Why ‘SEAL Team’ Ratings Just Spiked Overseas
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The outcry was swift and sharp following the October 16 SEAL Team episode, whose plot featured Navy SEALs on a mission to retake an Azerbaijani power plant from suspected “Armenian loyalists” who were later identified as Iranian forces.

Armenian media accused CBS of airing “Azeri propaganda.” The Armenian National Committee of America floated the notion that the network is on “[Azerbaijani President Ilham] Aliyev’s payroll.” Reinforcing that conspiracy theory, the Eurasianet website’s report on the episode stated it “has strong hints of Azerbaijani influence,” while the article’s author tweeted there’s “certainly no other explanation” for the episode’s content than Azerbaijan “paying for coverage.”

Yet rather than buying into unsubstantiated claims of corruption, the roughly five million viewers who tune in for each SEAL Team episode should understand that they actually watched an accurate reflection of geopolitical realities.

The episode opens with an intelligence briefing on how “Armenian forces violated their ceasefire with Azerbaijan in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region,” which is not only a daily occurrence but also a reminder of how Armenia’s occupation of Azerbaijani territory violates both international law and U.S. policy. Several UN resolutions affirm Nagorno-Karabakh as part of Azerbaijan, and the State Department’s says it “supports the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan.”

SEAL Team gives viewers another dose of reality when the episode’s dialogue notes, “With Russia and Iran stirring the pot, we really don’t want to lose any traction.” It only takes a simple look at a map to recognize that truth. Azerbaijan is a strategically significant U.S. ally as the only country which shares borders with both Iran and Russia.

The SEAL Team angle on Russian and Iranian influence is also particularly relevant in advance of October 27, when Iran formally joins the anti-Western trade alliance known as the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), gaining the capability to export goods to the five EAEU states almost entirely free of tariffs.

The Russian-led EAEU, which seeks to counter the European Union’s influence, recently held its annual conference in Armenia’s capital of Yerevan. Armenia is the only EAEU state that has a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA) with the EU, creating a domino effect in which Tehran’s EAEU membership could help Iranian commerce penetrate Europe through the Armenian border.

Meanwhile, even in this post-Soviet era, a Cold War-style pattern persists as the Kremlin continues to exert influence over Armenia — a country full of Russia’s military presence which expressly coordinates its foreign policy with Moscow. One need not look any further than a photo of Armenia’s prime minister inside the cockpit of a Russian fighter jet.

Notably, Russia’s U.S. embassy responded to the CBS episode by tweeting about the strength of Russian–Azerbaijani relations — potentially in an attempt to downplay the exposure of Russia’s disturbing regional behavior on national television. Although the Russian embassy’s tweet correctly quoted Aliyev as calling Russia “a very important partner” for Azerbaijan, Baku’s relationship with Moscow stands in stark contrast to the one maintained by Yerevan.

Rather than falling under Russia’s orbit, Azerbaijan amplifies U.S. interests by standing up to Moscow — particularly through Baku’s leadership of the Southern Gas Corridor (SGC), which bypasses Russia and promises to reduce Europe’s dependence on Russian gas. Azerbaijan’s gas production “continues to increase stability in world energy markets,” President Trump wrote earlier this year in a letter to Aliyev.

When all aspects are considered, the storyline produced by CBS is anything but far-fetched, and experts on the region agree. Laurence Broers, research associate at the Centre of Contemporary Central Asia & the Caucasus, said the episode could’ve been envisioned by anyone “with a couple of hours’ access to Wikipedia.” Another Eurasia analyst, Dr. Kevork Oskanian, called the episode “nothing new under the sun, and nothing to get upset about.”

That didn’t stop the Armenian conspiracy theories from flooding in, without any evidence. Instead, those who gave voice to the rhetoric would be well-served taking a look in the mirror — and especially at Eurasianet, which is funded by George Soros’s Open Society Foundations. Might Soros, who has warned against Russia’s “resurgent power,” consider that a news outlet he funds published coverage that actually undermines the goal of countering Russian influence?

CBS viewers and the public at large should also ask themselves: Why does the commentary from SEAL Team match the geopolitical realities on the ground? Nobody is disputing that CBS aired dialogue containing some Azerbaijani talking points, but could it be that those talking points are actually correct?

Before buying into radical thinking driven by baseless conspiracy theories, those questions are certainly food for thought. Indeed, the outcry over this TV drama is stranger than fiction.

Paul Miller is president and executive director of the news and public policy group Haym Salomon Center. Follow him on Twitter at @pauliespoint.

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