On Tuesday, two American Naval boats wandered into Iranian waters, where they were taken captive. The Pentagon quickly declared that the incursion was an accident and that the Iranians had said they'd release the sailors soon. Unconvinced, the McCainian wing of the Republican Party, which at this point would bomb Iran over a bad meal at a Persian restaurant, snapped into war mode: accusing Tehran of deliberately humilating America on the day of the State of the Union Address, demanding that the president cancel the speech, complaining that he didn't mention the alleged crisis when he spoke anyway. Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton called on Obama to "nullify the nuclear deal if Iran doesn't release U.S. sailors immediately."
And then the next morning the sailors were released unharmed, and everyone who lost their minds the night before looked a little foolish.
But at least they had the excuse of speaking at a time of actual uncertainty. You can't say that about the candidates who brought up the incident at the GOP's presidential debate last night. More than a day after the issue had been resolved, they seemed intent on pretending we were in the middle of a hostage crisis.
The debate began with a moderator posing a question about the economy to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who began his reply by changing the subject:
I want to get to the substance of the question on jobs, but I want to start with something. Today, many of us picked up our newspapers, and we were horrified to see the sight of 10 American sailors on their knees, with their hands on their heads.
In that State of the Union, President Obama didn't so much as mention the 10 sailors that had been captured by Iran. President Obama's preparing to send $100 billion or more to the Ayatollah Khamenei. And I'll tell you, it was heartbreaking.
But the good news is the next commander-in-chief is standing on this stage.
And I give you my word, if I am elected president, no service man or service woman will be forced to be on their knees, and any nation that captures our fighting men will feel the full force and fury of the United States of America.
Some people call for war when they don't think diplomacy will work. Ted Cruz calls for war when diplomacy has already worked. If you tuned in to the debate without having followed the news, Cruz's answer would give you the impression that the sailors were still being held.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie invoked the incident too: "We need to rebuild our military, and this president has let it diminish to a point where tinpot dictators like the mullahs in Iran are taking our Navy ships." (Note: The U.S. spends more money on the military than the next seven countries combined.) Donald Trump declared that "the only reason we got them back is because we owed them with a stupid deal," then immediately added: "If I'm president, there won't be stupid deals anymore." There are coherent arguments against Obama's agreement with Iran, but It helped us get our sailors back really isn't one of them.
The whole thing felt a little sad. I realize that every Republican candidate dreams of being Ronald Reagan running against Jimmy Carter. But that doesn't mean the world will automatically provide them with an Iranian hostage crisis of their own.