In the course of his recent interview of President Obama — painful reading from beginning to end — Jeffrey Goldberg asked a somewhat challenging question regarding the Islamic Republic of Iran. “You have argued,” Goldberg observed, “that people who subscribe to an anti-Semitic worldview, who explain the world through the prism of anti-Semitic ideology, are not rational, are not built for success, are not grounded in a reality that you and I might understand. And yet, you’ve also argued that the regime in Tehran—a regime you’ve described as anti-Semitic, among other problems that they have—is practical, and is responsive to incentive, and shows signs of rationality.” Oh, wise man, how do you square this particular circle? Obama responded:
Well the fact that you are anti-Semitic, or racist, doesn’t preclude you from being interested in survival. It doesn’t preclude you from being rational about the need to keep your economy afloat; it doesn’t preclude you from making strategic decisions about how you stay in power; and so the fact that the supreme leader is anti-Semitic doesn’t mean that this overrides all of his other considerations. You know, if you look at the history of anti-Semitism, Jeff, there were a whole lot of European leaders—and there were deep strains of anti-Semitism in this country—
Goldberg (unfortunately) interrupted him at this point. Obama then continued:
They 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 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.
This appears to have been good enough for Goldberg, but it should make a serious man cry. Let me count the ways.
Obama is in the process of finalizing an absurd arrangement with Iran that will at the same time obviate the cost of its pursuit of nuclear weapons and reward the regime for entering into the arrangement. They will reap the economic rewards of taking advantage of President Obama’s surrender to their (absurd) terms.
The Islamic Republic continues its program of ideological anti-Semitism and regional expansion. We await Obama’s “ratchet.” The regime evidently fears it not. This is glorified hot air.
Obama reiterates “military option [he's] made clear[.]” The word “clear” here is the tell; it demonstrates that Obama is lying. There is no United States military option. Indeed, Obama’s public relations work on behalf of the Islamic Republic of Iran is suggestive of its removal from the shelf.
How does a seriously committed anti-Semitic regime weigh the costs and benefits of its anti-Semitism? I long for Professor Obama to draw from the well of his historical learning to apply the cost-benefit analysis to the Nazi regime of 1933-1945. Somebody get this man a copy of Lucy Dawidowicz’s The War Against the Jews, 1933-1945.
The Israelis draw the lesson they refer to in the slogan “Never again.” Emanuele Ottolenghi offers reflections that are precisely on point.
How does Professor Obama apply his cost-benefit analysis to the Iran’s 1979 bombing of the AMIA (Jewish) in Buenos Aires? It targeted Jews and killed 85 people. What costs was Iran prepared to incur? What costs has Iran incurred? The applicable cost-benefit analysis might illuminate how Iran thinks about the prospect of “eliminating” Israel by means of its proxies and with the nuclear weapons it is striving at all cost to obtain.
As for the regime’s alleged need to maintain a “semblance of legitimacy” inside Iran and therefore its alleged need to “get themselves out of a deep economic rut,” what does he mean? Obama is not saying that the regime lacks a semblance of legitimacy inside Iran at present. Obama himself continues to provide the regime something more than a “semblance of legitimacy.” Is the Supreme Leader feeling the pressure? No one outside Obama’s circle of friends can take this at face value.
Assuming that Obama intends his remarks to be taken seriously, which I don’t, I find Obama’s comments among the stupidest and most ignorant he has ever uttered, although I concede on this point that that the competition is stiff.
NOTE: Noah Rothman also takes a stab at doing justice to Obama’s comments here. It occurs to me that the words of Walter Laqueur in connection with Jan Karski’s mid-war report on the Holocaust in his book The Terrible Secret also apply here: “Democratic societies demonstrated on this occasion as on many others, before and after, that they are incapable of understanding political regimes of a different character….Democratic societies are accustomed to think in liberal, pragmatic categories; conflicts are believed to be based on misunderstandings and can be solved with a minimum of good will; extremism is a temporary aberration, so is irrational behavior in general, such as intolerance, cruelty, etc. The effort needed to overcome such basic psychological handicaps is immense….Each new generation faces this challenge again, for experience cannot be inherited.” In Obama’s world, I would add, experience can’t even be experienced. Ideological blinders render him obtuse (again assuming his words are to be taken at face value, which I don’t).