President Obama isn’t sitting back and simply letting critics of his Iran deal have their way.
Yesterday, he summoned the leaders of 20 Jewish groups to the White House for what he described as “blunt” talk aimed principally at intimidating AIPAC into backing down on its all-out push against the nuclear pact.
While conceding that pro-Israel activists had the right to campaign against the deal, he claimed they were distorting the truth about its content but doubled down on is charge that opponents were seeking a war. But rather than merely repeat his favorite talking point about deal critics producing recycled arguments in favor of the Iraq War, he asserted that the war he thinks will result from a defeat of the deal will result in “missiles raining down on Tel Aviv” rather than more bloodshed for Americans.
But missing from his heavy-handed pressure tactics is a more honest explanation for why he is so determined to push through an agreement that fails to meet the standards that he originally set for the talks. For that we have to turn to Secretary of State John Kerry who reveals in a new interview with The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg that he doesn’t think Iran is serious about wiping Israel off the map and thinks the entire discussion is a waste of time. That rather lazy justification for détente with the Islamist regime should motivate Jewish groups to redouble their efforts to fight the president’s policy.
A good sign that the Jewish establishment isn’t being intimidated came today with the announcement that the liberal-leaning American Jewish Committee is joining the ranks of those opposed to the Iran deal. Coming as it does the day after the Obama meeting, the AJC’s move is a sign to wavering members of Congress that even organizations whose members are basically sympathetic to the president aren’t buying his arguments.
Since the signing of the deal last month, the president hasn’t hesitated about throwing some sharp elbows in the direction of the pro-Israel community. He has spoken openly about standing up to the power of lobbyists and big money in a way that was an unmistakable shot fired over the bow of AIPAC and an echo of anti-Semitic tropes. An earlier generation of American Jews responded to similar talk from President George H.W. Bush with revulsion but as a liberal Democrat, Obama gets cut slack from the organized Jewish world that no Republican would get.
In his meeting with the Jewish groups (those in attendance included some of the president’s sycophantic supporters from J Street and the National Jewish Democratic Council), Obama tempered some of this rhetoric but didn’t entirely walk back his charges that seemed to be dog whistles to Democrats about not letting moneyed Jews interfere with the measure that he considers to be integral to his foreign policy legacy.
But his effort to transform this argument from one between those concerned about the threat from Iran and those in favor of diplomatic engagement with the Islamist regime into a Jewish civil war is particularly insidious. Instead of owning up to his own demonization of deal critics as warmongers, with the help of his supporters in the room he attempted to change the discussion. He claims that opponents of the deal are dividing American Jewry and undermining the U.S.-Israel relationship. The warning is clear: back my deal against the complaints of Israel’s government or see the alliance you’ve worked to build start to unravel. The upshot of the discussion was that despite claiming to have a thick skin when it comes to criticism (perhaps the biggest lie he has told during his entire presidency), Obama takes opposition to his plans on Iran as a personal affront and he will stop at nothing to delegitimize their efforts.
The claim that critics are distorting the terms of the deal is patently disingenuous. The president has been offering deceptive descriptions of the deal throughout this debate. But the most important point is that by agreeing to something that leaves Iran’s nuclear infrastructure in place, allows it to continue research, provides inadequate inspections and will expire in a decade, the president hasn’t met his own goal of ensuring that it won’t get a bomb. Just as important, contrary to the president’s warnings, the alternative to the deal isn’t war but the sort of tough-minded diplomacy that he chose to discard when he entered negotiations with Iran.
How then to explain the administration’s decision to discard the enormous political and economic leverage it had over Iran in 2013 and begin making the series of far reaching concessions that led to the agreement? The answer comes from Kerry who not only dismisses Iran’s ideological obsession with destroying Israel as not serious but also thinks the fact that it will continue to fund Hezbollah and Hamas (something that the $100 billion in unfrozen assets it is getting in the deal as well as the profits from the business boom that will follow the pact’s ratification as American and European companies flock to Tehran to make nice with the ayatollahs) as no big deal.
Though in his speech today at the American University in Washington, D.C., he represented his Iran diplomacy as merely another version of the tough tactics that won the Cold War against the Soviet Union; that is utterly untrue. Ronald Reagan didn’t win the Cold War by appeasing Communism but by confronting it and convincing Moscow it could never overcome the West. What Obama has done is a repeat of the failed détente tactics pursued by Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger. They based their policy on the notion that the Soviet Union would never fall and must be accommodated. Obama and Kerry feel that way about Iran but then compound the mistake.
They actually think it doesn’t mean what it says about seeking Israel’s destruction and regional hegemony and that it is can be transformed into a partner for the United States.
Prime Minister Netanyahu’s prediction that instead of a rejection of the deal bringing on war, its adoption will make conflict more certain seems a more sensible evaluation of the situation. Iran has given us many proofs of its seriousness about backing terror and its evil intentions toward Israel. But for Obama’s Iran deal advocacy, the main foe seems to be a pro-Israel community that isn’t prepared to bow to liberal partisanship and affirm that a naked emperor is wearing clothes. Though the odds remain in the president’s favor, as the announcements from AJC and various Democrats coming out against the deal show, muscling American Jews and even members of his own party isn’t working as well as he might like.