Yesterday Iran detained two small ships of American sailors in the Persian Gulf in what appears to have been a routine dispute over alleged territorial violations. (In 2007, Iran detained 30 Royal Navy sailors and held them for two weeks.) Conservatives immediately moved onto war footing. “Iran is testing the boundaries of this administration’s resolve. And they know the boundaries are pretty wide,” pronounced Marco Rubio. Ted Cruz added, “The fact that Iran feels emboldened enough to capture two U.S. Navy ships and to take ten sailors into custody is really a demonstration of the unbelievable weakness of the Obama-Clinton foreign policy.” The jingoistic fervor swept up even such a relatively mild figure as Joe Scarborough. “Hey, Iran, you have exactly 300 days left to push a U.S. president around,” warned the normally affable cable-television host, “Enjoy it while you can. After that, there will be hell to pay.”
And now our very short national nightmare is over. Iran has released the sailors. One outstanding question remains: Does this episode tell us anything about the right-wing analysis of the administration’s foreign policy? If Iran was “testing” the administration, did the administration pass the test? Or perhaps was the right’s explanation for Iran’s actions analytically flawed?