Charles Krauthammer defends Iranian prisoner swap: "Give President Obama credit"

"GOP misses the point," the Fox News contributor argues, calling the swap "perfectly reasonable"

By Sophia Tesfaye

Senior Politics Editor

Published January 22, 2016 3:36PM (EST)

Charles Krauthammer            (CBS News)
Charles Krauthammer (CBS News)

"Give President Obama credit," Fox contributor and conservative commentator Charles Krauthammer opens his latest op-ed, defending last week's controversial prisoner swap with Iran to his fellow conservatives who have assailed the deal.

"Republicans say: We shouldn’t negotiate with terror states. But we do, and we should," he wrote. "How else do you get hostages back?"

Five Americans who had been imprisoned by Iran were released last Saturday, coinciding with the lifting of economic sanctions against Iran as part of a multi-national nuclear deal. Krauthammer defended the swap from GOP critics like leading Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump who called the deal "a disgrace."

We didn’t give away much here. The seven released Iranians, none of whom has blood on his hands, were sanctions busters (and a hacker), and sanctions are essentially over now. The slate is clean.

The one valid criticism of the Iranian swap is that we left one, perhaps two, Americans behind and unaccounted for. True. But the swap itself was perfectly reasonable.

"[I]n denouncing the swap, they were wrong," Krauthammer wrote of conservative critics.

“Governments are taking Americans hostage because they believe they can gain concessions from this government under Barack Obama,” freshman Florida Marco Rubio said, denouncing the deal.

"[Y]es, of course, negotiating encourages further hostage taking. But there is always something to be gained by kidnapping Americans. This swap does not affect that truth one way or the other," Krauthammer retorted.

"These folks were taken illegally in violation of international law and they should have been released without condition," New Jersey Governor Chris Christie complained.

"True, we should have made the prisoner release a precondition for negotiations," Krauthammer conceded. "But that pre-emptive concession was made long ago. The remaining question was getting our prisoners released before we gave away all our leverage upon implementation of the nuclear accord. We did."

Of course, the Fox News regular contributor tempered his praise for the Obama administration negotiated deal by taking the opportunity to slam the overarching Iranian nuclear deal and chastising Republicans for failing to keep up their unrelenting attacks on the landmark negotiation.

The swap was "cleverly used by the administration to create a heartwarming human interest story to overshadow a rotten diplomatic deal, just as the Alan Gross release sweetened a Cuba deal that gave the store away to the Castro brothers," Krauthammer added:

His Iran nuclear deal may be disastrous but the packaging was brilliant. The near-simultaneous prisoner exchange was meant to distract from Saturday’s official implementation of the sanctions-lifting deal. And it did. The Republicans concentrated almost all their fire on the swap sideshow.


The real story of Saturday, Jan. 16, 2016 – “Implementation Day” of the Iran deal – was that it marks a historic inflection point in the geopolitics of the Middle East. In a stroke, Iran shed almost four decades of rogue-state status and was declared a citizen of good standing of the international community, open to trade, investment and diplomacy.


And we’re arguing over an asymmetric hostage swap.

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By Sophia Tesfaye

Sophia Tesfaye is Salon's senior editor for news and politics, and resides in Washington, D.C. You can find her on Twitter at @SophiaTesfaye.

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