Critics cried hypocrisy when it was revealed that the Obama administration had delivered a payment of $400 million to the Iranian government just before the release of three U.S. prisoners last January. To many Republicans, the episode has come to represent nothing more than a “ransom payment”—the kind the administration says it doesn’t do as a matter of policy—and one with the potential to set a dangerous precedent going forward.
The truth is, what President Barack Obama did was more like standard operating procedure for presidents, who must often enter into notoriously “gray areas” of diplomacy with hostile powers. Think of it as the art of the side deal. From the earliest times, presidents have quietly cut private pacts to push big big diplomatic goals through—often with a lot of secrecy, and sometimes in violation of the country’s own stated diplomatic rules.This article was originally published in Politico.