Op-ed: The great humiliation

  • By Rich Lowry
  • Sunday, January 17, 2016 4:27pm
  • Opinion

The Obama administration was right when it insisted that the capture and release of 10 American sailors by Iran showed the benefits of a cooperative relationship with Tehran.

The crux of the arrangement is simple: The Iranians agree to humiliate us (and pursue their long war against the United States and their hegemonic ambitions in the Middle East), and we agree not to care. It is, as Secretary of State John Kerry says, diplomacy at its best.

What Vice President Joe Biden called “standard nautical practice” involved the Iranians making our sailors get on their knees on their captured boats, eliciting an apology from the commander, and photographing and videotaping all of it to broadcast for propaganda purposes — in clear violation of international law.

This obviously wasn’t another Carter-era Iranian hostage crisis (it wasn’t even a hostage crisis), but it was another national humiliation to add to a sour public mood that President Barack Obama doesn’t get, let alone understand his own role in creating.

His State of the Union address was devoted to a pep talk for the country that did more to demonstrate that he is out of touch — an occupational hazard for late-second-term presidents — than that anyone is wrong to feel pessimistic.

Yes, the economy has had a long recovery, but it has been slow and weak and, by some measures, hasn’t been felt in much of the country. Yes, we are the most powerful nation on Earth, but our adversaries, from Vladimir Putin to ISIS to Iran, have been gaining and are eager to demonstrate our toothlessness — in the case of ISIS, with spectacular acts of evil.

The president’s version of world events in the State of the Union was particularly wan. He touted the marginal gains against ISIS without coming to grips with the catastrophes that made its rise possible; he boasted of the Iran nuclear deal, with nary a hint that the pact hasn’t moderated Iranian behavior as hoped; and he spoke as though “partnering with local forces and leading international efforts” in Syria is an effective response to that country’s hellish meltdown.

True to form, in what was supposed to be a visionary speech, Obama continually took ill-disguised shots at his potential Republican successors, Donald Trump foremost among them. He scolded the 2016 GOP field for its fear, cheap sound bites and pandering.

There is all of that, of course — it is a primary campaign, after all — but there also is a deeper disgust with the direction of our country and the failures of its institutions, and a yearning for something better.

The president can wave off the discontent Trump in particular is tapping into as ill-informed or distorted, but an overwhelming majority of Americans think the country is on the wrong track. It isn’t just the right. The embodiment of the left-wing reaction to this discontent, Bernie Sanders, is drawing enormous crowds and threatening to defeat Hillary Clinton in Iowa and New Hampshire. The president’s line that “anyone claiming that America’s economy is in decline is peddling fiction” could have easily been directed at the Vermont socialist.

The day after the State of the Union, the images from Iran emerged to provide a picture worth more than President Obama’s 6,000 words.

The president has actively sought America’s diminishment abroad. For him, this is a shrewd play that avoids costly entanglements and makes us stronger. But there is no doubt that we are less respected and feared around the world. The public feels it, and doesn’t like it.

President Obama may fancy himself above the old Thucydides trinity of motives — honor, interest and fear — but most people aren’t. Many of them, as a certain presidential candidate puts it, want to win again.

They look at the photographs and videos of those American sailors, and it feels like a punch in the gut. The Obama administration looks at them and says to the Iranians, thank you very much.

Rich Lowry can be reached via e-mail: comments.lowry@nationalreview.com.

More in Opinion

Opinion: Freedom in the classroom sets precedence for the future

We advocate for the adoption of legislation to protect students’ First Amendment rights…

A roll of “I Voted” stickers await voters on Election Day in Alaska. Voters overwhelmingly rejected the prospect of a state constitutional convention. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: Election winners, losers and poor losers

Tshibaka and Palin misread Alaskans by thinking Trump’s endorsement all but guaranteed they’d win.

This 1981 photo provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows an electron micrograph of Respiratory Syncytial Virus, also known as RSV. Children’s hospitals in parts of the country are seeing a distressing surge in RSV, a common respiratory illness that can cause severe breathing problems for babies. Cases fell dramatically two years ago as the pandemic shut down schools, day cares and businesses. Then, with restrictions easing, the summer of 2021 brought an alarming increase in what is normally a fall and winter virus. (CDC via AP)
Alaska Voices: What Alaskans need to know about RSV

By learning more about respiratory illnesses and taking helpful actions, we can all take steps to improve the situation

Homer Foundation
Point of View: Multiplying the power of every local dollar given

Each community foundation is a public charity that focuses on supporting a geographic area by pooling donations to meet community needs

The Homer Public Library as seen on Aug. 18, 2021, in Homer, Alaska. (File photo by Sarah Knapp/Homer News)
Point of View: Banning books corrodes diversity and inclusion in our community

Recently, a community member requested that a long list of books be removed from the children’s collection

Peninsula Oilers fans display encouragin signs for Oilers’ pitcher Bryan Woo, Friday, June 28, 2019, at Coral Seymour Memorial Park in Kenai. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)
Gavel (Courtesy photo)
Opinion: Judging judges — balancing the judicial selection process

Alaska’s method of selecting judges can be and should be improved.

Sarah Palin speaks at a July 11 Save America Rally featuring former President Donald Trump at Alaska Airlines Center in Anchorage. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: The realities of Palin’s political demise

Palin wouldn’t be running for the seat if Rep. Don Young was still alive

Former Democratic state Rep. Beth Kerttula holds up a sign reading “Vote No Con Con,” during a recent rally at the Dimond Courthouse Plaza in Juneau. Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: What can a liberal and conservative agree on? Voting against a constitutional convention

“We disagree on many issues. But we… urge Alaskans to vote against Proposition 1.”

A “Vote Here” sign is seen at the City of Kenai building on Monday, Sept. 21, 2020, in Kenai, Alaska. (Clarion file)
Down to the wire: Be prepared before you vote

Remember your voice counts and all votes matter

Soldotna City Council member Justin Ruffridge. (Courtesy photo)
Voices of the Peninsula: We must refuse to reward ugly political tactics

With our vote we have to show that extremism and dishonesty do not win the day