If you were looking for a monument to supreme egotism, you would have to go far to beat Obama’s statement in this interview with The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg:

“Look, 20 years from now, I’m still going to be around, God willing. If Iran has a nuclear weapon, it’s my name on this,” he said, referring to the apparently almost-finished nuclear agreement between Iran and a group of world powers led by the United States. “I think it’s fair to say that in addition to our profound national-security interests, I have a personal interest in locking this down.”

I rack my brain to think of another president in our history—or another statesman or even another prominent politician—who would think to say “trust me, because my ego is riding on this.” What on earth does ego have to do with judgment?

In the calculus of what are the most important considerations about any Iran deal, the most important would be “our profound national-security interests” and those of the entire world. That’s what’s riding on it, that’s the reason to “lock it down” (odd phrase for negotiations). The state of Obama’s personal reputation ought to be so low on the list of things to think about that it shouldn’t even be on his radar screen at this point, much less ours.

Obama says he’s got a special personal interest in “locking this down.” But an agreement on nuclear weapons with Iran is not merely a question of applying oneself. Obama may think there’s no limits to his powers, but sizing up Iran and negotiating with a country which is essentially an aggressive, repressive, fanatical enemy isn’t just a matter of trying hard enough and thinking you’re the smartest guy in the room. Even if it were true that Obama wanted and even needed to negotiate a good deal for the US in order to protect his precious reputation, that doesn’t mean he has a clue how to get there from here, or that it’s even possible to do so.

More is revealed in the following passage from Goldberg’s article on his interview with Obama [emphasis mine]:

In the wake of what seemed to have been a near-meltdown in the relationship between the United States and Israel, Obama talked about what he called his love for the Jewish state; his frustrations with it when it fails to live up to both Jewish and universal values; and his hope that, one day soon, its leaders, including and especially its prime minister, will come to understand Israel’s stark choices as he understands Israel’s stark choices. And, just as he did with Saudi Arabia, Obama issued a warning to Israel: If it proves unwilling to live up to its values—in this case, he made specific mention of Netanyahu’s seemingly flawed understanding of the role Israel’s Arab citizens play in its democratic order—the consequences could be profound.

Does anyone on earth believe that Obama “loves” “the Jewish state”? If so, he certainly has a funny way of showing it (“you always hurt the one you love”). But the telling part is that he thinks he is an expert not just on what the US wants from Israel (that, at least, would make a certain amount of sense, since he is the US president and is supposed to represent us) but that he is an expert on Israel’s own “stark choices.” He seems to think that he sees those choices more clearly than the Israeli leaders do, and that it is they who should come over to his way of thinking about their own country.

In addition, Obama says that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s understanding of “the role Israel’s Arab citizens play in its democratic order” is “flawed” (unlike Obama’s). Of course, this being Obama, he’s misstating what Netanyahu actually said. Here’s Obama [emphasis mine]:

…[G]oing into [the Israeli] election…there [was] discussion in which it appeared that Arab-Israeli citizens were somehow portrayed [by Netanyahu] as an invading force that might vote, and that this should be guarded against—this is contrary to the very language of the Israeli Declaration of Independence, which explicitly states that all people regardless of race or religion are full participants in the democracy. When something like that happens, that has foreign-policy consequences, and precisely because we’re so close to Israel, for us to simply stand there and say nothing would have meant that this office, the Oval Office, lost credibility when it came to speaking out on these issues.

Here’s what Netanyahu actually said. The context was a discussion of turnout and who was behind left-wing “get out the vote” efforts [emphasis mine]:

Funding from foreign governments to get more Israeli Arabs to vote worked, which means all right-wing voters must make sure to go to the polls, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned on Tuesday.

“The right-wing government is in danger. Arab voters are going en masse to the polls. Left-wing NGOs are bringing them on buses,” he said…

“We only have you,” a visibly tired Netanyahu pleaded. “Go to the polls, bring your friends and family, vote Mahal [Likud] to close the gap between us and Labor [Zionist Union].”

Netanyahu later clarified that “what’s wrong is not that Arab citizens are voting, but that massive funds from abroad from left-wing NGOs and foreign governments are bringing them en masse to the polls in an organized way, thus twisting the true will of all Israeli citizens who are voting, for the good of the Left.”

Left-wing Americans were instrumental in funding and organizing that get-out-the-vote effort, and some of the people helping the campaign against Netanyahu were people who had previously worked for Obama:

A coalition of U.S.-funded progressive groups has planned a massive get-out-the-vote effort to influence the Israeli elections, targeting communities that are most likely to vote against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his right-leaning Likud Party, according to a confidential strategy memo obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.

The U.S.-based 501(c)(3) group Ameinu sent out the fundraising proposal for the campaign to American donors on Dec. 17, 2014.

The $3 million initiative is described in the document as “a massive, non-partisan Get Out The Vote (GOTV) campaign targeting selected demographic and geographic segments of Israeli society.”

The targeted groups listed in the memo—young secular Israelis, low-income secular Jews, and Arab Israelis—are communities that traditionally oppose right-leaning parties such as Likud.

So Netanyahu was asking Likud voters to energize themselves and get their vote out in order to win despite the high turnout of Arab voters orchestrated by the left (including the American left) in order to defeat him. Obama knew that or should have known it, but he’s demagoguing in order to brand Netanyahu with his favorite charge, racism.

There’s more—much more—in the interview with which to disagree. Basic to Obama’s argument for his Iran deal is the idea that despite everything, Iran is a rational actor. I see no evidence, in either word or deed, that it is true. Obama argues that it is, however:

They [antisemitic European nations throughout history] may make irrational decisions with respect to discrimination, with respect to trying to use anti-Semitic rhetoric as an organizing tool. At the margins, where the costs are low, they may pursue policies based on hatred as opposed to self-interest. But the costs here [in the Iran negotiations] are not low, and what we’ve been very clear [about] to the Iranian regime over the past six years is that we will continue to ratchet up the costs, not simply for their anti-Semitism, but also for whatever expansionist ambitions they may have. That’s what the sanctions represent. That’s what the military option I’ve made clear I preserve represents. And so I think it is not at all contradictory to say that there are deep strains of anti-Semitism in the core regime, but that they also are interested in maintaining power, having some semblance of legitimacy inside their own country, which requires that they get themselves out of what is a deep economic rut that we’ve put them in, and on that basis they are then willing and prepared potentially to strike an agreement on their nuclear program.

Let’s go through these ideas in order:

(1) Antisemitic European nations such as Nazi Germany not only made “irrational decisions with respect to discrimination” of Jews, but they did not do so only “at the margins, where the costs are low.” The costs were high. An enormous amount of the energy and resources that could have been directed towards the war effort itself were directed by the Nazis towards killing the Jews, even towards the end of the war when Germany faced severe shortages of resources of all kinds (including manpower).

(2) In order for Obama’s threats of sanctions or the military option to work to intimidate the Iranian leaders into compliance, the Iranian leaders would have to believe he actually meant it. They are smart people, and they are well aware that his record indicates that he is a paper tiger.

(3) Yes, the Iranian leaders are very interested in retaining power and in getting out of their economic rut. This does motivate them to agree with the US on a nuclear deal, just as Obama says it would. But it does not motivate them to comply with such a deal. It makes sense for them to agree with it, get sanctions lifted, improve economically as a result, and fail to cooperate either through deceit and/or defiance, saying to the west: So, what are you going to do about it? The answer would almost certainly be “nothing,” as has been revealed by the last few years.

(4) Iran’s anti-semitism is embedded in a larger apocalyptic religious vision of theirs that does not shrink from massive destruction and death. This is the basis for the reasoning of those who argue that Iran is not a rational actor like most countries. Obama cannot counter that argument, except as an article of faith—his own—that it is simply not so.

Obama also takes as an article of faith his own ability to know best, despite a host of evidence to the contrary.

[Neo-neocon is a writer with degrees in law and family therapy, who blogs at neo-neocon.]


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