Why the phantom fatwa?

I wrote about President Obama’s March 19 statement on the Persian new year in “Our Supreme Leader is a Supreme Fool.” In the statement Obama asserted: “Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei has issued a fatwa against the development of nuclear weapons, and President Rouhani has said that Iran would never develop a nuclear weapon.”

Obama’s assertion follows closely on Secretary of State Kerry’s assertion to the same effect. I quoted Kerry’s citation of the fatwa in “Of fatuity and fatwas.”

The fatwa, however, doesn’t exist. It has never been seen. As Andrew McCarthy explains, the fatwa is a patent hoax. Andy writes (emphasis in original): “The invaluable Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) has done extensive research into compilations of Khamenei’s published fatwas…No such fatwa has ever been published.” Andy links to MEMRI’s two 2013 posts in search of the fatwa in the omitted sentence.

In a post at the Weekly Standard, Tom Joscelyn now simply asks of these gentlemen to whom the protection of our national security has been entrusted: “Produce the fatwa.” This is a perfectly reasonable request.

We heard the incessant yammering of the left about President Bush’s scrupulously accurate “16 words” in the 2003 State of the Union Address. The deal the Obama administration is about to produce with the Islamic Republic is enormously consequential. Obama and Kerry would have us believe that the fatwa they cite carries some significant weight in their case, otherwise why the repeated references to it? Yet it doesn’t exist.

The existence of the fatwa has been in issue ever since it was cited by President Obama in his 2013 United Nations address. As Joscelyn notes, Washington Post fact checker Glenn Kessler went looking for the fatwa in 2013 and couldn’t find it. No surprise there. It doesn’t exist.

Joscelyn also adds these points, which I submit for your consideration in the spirit of Rod Serling inviting you to take a 30-minute trip to The Twilight Zone:

The Iranians are well aware of the controversy over Khamenei’s supposed declaration. They have countered by pointing to Khamenei’s public statements, in which he has said that Iran considers “the use of such weapons as haram (religiously forbidden).” In 2013, USA Today’s Oren Dorell reported that Iran’s press office at the United Nations cited one of Khamenei’s speeches in 2006 as evidence that the fatwa was real. With respect to building nuclear weapons, Khamenei said, “any benefit would not be worth the cost.”

The Iranians were, therefore, trying to substitute Khamenei’s public rhetoric for a formal, binding religious edict. (The very nature of such edicts, and whether they are binding or not, is itself in dispute.) Importantly, the Iranians’ argument at the time was an implicit concession that no such edict, or fatwa, actually exists. If it did, then they could easily produce it. They still haven’t.

There is another basic logical problem with the Iranians’ argument. Khamenei says all sorts of things, many of which we know are false – blatantly so. For example, he has repeatedly claimed that the Obama administration supports the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

And Khamenei has clearly lied about Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons….

Obama’s and Kerry’s citation of the fatwa at this late date raises a difficult question: what is going on here? Even the formidable Mr. Joscelyn doesn’t take a stab at this question.

I want to offer a set of possible answers that shade into each other, something like this: a) Obama and Kerry have been misinformed and don’t know any better, b) Obama and Kerry know better but are willing to say anything in a bad cause, c) to put it slightly differently, Obama and Kerry are doing advance work for the extraordinarily unpopular deal with Iran that they are about to deliver as a fait accompli, d) as Andy McCarthy postulates, Obama and Kerry cite the phantom fatwa as a rationale for making an unacceptable deal (“We needn’t worry about the inability to verify that the Iranians are not constructing nukes because the Islamic ruler has solemnly forbidden it”), and/or e) Obama and Kerry are willing tools of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

The case of the phantom fatwa persists. Its nonexistence cannot reasonably be in doubt. Obama’s and Kerry’s continued citation of it suggests either that they are fools, or that they know better and think we are.