When the US government sends $400 million in cash, stacked on pallets, to Iran on the same day the Iranian government releases four imprisoned Americans, it looks an awful lot like ransom.
On the other hand, when the US government decides to keep $400 million sent to it by the Iranian government pursuant to an arms deal for 35 years without ever shipping the arms, it looks an awful lot like stealing.
And when the US government reaches a settlement to finally pay back that money with interest, it looks an awful lot like justice.
Yes, the simultaneity of payment and release looks pretty damning on both ends.
On the other hand, it seems very understandable from both ends.
The Iranians have had good reason to distrust the US government for more than 60 years, ever since the US overthrew their elected government and saddled them with a US-approved dictator, then stole their money when they overthrew that dictator. As often as the US has screwed them, why would they trust the US to repay them absent some kind of leverage?
President Obama, on the other hand, wanted to secure the return of those prisoners, and he seems to genuinely want to improve US relations with Iran after more than three decades of cold (and sometimes not so cold) war. Coughing up cash that the US owed to Iran anyway probably looked like a good way to make progress on both of those fronts.
Yeah, I guess it looks kind of bad. But you know, I don't have any heartburn over it. And I find it hard to give much credence to Republican temper tantrums over the whole thing.
I don't recall Republicans complaining about the Iranians timing their release of hostages from the US embassy in Tehran to coincide with the inauguration of a Republican president (some people even believe that that Republican's running mate negotiated a secret deal with the Iranians to stretch the matter and create that coincidence).
I do recall Republicans defending that same president when he was discovered to have traded arms to -- not to merely have returned money to, but to have intentionally armed -- Iran in return for assistance in achieving the release of American hostages held in Lebanon by Iran's Hezbollah allies.
It seems to me that all is well here, election year partisan bluster notwithstanding. Peace gets messy now and again, but it beats the alternative.