In case you don’t want to watch the video, here are some snippets.
Major Garrett: As you well know, there are four Americans in Iran — three held on trumped-up charges and according to your administration and one whereabouts unknown. Can you tell the country, sir, why you are content with all the fanfare around this deal to leave the conscious of this nation, the strength of this nation unaccounted for in relation to these four Americans?
President Obama: I’ve to give you credit for how you craft those questions. The notion that I’m content as I celebrate with American citizens languishing in Iranian jails — Major, that’s nonsense, and you should know better. I’ve met with the families of some of those folks. Nobody is content, and our diplomats and our teams are working diligently to try to get them out. Now, if the question is why we did not tie the negotiations to their release, think about the logic that that creates. Suddenly Iran realizes, you know what? Maybe we can get additional concessions out of the Americans by holding these individuals.
I’ve seen this story making the rounds on Facebook, predominantly among conservatives where it has been paired with headlines like “Obama finally snaps” or “Garrett unloads on Obama.”1 From the headlines, you’d get the impression that this was some kind of Joseph N. Welch “Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?” moment.
Well, it’s not. And it’s not even close.
I’m not going to weigh in on the entire Iran nuke deal issue, because I don’t know enough about it. I’m generally optimistic and hopeful. I have a very high opinion of Iran and the people who live there (in distinct contrast to the radicals who run the place), and the deal seems reasonable, based on what I’ve heard. On the other hand, lots of conservatives seem to be pointing out that the deal with North Korea seemed reasonable as well, and look how that turned out. So I don’t know.
But on the specific issue of signing the deal with Iran while Americans are still in Iranian jails, Obama’s response was absolutely on point. He cited the exact same logic behind the US policy of not paying ransoms or negotiating with terrorists. The fact is that if you make it profitable to take hostages, then more hostages get taken. So, even though in any one case you want to negotiate for the sake of today’s hostages, you can’t because it would cause more people to become hostages tomorrow. That response is an excellent rebuttal to Garrett’s question, and it’s one conservatives (with all their much-vaunted tough-mindedness and realism) should be particularly cognizant of.
Secondly, in terms of tone, Obama’s response was equally fitting. Garrett’s question was loaded and arguably even exploitative. For Obama to address that directly was well within bounds. So, on both levels, Obama handled this particular question fairly and adeptly.2
And yet, I see conservatives everywhere continuing to share this story as though their “team” won. It’s depressing. It’s almost as depressing as Donald Trump taking the lead in the GOP presidential polling.
Seriously, guys? Seriously?