President Obama variously excuses, discounts and rationalizes the avowed anti-Semitic statements and goals of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Calling on his favorite reporter for the dissemination of his wisdom on such subject, Obama has observed to Jeffrey Goldberg, for example: “The fact that you are anti-Semitic, or racist, doesn’t preclude you from being interested in survival. The fact that the supreme leader is anti-Semitic doesn’t mean that this overrides all of his other considerations.” And: “They have their worldview and they see their interests. They’re not North Korea.”
Michael Oren responds in his book Ally as well as in his Los Angeles Times column “Why Obama is wrong about Iran being ‘rational’ on nukes.” Oren offers this compelling rejoinder:
Here’s the problem with Obama’s point of view: If indeed they are rational, Iranian leaders have had every reason to conclude that the president desperately wants a nuclear deal, and that their long-term cooperation is not really necessary.
Although the White House has repeatedly claimed that “the window for diplomacy will not remain open forever,” in fact it has never come close to shutting. Even now, without a deal in place, it seems obvious that the sanctions will start to unravel.
Consequently, the ayatollahs sensibly have determined that, by dragging out the negotiations, they can wrest further concessions from the United States. They can keep more centrifuges, more facilities and a larger uranium stockpile.
Why, logically, would Iran believe Obama’s claim that “all options were on the table”? On the contrary, Iran has remained the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism — brazenly threatening America’s allies in the Middle East, and in 2011 even allegedly planning a major terrorist attack in Washington against the Saudi ambassador — without facing military or even diplomatic retribution from the United States.
The Iranians have taken note of how the White House helped overthrow Libya’s Moammar Kadafi after he gave up his nuclear program but shied away from North Korea when it tested more weapons. Iran can see how Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, by ceding part of his chemical arsenal, went from being America’s problem to America’s solution, and then to barrel-bombing his countrymen with impunity. Iranian rulers understood they could count on obtaining their nuclear program’s objectives of regime survival and regional supremacy without dismantling a centrifuge.
Obama’s argument not only fails logic’s test but also history’s. Anti-Semitism, the president further explained to Goldberg in May, “doesn’t preclude you from being rational about the need to keep your economy afloat [or] being strategic about how you stay in power.” Except, in one infamous example, it did. The Nazis pursued insane ends. Even during the last days of World War II, as the Allied armies liberated Europe, they diverted precious military resources to massacring Jews.
Obama would never say that anti-black racists are rational. And he would certainly not trust them with the means — however monitored — to reach their racist goals. That was the message Israeli officials and I conveyed in our discreet talks with the administration. The response was not, to our mind, reasonable.
In assessing the Obama administration’s response to the arguments presented as “not reasonable,” Oren is exercising his skills as a diplomat. Intelligent readers may want to fill out that assessment.