapping.

So letting the Iranians think the $400 million was a ransom payment is doubly asinine, because it fooled exactly the wrong people, the wrong way. Who cares if the Obama administration “knew” it wasn’t a ransom? What mattered was to make it clear to the Iranians that it wasn’t a ransom, not give them every reason to believe it was.

Of course, if it wasn’t a ransom, there would be an easy way to make that case: Iran would have stopped jailing innocent Americans, because they’d know they couldn’t trade them for something of value.

Instead, the kidnapping continues. Well, duh. You incentivize bad behavior, you get more of it. It’s scary the most powerful man on the planet still doesn’t get that. It’s scarier still that we might be about to elect his former Secretary of State and philosophical surrogate in a pantsuit.

Veteran journalist and center-right blogger Tom Jackson has worked for newspapers in Washington D.C., Sacramento, Calif., and Tampa, Fla., racking up state and national awards for writing, editing and design along the way. Tom also has been published in assorted sports magazines, and his work has been included in several annual “Best Sports Stories” collections. A University of Florida alumnus, St. Louis Cardinals fan and eager-if-haphazard golfer, Tom splits time between Tampa and Cashiers, N.C., with his wife, two children and a couple of yappy dogs.