Republican candidates say U.S. sailors’ capture by Iran shows Obama's weakness

Iranian hard-liners’s leaders are not alone in using Republicans are seizing on Tthe recent surrender of 10 U.S. sailors in the waters of the Persian Gulf has been seized upon as an important political symbol in the presidential primary race in South Carolina.  symbol of to Iran in January to score political points. aren’t the only ones exploiting the video of 10 captured for political gains. Several Republican presidential candidates have highlighted last month's the tense stand-off, in which Iranian forces the sailors were arrested the sailors at gunpoint, as a are using the incident as a cudgel on the Obama administration, saying the whole incident is a symptom of a weakened military under President Obama.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, told an audience on the stump in South Carolina that if he’s elected president, sailors weren’t going to be "on their knees with their hands over their heads." And Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush have portrayed the incident as a sign of the U.S. military's eroding power. TK also pointed to the incident as sign of American military weakness, and pledged to restore strength to the military if elected.

The emergence of the incident on the campaign trail has come in the run up to the primary in South Carolina, which has a large military and veteran population, with  as a campaign issue comes as the campaign is swinging through a state with a large military and veteran population, with candidates jockeying to be the strong foreign policy candidate. But military advocates say using the But some question whether using the sailors’ capture as an indication of military weakness is unfair while so much remains unknown. An investigation continues into an apparent navigation error by the riverine boat crews that saw them cut through Iranian territorial waters. in the Persian Gulf.

"We don't know what was going on when their hands were behind their heads," said Tom Snee, the head of the Fleet Reserve Association, which advocates for enlisted in the sea services. "To make this a political issue? Come on. It makes them scapegoats for a political football."

Cruz highlighted the incident in a is the most recent candidate to point to the incident. In a Feb. 16 speech on aboard the museum carrier Yorktown in Charleston, South Carolina, saying he would Cruz said he was going to restore the military’s pride.

"Starting next year, our sailors won't be on their knees with their hands on their heads," Cruz said, "Instead, they will be standing on the decks of the mightiest ships the world has ever known with their heads held high, confident that the great country that they volunteered to serve has their back."

Three days earlier, Rubio cited entioned the incident as a sign that Obama’s policies have emboldened had created a lack of respect for the military among America’s adversaries.

"Around the world, America's reputation is in decline," Rubio said during the Feb. 13 CBS News debate. "Our allies don't trust us, our adversaries don't fear us, Iran captures our sailors and parades them before the world on video."

The Republican attack line on Obama’s handling of the military is a tried-and-true tactic that dates to the bit of red meat that goes back to the Truman administration and the debate over who allowed communists to conquer China, who was responsible for allowing China to be taken over by communists in 1949, said Kyle Kondik, a political analyst the managing editor of Sabato's Crystal Ball, at the University of Virginia Center for Politics.

"It can all be boiled down to a Republican criticism that goes back decades: You can't trust Democrats on defense," Kondik said, "that they are too soft on foreign policy and too soft on our enemies."

The attack line, while undoubtedly aimed at the Obama administration, in this instance may unnecessarily pile on the sailors involved in the incident, especially since it's still under investigation, said Tom Snee, a retired master chief and head of the Fleet Reserve Association in Alexandria, Virginia.

Rubio is going after Obama on his Iran policy and the perception of American weakness, said, Bryan McGrath, a retired destroyer skipper who is supporting his campaign. , consultant with the Ferrybridge Group and Rubio supporter.

"I believe that candidates who use those sailors as props to support their political agenda are probably making a mistake," McGrath said. "But I don't think there is a problem with what Rubio has done. What he has said on the stump is the fact that the sailors were taken is emblematic of a lack of regard for the United States on the part of Iran, and the perception of a lack of consequences is at the heart of that."

A spokesman for the Navy secretary Navy declined to comment on the candidates’ statements, citing the ongoing investigation into the incident.

Iran state television has been broadcasting images of the captured riverines since the January incident, including one video released Feb. 10 of one sailor crying while in detention on Farsi Island, a stronghold of Iran's hard-line paramilitary forces.of the sailors crying. The video latest salvo sparked a fierce condemnation of the whole incident from the Navy, which called the use of the sailors’ images for propaganda "outrageous and unacceptable."

The sailors were captured while transiting from Bahrain to Kuwait in riverine command boats Jan. 12 and released nearly 16 hours later.

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