The editors wrote, in today’s Philadelphia Inquirer:
A despotic Iranian regime that has consistently shown a closed fist to President Obama’s offers of engagement and has been busy slaughtering its own people in the streets may be deaf to appeals for justice based on humanitarian grounds.
Nevertheless, let’s add one more voice to the growing chorus calling for the release of three American hikers who allegedly strayed into Iran and have been held for almost six months now by the mullahs and their extremist henchmen who masquerade as a justice system.
On July 31, Joshua Fattal, 27, a Cheltenham High School grad; Shane Bauer, 27; and Sarah Shourd, 31, were hiking near a waterfall, a popular tourist attraction in Iraqi Kurdistan, and apparently crossed the border into Iran inadvertently.
They were arrested and have been in Tehran’s Evin prison since. They have had no contact with their families. Swiss envoys had been allowed two short visits but have been denied access since Oct. 29. A lawyer retained by the families has yet to be granted permission to see his clients.
More at the link.
The State Department is working, mostly quietly, to try to get these three Americans released; the only thing they did wrong was to cross an international border they shouldn’t have crossed. But we have no diplomatic relations with the Islamic Republic, and some of the work to get them released has to be done through intermediaries. From what we know now, the Obama Administration has handled it well: there have been some public statements, but so far nothing has been given away, and the diplomatic effort is mostly quiet.
I’ve written about this before, and noted how former President Bill Clinton got two of Al Gore’s naïfs released after they crossed into North Korea. There was no quid pro quo to get the CurrentTV journalists released, no, none at all, but then, surprisingly enough, the Obama Administration changed its policy shortly thereafter, and agreed to bilateral talks with North Korea.
The Iranians know that Messrs Fattal and Bauer and Miss Shourd aren’t double-nought spies; they know that they’d just gotten lost. But the Iranians also know that these three Americans have a value, as hostages, as bargaining chips; President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the Iranian leadership know that they can get some form of ransom for these three.
And make no mistake about it: the Muslims know the value that civilized Western nations put on their citizens, as Israel has offered to trade hundreds of imprisoned Palestinian terrorists to free just one Israeli, IDF Corporal Gilead Shalit. (And even that wasn’t enough; Hamas is holding out for a better offer.)
The end result is obvious: Messrs Fattal and Bauer and Miss Shourd will be released — possibly, like the two CurrentTV reporters, after they have been tried and convicted of espionage and served more time in prison — and the State Department will say that there was no “deal” made. Then, about 2½ weeks later, on page A-4 of The Philadelphia Inquirer, there will be a small story, perhaps in the In The World brief section, we’ll see — if we don’t miss it — that the United States has made some small change in policy that benefits Iran, but of course it won’t have the slightest thing to do with the release of the three hikers.
At some point, you have to ask: don’t Americans traveling abroad, especially to dangerous areas, have some obligation not to do stupid things? The taxpayers are already out many thousands of dollars, probably in the hundreds of thousands, in the quiet efforts to get the three hikers released; how much else this will cost us is unknown so far. And all of this is because three intelligent, educated and well-to-do Americans didn’t have enough common sense not to go hiking near the Iranian border.
Our government routinely spends a good amount of money rescuing Americans abroad who have done something stupid; this has been going on for 200 years now. But at some point Americans traveling abroad have to be responsible for themselves, have to step out of their insular shell and realize that not every place in the world is safe, not everyone in the world thinks like good, well-meaning Westerners, and not everything they could do in Yellowstone can be done abroad. One of these times, the cost of rescuing these naïve travelers will be too high; that time might have already come.
¹ – The Philadelphia Inquirer, Monday, 11 January 2010, p. A-10