Obama, Iran, and the Fall of Moral Leadership
With the presidency of Barack Obama, our worst fears have been realized. Not in relation to Israel’s security – although there is of course that – but in relation to a moral American foreign policy.
President Obama’s refusal to hate and fight evil is something I’ve long noted in successive columns going back to the earliest days of his foreign policy. But here, last week, was the President of the United States telling New York Times columnist Tom Friedman that Iran’s disgusting human rights abuses were not his concern, even as he made historic deals with them.
On the very day that the deal’s preliminary structure was announced, President Obama said, “The deal should be judged only for one thing, and one thing only. And that is stopping Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.” He said his deal would not address, and could not be judged, on the merit of opposing Iran’s “bad behavior.”
Firstly, notice that President Obama has a tendency to misuse language. He won’t call terrorism what it is, instead using the term “violent extremism.” But this example of Iran’s murderous mullahs in particular offends the moral sensibilities. Iran is not guilty of “bad behavior.” Bad behavior is when you jump a few spots ahead in line at a movie theatre. Bad behavior is cutting someone else off on the highway. Bad behavior is a kid watching TV when he’s supposed to be doing his homework.
With Iran we’re talking about stoning women to death, hanging gays from construction cranes, shooting political protestors in the streets, blowing up innocent people all over the world, and keeping alive the Assad regime, which is already responsible for the murder of more than 200,000 innocent Arabs with barrel bombs and gas attacks. This is not “bad behavior.” This is cold-blooded murder.
But here is the President of the United States, the leader of the free world, saying that he will not address Iran’s cancerous evil. He will not even address it as part of his nuclear negotiations. No, he will only address issues related to the procurement of nuclear weapons. In so doing President Obama is effectively abrogating our country’s time-honored tradition of moral leadership and of holding dictators accountable for how they treat their people.
The United States is celebrated for spreading liberty, upholding democracy, and for standing up for the oppressed and the helpless. One might have believed that the President would, at the very least, give a speech condemning Iran’s human rights abuses even as he negotiated his arms deal. But no. He would not risk offending the Mullahs for fear of their withdrawal from the negotiations.
But aside from the abrogation of moral leadership, what does all this say about the possibility of this deal even being kept? President Obama is admitting, in his comments about their “bad behavior,” that he is dealing with monsters, people who brutalize their own citizens and murder strangers abroad. Who would trust a monster? President Obama can’t, on the one hand, admit to Iran’s human rights abominations and then say he’s not going to bring it up. Does he really think the two can co-exist, that Iran can continue to be an international terrorist organization and still be trusted not to build doomsday devices?
Aside from running The World Values Network, I’m also a marriage counselor. Just last week I completed the filming of 18 new episodes for my Canadian TV show Divine Intervention which seeks to help families in crisis. An analogy between this deal and my work would be this. Imagine that I know a husband who is brutalizing his family. He’s putting out cigarette butts in his kids’ arms. He’s beating them with a metal rod. He beats his wife. But now I hear that he has a gun and he’s trying to buy bullets. I go in as a marriage counselor and the only thing I’m interested in is stopping him from acquiring bullets for his gun so that he doesn’t shoot his wife. And everyone says to me, when you speak to him about the gun and the bullets, also speak to him about the baseball bat he takes to his wife and the scars he leaves on his kids’ bodies. Do something about that. I respond, That’s not my business. I’m just going to stop him from having a gun. How would people look at me as a marriage counselor or even as a moral man? They would see me as someone who is amoral. They would say, How could you believe he would keep his commitments when he’s a monster?
President Obama and John Kerry went in and said Iran’s murder of its citizens and innocents abroad is not their concern. They won’t even demand the release of four innocent Americans, including Jason Rezaian, the Washington Post bureau chief in Tehran. Their responsibility is simply to stop Iran from detonating a nuclear device.
As for Israel’s security, I remember when, back during the 2008 primaries, the Jewish community was very concerned about Obama because of his connection to Jeremiah Wright and some of his earlier comments about Israel, which had been perceived as hostile.
In June of 2008, President Obama attempted to directly address some of these concerns at the annual AIPAC policy conference, which I attended. I was impressed with his oratory. He had just returned to Washington at 3 a.m. the night before on the heels of an excruciating week of campaigning. But by 10 a.m. the next morning, he was ready to address the conference audience. And he did so abounding in confidence and energy. This was also, I should mention, a very special time for Obama. Just a day before, he had clinched the Democratic nomination. Myself along with the rest of the AIPAC audience would be the first to hear him speak after this pivotal milestone.
He rose to the podium and began his speech. “I want to say that I know some provocative e-mails have been circulating throughout Jewish communities across the country. A few of you may have gotten them. They’re filled with tall tales and dire warnings about a certain candidate for president. And all I want to say is — let me know if you see this guy named Barack Obama, because he sounds pretty frightening.” The crowd laughed, their fears relieved. Together we all thought: he can’t be that bad. But over time our fears were compounded.
We thought it was bad enough when President Obama admitted to wanting to put “daylight” between the United States and Israel during a meeting at the White House with Jewish leaders. We thought it was bad enough when Obama told French President Sarkozy, “You’re tired of [Netanyahu]? What about me? I have to deal with him every day.” We thought it was bad when he refused to call the Prime Minister in the immediate aftermath of his reelection this past March, a custom Obama seemed more than happy to extend to the leaders of Russia, Iran, Turkey, and China – all true beacons of human rights.
But all of these concerns are insignificant compared to what happened with the Iran nuclear deal. The President of the United States has now put Israel in grave and mortal danger by allowing Iran to keep its nuclear infrastructure. A deal that provides Iran with $150 billion dollars in sanctions relief without requiring the dismantling of the thousands of centrifuges at the Natanz uranium enrichment facility, the Arak heavy water reactor and plutonium plant, the Fordow underground uranium enrichment facility, or its ongoing ballistic missile program. A deal that allows Iran to continue research and development of faster and more efficient centrifuges. A deal that fails to provide “anywhere, anytime inspections” of suspected nuclear related facilities, rather providing Iran with 24 days of notice prior to any inspection. In other words, more than enough time to easily conceal any wrongdoing.
Now it falls to the United States Congress, using the checks and balances foreseen by the Founders, to stop the foreign policy of a President who is abrogating American moral leadership.
The author, whom Newsweek and The Washington Post call “the most famous rabbi in America,” is the founder of This World: The Values Network, the world’s leading organization defending Israel in American media. He is the international best-selling author of 30 books, including his most recent, “The Israel Warriors Handbook.” Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.