Buried in the 19th paragraph of a New York Times report on the Biden administration’s efforts to stop Iran from providing stealth drones to the Russians is, well, news you can use.
The Iranian drones now killing Ukrainians, described as "unmanned ‘kamikaze’ aircraft," were developed with the help of lessons learned from a captured American drone. The same model had been used to surveil Osama bin Laden’s Pakistani compound, and the technology that powered it had been a highly guarded intelligence secret until a decade ago.
That’s when a U.S. drone on a surveillance mission malfunctioned, crash landing in the Iranian desert. President Barack Obama, the nuclear agreement a glint in his eye, faced a choice: Forfeit some of our most closely guarded national security technology to a sworn enemy or fight back.
Per the Times, Obama "briefly considered sending in a Navy SEAL team to blow it up before it fell into the hands of Iranian engineers," but "decided not to take the risk." He also opted against options B and C: Deploying some of our Iranian allies to track down the drone or launching an airstrike to destroy its remains: U.S. officials told the Wall Street Journal they didn’t think the drone’s prized technology "could be reverse engineered with ease."
Instead, he chose option D—do nothing—and you’ll never guess what happened next! Within days, "the Iranians paraded the drone through the streets of Tehran, a propaganda victory." Surely just another American humiliation courtesy of Obama’s appeasement of America’s enemies. The world moved on.
But fast forward a decade, and there were real consequences: The technology that powered that drone has gone from a triumph in the messaging wars to a potent weapon on the battlefield. Iran had replicated it by 2016. And we close 2022 having come full circle, with the Iranians now a powerhouse in the development and deployment of drone technology to battlefields all over the world, including as a key supplier to Russia in its war on the civilian population of Ukraine.
Obama has said he regrets his pusillanimous failure to support Iranian protesters in 2009. Add the drone fiasco to the long list of the former president’s foreign policy failures, for which the United States and our allies will be paying the price—in lives and treasure—for decades to come.