Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.) on Thursday lambasted the Obama administration’s Iran policy for humiliating the United States and increasing violence in the region, focusing particularly on Iran’s growing aggression after the nuclear deal it struck with the U.S. and five other world powers.
Speaking on the Senate floor, McCain argued the president is disengaging from the Middle East while tilting the regional balance of power in favor of Iran at the expense of U.S. allies when greater American leadership is required.
“This is another chapter in American history of humiliation, of a failure of leadership,” said McCain, who serves as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. “And all of that, of course, is no better epitomized and symbolized than by what happened when the Iranians captured two American vessels that happened to stray into their territorial waters.”
McCain was referring to the Jan. 12 incident when the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) detained 10 American sailors after their boats reportedly drifted into Iranian territorial waters. The IRGC released pictures and video of the sailors being captured and forced onto their knees with their hands up in the air, as well as of one of the Americans apologizing to Iran for the sailors’ actions.
Iran released the Americans the following day, and Secretary of State John Kerry expressed gratitude for the speed with which the Islamic Republic released them. Kerry and President Obama portrayed the incident in a positive light, touting how it shows the new diplomatic channel they formed with Tehran through the nuclear negotiations.
Analysts have said Tehran released the sailors so quickly because the regime wanted the large-scale sanctions relief, estimated to be anywhere from $50 billion to $150 billion in frozen assets, that Iran was about to receive upon the imminent implementation of the nuclear deal.
“It is against international law to take them [the American sailors] at gunpoint,” McCain said emphatically. “An incredible act of arrogance and humiliation for our American sailors.”
McCain then criticized the Obama administration for thanking the Iranians for returning the sailors rather than showing resolve.
“Let me just tell you what is really the most aggravating thing about it is the response … The response of the administration was, and I’m not making this up, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the sailors were offered ‘the proper courtesy that you would expect,’” he said.
McCain then referenced Kerry’s expression of gratitude to the Iranians with anger before turning to Vice President Joe Biden, saying that he described Iran’s actions as “standard nautical practice.”
“What planet has the vice president of the United States been on?” McCain asked.
McCain then pointed out how Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, awarded medals to the Iranian commanders who detained the U.S. sailors and described the capture as a victory for Iran.
McCain argued the only reason the Obama administration could be reacting the way it has to the sailors’ detainment is that “they do not want to upset the Iranians.”
“They don’t want to disturb the $100 billion or so [in sanctions relief] that’s going to the Iranians as we speak while they buy weapons and toys all over Europe,” McCain added. “How else could you explain the, not passivity, but absolute endorsement by the vice president of the United States and the secretary of state for this kind of humiliating behavior?”
Obama has expressed hope that the nuclear deal with Iran could open up the Islamic Republic and empower moderates within the country to change its rigid, anti-western ideology, as well as forge a strategic partnership between Washington and Tehran to go after Sunni jihadist groups like the Islamic State.
Critics have argued the administration would be self-deterred from countering Iranian aggression in an effort to preserve the nuclear deal at all costs, a point the president rejects.