Iranian military forces have taken two US Navy boats into custody after allegedly straying into Iranian-claimed waters.
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News broke last night, hours before President Obama's State of the Union address, that two U.S. Navy ships "in the Persian Gulf" were "seized" by Iran, and the 10 sailors on board were "arrested." The Iranian government quickly said, and even the U.S. government itself seemed to acknowledge, that these ships had entered Iranian waters without permission, and were thus inside Iranian territory when detained. CNN's Barbara Starr, as she always does, immediately went on the air with Wolf Blitzer to read what U.S. officials told her to say: "We are told that right now, what the U.S. thinks may have happened, is that one of these small boats experienced a mechanical problem " perhaps beginning to drift. " It was at that point, the theory goes right now, that they drifted into Iranian territorial waters."
It goes without saying that every country has the right to patrol and defend its territorial waters and to intercept other nations' military boats that enter without permission. Indeed, the White House itself last night was clear that, in its view, this was "not a hostile act by Iran" and that Iran had given assurances that the sailors would be promptly released. And this morning they were released, exactly as Iran promised they would be, after Iran said it determined the trespassing was accidental and the U.S. apologized and promised no future transgressions.
Despite all of this, most U.S. news accounts last night quickly skimmed over -- or outright ignored -- the rather critical fact that the U.S. ships had "drifted into" Iranian waters. Instead, all sorts of TV news personalities and U.S. establishment figures puffed out their chest and instantly donned their Tough Warrior pose to proclaim that this was an act of aggression -- virtually an act of war: not by the U.S., but by Iran. They had taken our sailors "hostage," showing yet again how menacing and untrustworthy they are. Completely typical was this instant analysis from former Clinton and Bush Middle East negotiator Aaron David Miller, now at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars: