Michael Ledeen notes that important commentators have come around to the view that he (and I) have long expressed — that President Obama is in thrall to Iran and that the nuclear negotiations aren’t really about curbing Iran’s nuclear capacity, but rather about striking a grand bargain with the mullahs. Michael Doran’s excellent essay in Mosaic, which was one of our Power Line “picks,” is a good example of recent commentary to this effect.
The unanswered question, says Ledeen, is why Obama wants a grand bargain with Iran. Ledeen admits he doesn’t know.
I don’t know either, but I have a theory. I believe Obama’s lust for a deal is down to a toxic combination of the traditional leftist approach to anti-American dictatorships and Obama’s special brand of intellectual arrogance.
Ledeen considers the possibility that Obama’s “blame America first” attitude is behind his approach to Iran. He concludes, however, that these “fairly widespread, basically secular, and quintessentially leftist convictions don’t. . .begin to explain the president’s passion to embrace the Islamic Republic, the world’s biggest killer of Americans, a regime that slaughters and imprisons and tortures its own citizens in record numbers, especially in light of its consistently anti-American behavior throughout the Obama years.”
Ledeen is right. But there is related strain of American leftism that takes us a long way towards understanding where Obama is coming from.
Obama is hardly the first American leftist to be “in thrall” to brutal, repressive anti-American dictators. In my father’s youth many leftists were in thrall to Stalin. In my youth many leftists were in thrall to Mao and/Castro.
Less than ten years ago, Nancy Pelosi and John Kerry were enthralled by Bashar al-Assad. They viewed him the way Obama views Iran’s clerics today — as the key to bringing peace and stability to the Middle East. Obama was on board with this view.
Stalin, Mao, Castro and Assad were/are all secularists. The Iranian regime is not.
This might make some on the left squeamish, but there’s no reason to expect that it bothers Obama. The president isn’t a closet Muslim, but he frequently expresses his admiration for the religion and touts his exposure to it as a youth.
The other component of Obama’s over-the-top outreach to the Islamic Republic is his intellectual arrogance (which disguises intellectual laziness). Obama considers himself not just a big-picture guy but a genius, if not a visionary, who can solve the “giant puzzle” of foreign policy. He yearns to find grand solutions that lesser minds, bogged down in the swamp of the day-to-day, aren’t able to discern.
A grand bargain with Iran can, in the abstract, be viewed as such a solution. Instead of fighting dirty battles in the Middle East’s ever-changing flash points, why not reach an accommodation with the strongest power in the region? That power is, after all, producing some of those flash points. If one is willing to think wishfully enough, it’s possible to imagine an Iran that stops causing so much trouble and maybe even helps douse those fires it doesn’t create.
The weakness of this view is obvious. As Jeffrey Goldberg put it:
Iran seems as interested as ever in becoming a regional hegemon, on its own terms. And its supreme leader, and his closest confidants, have made it clear, over and over again, that he is not interested in normalizing relations with the United States.
But for Obama, this is no more than a statement of conventional wisdom. Truly historic figures, in Obama’s view, are those with the intellectual capacity to see beyond the conventional wisdom.
There is probably something to this concept of the truly historic figure. But Obama errs when he equates vision and genius with trading conventional wisdom for a combination of wishful thinking and old-fashioned appeasement of vicious anti-American dictators.