The latest on the 5 Americans freed from Iran: Live updates

4:10 p.m. ET, September 18, 2023

Analysis: Biden takes political hit despite bringing Americans home from Iran

US President Joe Biden’s deal with Iran that unlocks $6 billion in Tehran’s frozen funds to bring five imprisoned Americans home is creating the kind of terrible optics and an opening for his domestic foes that a politically weakened president can ill afford.

Yet, it is also an example of the kind of agonizing dilemma only presidents face in their lonely Oval Office perch and the way they often have to juggle humanitarian concerns with geopolitics and domestic considerations where no easy answers exist.

After all, the United States does not deal with its well-meaning friends to free hostages or wrongly detained Americans.

US enemies like Iran, Russia, Venezuela or the Taliban – with which Washington has in recent years traded for detainees – drive excruciatingly tough bargains and understand how to leverage political pressure for concessions that can be tough to justify before a hostile political audience at home. 

There is no perfect deal to free imprisoned Americans and the agreement with Iran is especially divisive. But a president must consider whether they have the power to spare detained citizens from the horrors of prisons in places like Iran and Russia and whether they are negligent if they choose not to free them for domestic political or geopolitical reasons or out of a fear of emboldening US foes. In this way dealing with US enemies can be a sign of political strength rather than weakness.

But the price for Biden for getting five Americans home in a deal facilitated by Qatar is a gusher of claims from Republicans playing into their narrative that he is weak, is losing his critical faculties and is going soft on a sworn US enemy.

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