There is much to be said about the recent Vice Presidential debate. I could talk about the near-constant cross-talk and interruptions coming from both candidates. I could talk about the lack of discussion on both candidates records. I could talk about the largest HIV outbreak in Indiana's history that happened under Governor Pence. I could talk about the line-item veto (again) and why no one will ever balance the Federal budget, but there's honestly only so many times I can write about that.
But I won't talk about those things. Those would be far too interesting for this blog. Instead, I'm going talk about an obscure political maneuver that is being blown out of proportion by many politicians, as is my way.
During the debate, Governor Pence asserted that the United States paid a 400 million dollar ransom to Iran in exchange for the release of 4 hostages. Since the United States has long had a policy of not paying ransom to kidnappers, this was a troubling accusation indeed.
If I worked at one of my favorite fact-checking websites, Politifact, I would say that claim is "Mostly False" (as they did several months ago). The 400 million dollars that were given to Iran were not ransom for hostages, but were part of a settlement in The Hague that had been announced several months before the payment. This settlement was the final response to a decades-long dispute over an arms deal from the late 1970s.
That dispute great out of another hostage situation in 1979. You know, the famous one. The one they made Argo about. Right before the hostages were taken, the Iranian government sent 400 million dollars to America for fighter jets. After the money was delivered, but before the United States sent the jets, 52 Americans were taken hostage, and the United States froze Iranian assets and never sent the jets. They also never sent back the 400 million, and 37 years later, this dispute was finally settled in the international court, and the United States agreed to pay the money back, plus interest, adding up to a total of 1.3 billion dollars in payments to Iran.
But the claim that this 400 million was ransom for prisoners is only "mostly false," not totally false. And that is because, while Iran was going to receive the money no matter what, the State Department used the payment as leverage. The timing of the hostage release and the payment were not coincidental, and the United States waited until three of the hostages were on a plane before sending the money.
What makes that different from ransom? Ransom is when someone demands money for a hostage, and only releases that hostage when they receive the money. Iran did not request this 400 million as a condition for the release of these hostages. The United States was always going to have to send this money to Iran. Only the timing on the payment was tied to the hostage release, not the payment itself.
So it isn't exactly ransom, but it definitely does not look good, politically. And of course, long explanations about international court and debts that originated in the Iranian Revolution are not things that play well on a debate stage. Or at least, not on our current debate stages. Obviously, if I hosted the debates, I would run things a little differently. But no one is allowing me to host the debates, so I guess we will all just have to make do with the platforms we have.