One of the most important sidebars to the furor over the decision of two “senior administration officials” to tell columnist Jeffrey Goldberg that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was a “chickenshit” coward was their boast that he had missed his chance to prevent them from making a weak deal allowing Iran to become a threshold nuclear state. Aside from the general discussion about an administration that is diffident about criticizing actual enemies of the United States choosing to lob outrageous insults at America’s sole democratic ally is the question whether this was a part of an effort to pre-empt Israeli criticism of a weak Iran nuclear deal or was merely just another instance of the Obama foreign policy team’s lack of discipline and incompetence. The Washington Post editorial page has weighed in on behalf of the latter point of view. But unfortunately there is good reason to think this latest administration attack on Israel was part of a calculated strategy on Iran.
That President Obama has considered engagement with Iran as one of his foreign-policy priorities since coming to office is no secret. But that assumption was given further credence on Friday when the Washington Free Beacon reported on a tape of a talk given by Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes (one of those suspected of being one of the sources for Goldberg’s infamous column) in which he declared that an Iran deal would be the most important objective of the president’s second term and the moral equivalent of ObamaCare as an administration priority.
But we didn’t need Rhodes to tell us that. In signing an interim nuclear deal last year with Tehran that did nothing to force it to give up its nuclear infrastructure or long-term hopes of a weapon, he threw away the West’s considerable economic and military leverage and began a process of unraveling sanctions. But in order to seal a final deal with Iran—assuming, that is, that the Islamist regime deigns to sign one rather than merely keep running out the clock as Obama vainly pursues them—he must do two things: overcome considerable bipartisan opposition from Congress and make sure that Israel and/or moderate Arab regimes equally scared by the Iranians aren’t able to scuttle an agreement.
The president’s formula for achieving this dubious goal is clear.
On the one hand, he will try to forge an agreement that will not require congressional approval. That will be no easy task as the Constitution requires the Senate to approve any treaty with a foreign power and only Congress can repeal the economic sanctions it passed in recent years. But as we already know this isn’t a president that is troubled much by having to tread on the Constitution or violate the law. He will, as has already been reported, attempt to portray an Iran deal as something other than a new treaty. He will also use his executive power to suspend enforcement of sanctions, perhaps indefinitely, in order to render existing laws null and void.
As for Israel, as Goldberg’s column indicated, the administration thinks they’ve already won since Netanyahu failed to order an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities during the president’s first term.
So where does this leave us?
According to the Washington Post editorial, Goldberg’s column was merely an indication of the loose tongues that operate in the West Wing. Assuming that the assault on Netanyahu’s character and the gloating about Israel’s inability to stop U.S. efforts to appease Iran was, in its view, giving the “White House too much credit for calculation” since the insults would make it harder for the U.S. to “reach an accommodation with Israel on Iran and settlements.”
But as the record of the last six years and Rhodes’s indiscreet talk verifies, this administration isn’t interested in an accommodation with Israel on key issues. Rather it seeks to crush Israel’s efforts to resist détente with Iran as well as to muscle it on the peace process with the Palestinians even though the latter have frustrated the administration by steadfastly refusing to make peace on even the most favorable of terms on a diplomatic playing field tilted in their direction by the White House.
Goals often dictate not only tactics employed but also the character of the conflict. Having set reconciliation with Iran as one of his chief objectives—something that was made clear in the president’s first inaugural address and reaffirmed by his subsequent decisions on the long running diplomatic engagement he has pursued—Obama has determined that achieving it is worth sacrificing the United States’ close relations with Israel as well as enraging Arab states that have, to their surprise, found themselves aligned with Israel on this issue rather than the Americans.
Though the administration has been rightly criticized for its habit of equivocation on foreign-policy crises, its single-minded determination to outmaneuver the Israelis on Iran while never giving up on efforts to appease the Islamist regime has been impressive. Having thrown away its previous positions on stopping Iran’s nuclear enrichment or dismantling its nuclear program (as President Obama vowed in his foreign-policy debate with Mitt Romney in 2012), it will clearly stop at nothing to get a deal if one is to be had.
Rather than a reset with Israel as the Post advises, Obama has something else in mind. While it may be going too far to say that the administration thinks of itself as entering into an alliance with the Iranians, the bottom line here is that the new Middle East that it envisions after an Iran deal is one in which traditional U.S. allies will be marginalized and endangered while Tehran and its terrorist allies will be immeasurably strengthened. The administration can only achieve that dubious goal by working assiduously against Israel and the bipartisan coalition that backs the alliance with the Jewish state in Congress.
It remains to be seen whether the next Congress will sit back and allow the administration to achieve a détente with the Islamic Republic that will amount to a new tacit U.S.-Iran alliance at the expense of the Jewish state. But whether Congress acts or not (and if the Senate is controlled by the Republicans it is far more likely to be able to thwart the president’s objectives), let no one say that we haven’t been warned about what was about to unfold.