Iran: Follow the Money
Let's not waste time. At the direction of President Obama, the United States of America gave $400 million to Iran – it was Iran's money, after all, Obama said. In an unrelated move, Iran released four American hostages: a newspaper reporter, a former Marine, a Christian pastor, and a language student. It was a coincidence – no one negotiating the money knew anything about any hostages.
Over and done. OK? OK.
But what about the other hostages?
- Siamak Namazi and Robert Levinson were left behind – and Namazi's father, Baquer, not an American citizen, was arrested trying to get his son released.
- Nazar Taka, a Lebanese citizen with permanent American residence, was arrested in November; the Iranians proclaimed him a U.S. citizen.
- Nazak Afshar, a French citizen, was arrested in March on her way into the country and sentenced to six years in prison.
- Nanzanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British citizen, was arrested in April at the airport on her way out of the country.
- Homa Hoodfar, a Canadian academic, was arrested in June.
- Reza Shahini, an American citizen, was arrested just last month.
The Iranians appear to have skipped May, but they acknowledge one other American in custody.
Taking the U.S. government at its word that there was no ransom paid and will be no further ransom paid – I know, I know, but stick with the larger point – what is the benefit to Iran of taking Western hostages while the Iranian government is trying to take advantage of the partial lifting of Western sanctions? How does the Iranian government square its illegal behavior with its desire to be treated as if it is behaving legally? How does it square government-sponsored rallies chanting, "Death to America" with a desire to do business with the United States?
The same way the U.S. government does – by denying any link between this arm and that, this behavior and that, this law and that.
Karim Sadjadpour of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace told The Washington Post, "There's often a political and economic logic for Iran's hard-liners to imprison dual nationals. It deters diaspora businessmen from visiting Iran, which is less competition for the Revolutionary Guards. It sabotages improved relations with Washington, which Iran's hard-liners fear. Lastly, it undermines the agenda of the Rouhani government, who has encouraged dual nationals to return to Iran and bring with them foreign investment."
So, according to Sadjadpour, there is a "bad Iran," represented by the Revolutionary Guards, and a "good Iran," represented by the Rouhani "moderates." Could be. Certainly the Revolutionary Guards have benefited from their stranglehold on the economy, and a truly free economy would reduce their profits. But there will be no truly free economy in any event. The Republican Guard is a stakeholder in those businesses trying to do business with the West – and having trouble with financing precisely because the Guard is a stakeholder.
There is no "good Iran" and "bad Iran," just Iran. The same government that imprisons Western citizens is the one complaining because Western banks won't do business with it.
And lest one think this is only a problem for Iran with American banks, Valiollah Seif, governor of Iran's central bank, complained to the Guardian (U.K.) that U.K. banks – including Lloyds banking Group and Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) – refuse to serve as clearing banks and are preventing Iranian firms from reopening their London branches. "Our first expectation from Britain is to provide assistance so that our Iranian banks can start operating in London again."
Seif also wanted help from the British government to have Iran removed from the blacklist of the Financial Action Task Force (on Money Laundering), or FATF.
Did he think holding Nanzanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe would help focus the British government's attention? Perhaps holding Nazak Afshar is to ensure that the French government helps Airbus's bid for Iranian airplanes if Boeing can't get financing? Are Shahini and Namazi trump cards on the Boeing deal?
Iran is, in many regards, an open book. The Islamic Republic declared war on the U.S. and Israel in 1979 and hasn't changed its mind. It is a nasty, dangerous, totalitarian place.
The Obama administration paid $400 million to the #1 financier and supporter of terrorism according to Obama's own State Department. In addition, Iran has more executions than any country except the People's Republic of China, including for homosexuality; exercises legal brutality against women; supports religious intolerance; has committed violations of the Geneva Conventions against American sailors; provides military support to Bashar Assad as he commits war crimes against the Syrian people; violates U.N. bans on weapons import and export and ballistic missile testing; and censors information going into Iran and coming out. That's only a partial list.
Even as he claims that it wasn't ransom for hostages (cough, cough), the president behaved as if there was a "moderate" part of the Iranian government with which to do business. This is why the administration hid the fact from the American public.