Commentary Magazine

April 20, 2015


WE HAVE ENTERED a state of emergency. The Obama admin­istration is pursuing policies that effec­tively serve the pur­poses of one of Amer­ica’s greatest foes and treat one of America’s dearest friends as though it were an adversary. The White House has implicitly taken up the cause of normalizing Iran and has become at the very least complicit in the international goal of isolating Israel.


Barack Obama has decided the key to his legacy is a deal with the Islamic Republic of Iran that will en­shrine its nuclear capacity but delay its ability to build and deploy a bomb for a time—that is, assuming Iran doesn’t cheat, which is an assumption that requires a leap of geopolitical faith Blaise Pascal would have blanched at. Meanwhile, 970 miles from Tehran, the State of Israel finds itself the unwanted focus of another Obama legacy effort: the effort to drive a wedge be­tween the two countries and thereby realign America’s interests in the Middle East away from Israel’s interests.


In making clear his desire to establish a working relationship with a nation that does not abide by any standards of civilized conduct, a nation that oppresses in medieval fashion at home and that is the worst state sponsor of terrorism abroad, the president is tacitly ac­cepting the everyday behavior and casting a blind eye on the plain language of one of the world’s most mon­strous regimes.


“There is a practical streak to the Iranian re­gime,” the president told Thomas L. Friedman of the New York Times on April 5. “There [is] an appetite among the Iranian people for a rejoining with the in­ternational community, an emphasis on the economics and the desire to link up with a global economy. And so what we’ve seen over the last several years, I think, is the opportunity for those forces within Iran that want to break out of the rigid framework that they have been in for a long time to move in a different direction. It’s not a radical break, but it’s one that I think offers us the chance for a different type of relationship.”


The overall purpose here is to remake the geopolit­ical map and include Iran among the nations with which we can and should do business. From this perspective, Iran’s systematic record of anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism and its role as the world’s most active state sponsor of terrorism are not bugs but features: Iran is important not only because it is an oil-rich state with re­ligious and ideological ambitions, but also because it has set itself against the United States and the West. And so it must be attended to, its concerns taken seriously, its de­sires and wishes accorded respect. In Obama’s view, it is with adversaries that America must enmesh itself to find some form of common ground.


This theory has governed most of the Obama ad­ministration’s foreign-policy approaches over the past six years, from the Russian reset to the opening to Cuba. The corollary is that little or no positive attention needs to be paid to allies, especially if those allies are inconve­niently situated either geographically or ideologically. Thus, in 2009, Obama had no problem abrogating the long-standing deal to put missile-defense systems in Poland and the Czech Republic, even though they are two stalwart friends of the United States, because they interfered with his efforts to improve the American re­lationship with Vladimir Putin.


Even those countries that we should not call our friends but with which many of our national interests align are to be consigned to the second ring of con­cern. Thus, while the president speaks gently of Iran and draws parallels between its politics and ours—it is a “complicated country,” he said to Friedman, “just as America is a complicated country”—he offers system­atic criticism of the internal dynamics of the Sunni Arab nations in the Middle East that have expressed alarm over the thaw: “I think the biggest threats that they face may not be coming from Iran invading. It’s going to be from dissatisfaction inside their own countries.”


The Obama policy of behaving high-handedly to­ward friends and charitably toward foes is most strik­ing in the case of the State of Israel. The president and his people speak with barely disguised disgust about the policies of a friendly government and rough elec­tion-day tactics in a vibrant democracy in which 72.3 percent of those eligible to vote did so. They talk of re­visiting the relationship with Israel, reevaluating it—all of which is code-speak for withdrawing American protection from Israel in the international bodies that wish to do it injury.

It was not mere chance that these two legacy policies converged in the month of March 2015. Some­thing more sinister was at work.


THE RESULTS of Israel’s election on March 17 were disappointing to the president and his team, given how tirelessly they had worked to undermine the eventually victorious Netanyahu. A key Obama campaign aide named Jeremy Bird had been dispatched to the Holy Land to manage a get-out-the-vote group called V15 whose sole campaign message was “Anyone But Bibi.” In the end, Netanyahu’s Likud party garnered 30 seats, as opposed to the 18 seats it had won just two years earlier—a result that has to be seen as a conscious rebuke of Obama’s effort to unseat the Israeli prime minister. In choosing not to reject Netanyahu but to strengthen him, Israelis effectively endorsed the views of Obama’s most dangerous critic—the only democrati­cally elected leader on earth who might find it necessary to act drastically to save his country in a way that would scuttle Obama’s vision for the future of the Middle East.


Netanyahu has made it clear that he cannot stand by while a course is charted to a future in which Iran can build and deploy a nuclear weapon, given that its mille­narian leaders have vowed to wipe Israel off the map. But under the terms of the strange April 2 agreement-with-Iran-that-is-not-really-an-agreement—terms we know the president had already conceded well before the Israe­li elections on March 17—Obama has effectively endorsed a future in which Iran will have the power and the means to do exactly that.


Shockingly, on April 5, Obama acknowledged to NPR that at best the deal keeps Iran from going nu­clear for a dozen years. (He did so unprompted by the interviewer, suggesting that for a moment the presi­dent had come under the spell cast on Jim Carrey in Liar Liar to speak the truth even when it would harm him to do so.) Forget about cheating: Even that 12-year delay will come about only if Iran hews to every par­ticular of the terms Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry announced so triumphantly on April 2. Obama surely knows Iran is unlikely to assent to those terms in the final agreement to be signed on June 30—be­cause a) Iran instantly began balking at the specifics we laid out and b) if those terms had been acceptable, the deal could have been signed and sealed in Switzer­land. And yet Obama also felt free to tell Friedman that “this is our best bet by far to make sure Iran doesn’t get a nuclear weapon.” The man who said “if you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor” when he knew it was untrue is repurposing the ObamaCare communica­tions strategy for the Iran deal.


It is unquestionable that the understanding Obama’s underlings reached with Iran will at the very least permit the Islamic Republic to retain a stockpile of uranium, the advanced devices that can convert it into the guts of a bomb in a matter of months, and the facilities in which to do it. We are told Iran has agreed to dilute the uranium, put the centrifuges in a locked closet, and call its hardened bunker at Fordow “a research center.”


For the hard work of accepting such a deal, Iran will receive tens of billions of dollars in payoff money it can use for other purposes, thus freeing up resources to continue its work on military applications of nucle­ar technology if that suits the mullahs.


But look, Obama says. The deal-that’s-not-a-deal means Iran won’t be nuclear for a while yet, and the Iranians probably don’t mean it when they say they will destroy Israel, and even if they do, so what, because they’ll never try it, and you know what, if they do try it, America will “have Israel’s back.” Which sounds nice, but is useless as a basis for policy, since in the af­termath of a nuclear strike, Israel will not have a back for America to have, only tens if not hundreds of thou­sands dead and/or sickened unto death.


And this is the point. Of all the things on earth Obama does not have, “Israel’s back” ranks close to the top. For somehow, over the course of the nine years the world has been grappling with the Iranian nuclear threat, the goals of the United States have been defined downward—from prevention to containment. We have gone from insisting we had to keep Iran from becoming a nuclear power (something the president declared un­conditionally he would not allow to happen) to adopt­ing a policy designed to manage Iran’s existence as one.


The term of art is that Iran has now become, and will remain, a “threshold nuclear power.” Some thresh­old: According to the president, Iran can cross it in two months. Obama says the deal—if there is a deal and if that deal is adhered to—will lengthen the distance across the threshold to a year, for another dozen years. In year 13, the threshold disappears. But 2028 is a long time from now. We’ll all be driving flying cars and liv­ing on Venus by then.


There are several reasons the original goal of pre­venting Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon altogeth­er was absolutely necessary—among them, to forestall a Sunni–Shia nuclear-arms race in the Middle East and to keep a revolutionary terror-supporting anti-American regime from becoming a first-order world power.


Practically, however, the threat an Irani­an nuke poses was and is primarily to one country—a country Iran’s for­mer president continually said would soon cease to ex­ist. Now, lest one think the goal of Israel’s destruction retired along with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2013, please note that the leader of its religious police militia said on March 30 that the aim of “erasing Israel off the map” is “nonnegotiable.”


So the danger an Iranian nuke poses to the good working order of the world is profound. It will reorder military and strategic priorities in a profoundly desta­bilizing way over the course of this century. But the danger a deployed Iranian nuke poses to millions of Israelis is instantaneous.


And we should not balk at speaking the truth: Should a pact with Iran be signed, Barack Obama will be complicit in the act of casting a nuclear shadow over the future of the Jewish people, whose continued existence on this earth could not survive a mushroom cloud over Tel Aviv—which would constitute a second Holocaust within living memory of the first.


THIS TERRIFYING TRUTH is at the core of the warning Benjamin Netanyahu has been delivering about the Iranian threat for six years now—the warning against the temptation to believe it will be acceptable for Iran to go nuclear. Obama has surrendered to that temptation. He has now made an Iranian bomb acceptable.


Was the accuracy of Netanyahu’s characteriza­tion the true cause of Obama’s astonishingly vitu­perative response to Netanyahu’s conduct in the days leading up to the Israeli election? First Netanyahu acknowledged to an interviewer that current Pales­tinian conduct meant there would be no Palestinian state during his premiership—which is the truth and nothing but the truth, though it is a truth fantasists are loath to acknowledge and one that those who believe peace will be served by the creation of such a state as soon as possible find galling to hear.


Then, on election day, Netanyahu engaged in a profoundly ill-advised get-out-the-vote tactic by warn­ing in vulgar terms of increased Arab-Israeli partici­pation. That was distasteful and inappropriate, but it was far less ugly than election-day moves during other elections in other democratic countries whose results Obama has welcomed and celebrated in years past.


No matter. Obama’s press secretary, Josh Ear­nest, said Netanyahu’s words about Arab voters “turn­ing out in droves” were so horrific they “undermine the values and democratic ideals that have been important to our democracy and an important part of what binds the United States and Israel together.” Indeed, those words coupled with what the prime minister had said about Palestinian statehood triggered a phone call in which, according to a White House official speaking to Reuters, “the president told the prime minister that we will need to reassess our options following the prime minister’s new positions and comments regarding the two-state solution.”


Even after Netanyahu clarified his remarks and said he believed the best future for Israel was a two-state solution, the White House did not relent. “We do take him at his word,” said the press secretary before saying they didn’t take him at his word: “But he was quite clear that he did not envision a scenario where a Palestinian state would be established while he was the prime minister of Israel. . . . And his lack of commit­ment to what has been the foundation of our policy-making in the region means that the United States should rightfully reevaluate the kinds of policy deci­sions that we make as it relates to the Middle East. And that’s what the president has said he will do.”


Let us be clear about what the White House is con­sidering. It is threatening to cease protecting Israel from the jackals at the United Nations and other international organizations. These words from the Obama administra­tion came the same week that the UN’s Commission on the Status of Women singled out Israel—alone among the UN’s 193 member nations—as the worst abuser of women’s rights in the world. In brief, Obama is signaling his desire to Europeanize American policy toward Israel.


Two weeks later, Obama told Friedman: “It has been personally difficult for me to hear . . . expressions that somehow . . . this administration has not done ev­erything it could to look out for Israel’s interest.” Why? “Because of the deep affinities that I feel for the Israeli people and for the Jewish people.”


Translation: Some of my best friends are Jewish.


MANY LIBERAL American Jews think of Obama as their friend. He is not—not the friend of any Jew who understands his people are under unique and unprecedented threat. Obama is working to strengthen not only Iran’s hand but also the hand of those in the United States who be­lieve the relationship between the U.S. and the Jewish state should be cleaved.


Nor is Obama a friend of Israel, for his policies are now aiding and abetting the nation that poses a literally apocalyptic danger to the Jewish people. If this deal is signed on June 30, Barack Obama will have made the world a far less safe and far more dangerous place—and by signing it, he will have signaled his will­ingness to see the Jewish future sacrificed on the altar of his own ambitions.


The threat is not immediate. The emergency is.