President Obama’s passive approach to the second Iranian hostage crisis

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The recent “conviction” of Washington Post reporter Jason Rezelan, likely on the charge of espionage, by an Iranian revolutionary court, reminds us that a second Iran hostage crisis is ongoing. The other American prisoners being held by Iran are Saeed Abedini, a Christian pastor currently being imprisoned under savage torture, and Amir Hekmati, a former Marine, who was arrested and imprisoned while visiting Iranian relatives. Rezelan, Abedini, and Hekmati are all American citizens of Iranian birth. Rezelan and Hekmati have dual American-Iranian citizenship, a status that the Islamic Republic does not recognize.

The reasons these three Americans are being held are dubious, to say the least. The Iranian legal system denies people charged with crimes in the Islamic Republic basic human rights, especially easy access to legal representation. The three men are being held, not so much for anything they have done, but because the Iranian government seeks to humiliate the United States.

A fourth American, said to have been a CIA asset, was kidnaped while in Iran, and his whereabouts are currently unknown.

The difference between the current Iranian hostage crisis and the one that occurred in 1979 and 1980 is the different ways that two American presidents have reacted to them. President Jimmy Carter, to his credit, bent every effort to free the American diplomats who were taken hostage in Tehran, employing both diplomatic measures and a failed military operation that resulted in American casualties. The hostage crisis consumed Carter’s presidency and was a national humiliation for the United States. The crisis was a major factor in Carter’s defeat for reelection at the hands of Ronald Reagan.

It is that last fact that seems to be informing the approach of the Obama administration to the current hostage crisis. The approach is so low-key as to be all but nonexistent. To be sure, rumors abound about prisoner swaps being negotiated behind the scenes. But the Obama White House has to be prodded and prompted to acknowledge that the Americans being held and tortured by the Iranians even exist.

The Obama administration missed a great opportunity to see the Americans freed during the negotiations for the Iran nuclear weapons deal. A number of politicians, including Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, a candidate for president of the United States, urged President Obama to make the release of the American hostages a condition for arriving at the agreement. The pleas fell on deaf ears.

President Obama may find himself under increasing pressure to take more vigorous action to free the American hostages. Rezelan’s status as a journalist has caused the media to take notice and to publicize his plight. News organizations, wherever they are on the political spectrum, do not take kindly to seeing journalists abused by a tyrannical regime.

The president, because he is not running for reelection, may not feel the political imperative to free the American hostages that Carter felt. However, the same cannot be said of the numerous people who are trying to replace him. While Ted Cruz has made the freeing of the hostages a cause of his campaign, the other candidates have been mainly silent. One wonders how Hillary Clinton, once Obama’s secretary of state, would respond if the question of what she would do were put to her.

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