Benjamin Netanyahu's address to Congress was notable in two respects. Queen
Esther got her first standing O in 2,500 years. And President Obama came up
empty in his campaign to pre-emptively undermine Netanyahu before the Israeli
prime minister could present his case on the Iran negotiations.
On the contrary. The steady
stream of slights and insults turned an irritant into an international event and
vastly increased the speech's audience and reach. Instead of dramatically
unveiling an Iranian nuclear deal as a fait accompli, Obama must now first
defend his Iranian diplomacy.
In particular, argues The
Washington Post, he must defend its fundamental premise. It had been the policy
of every president since 1979 that Islamist Iran must be sanctioned and
contained. Obama, however, is betting instead on detente to tame Iran's
aggressive behavior and nuclear ambitions.
For six years, Obama has
offered the mullahs an extended hand. He has imagined that with Kissingerian
brilliance he would turn the Khamenei regime into a de facto U.S. ally in
pacifying the Middle East. For his pains, Obama has been rewarded with an Iran
that has ramped up its aggressiveness in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Gaza and Yemen,
and brazenly defied the world on uranium enrichment.
He did the same with Russia.
He offered Vladimir Putin a new detente. "Reset" he called it. Putin
responded by decimating his domestic opposition, unleashing a vicious
anti-American propaganda campaign, ravaging Ukraine and shaking the post-Cold
War European order to its foundations.
Like the Bourbons, however,
Obama learns nothing. He persists in believing that Iran's radical Islamist
regime can be turned by sweet reason and fine parchment into a force for
stability. It's akin to his refusal to face the true nature of the Islamic
State, Iran's Sunni counterpart. He simply can't believe that such people
actually believe what they say.
That's what made Netanyahu's
critique of the U.S.-Iran deal so powerful. Especially his dissection of the
sunset clause. In about 10 years, the deal expires. Sanctions are lifted and
Iran is permitted unlimited uranium enrichment with an unlimited number of
centrifuges of unlimited sophistication. As The Wall Street Journal's Bret
Stephens points out, we don't even allow that for democratic South Korea.
The prime minister offered a
concrete alternative. Sunset? Yes, but only after Iran changes its behavior,
giving up its regional aggression and worldwide support for terror.
Netanyahu's veiled suggestion was that such a
modification -- plus a significant reduction in Iran's current nuclear
infrastructure, which the Obama deal leaves intact -- could produce a deal that
"Israel and its Arab neighbors may not like, but with which we could live,
Obama's petulant response was: "The prime
minister didn't offer any viable alternatives." But he just did:
conditional sunset, smaller infrastructure. And if the Iranians walk away, then
you ratchet up sanctions, as Congress is urging, which, with collapsed oil
prices, would render the regime extremely vulnerable.
And if that doesn't work? Hence Netanyahu's
final point: Israel is prepared to stand alone, a declaration that was met with
enthusiastic applause reflecting widespread popular support.
It was an important moment, especially because
of the libel being perpetrated by some that Netanyahu is trying to get America
to go to war with Iran. This is as malicious a calumny as Charles Lindbergh's
charge on Sept. 11, 1941, that "the three most important groups who have
been pressing this country toward war are the British, the Jewish and the
In its near-70 year history, Israel has never
once asked America to fight for it. Not in 1948 when 650,000 Jews faced 40
million Arabs. Not in 1967 when Israel was being encircled and strangled by
three Arab armies. Not in 1973 when Israel was on the brink of destruction. Not
in the three Gaza wars or the two Lebanon wars.
Compare that to a very partial list of nations
for which America has fought and for which so many Americans have fallen:
Kuwait, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Vietnam, Korea, and every West European
country beginning with France (twice).
Change the deal, strengthen the sanctions,
give Israel a free hand. Netanyahu offered a different path in his clear, bold
and often moving address, Churchillian in its appeal to resist appeasement. This
was not Churchill of the 1940s, but Churchill of the 1930s, the wilderness
prophet. Which is why for all its sonorous strength, Netanyahu's speech had a
terrible poignancy. After all, Churchill was ignored.