Commentary Magazine

Obama Killed His Own Iran Deal

Carlos Barria, Pool Photo via AP

President Trump announced America’s withdrawal from the Iranian nuclear deal, triggering a paroxysm of fury among liberals, Never Trumpers, and the keepers of conventional foreign-policy wisdom. Yet it wasn’t the 45th president who set the stage for the deal’s collapse. Blame for that belongs to his predecessor.

Beginning in his first term, President Obama set his sights on a nuclear accord with the mullahs, one which he hoped would allow Washington to extricate itself from the Middle East. It was an ill-conceived idea that failed to take sufficient account of the nature of the regime in Tehran, its long record of terror and nuclear deception, and the anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism that form its ideological DNA.

Set all that aside for now. Even if such a deal were desirable, Obama went about pursuing it in the worst possible way. He dealt with crucial foreign and domestic stakeholders—America’s traditional Mideast allies and congressional Republicans—as nonentities and fools, who just couldn’t see that rapprochement with Iran was in their best interests.

He tried to circumvent the Israelis by keeping them in the dark about secret negotiations with the Islamic Republic. For Obama, Arab fears of Iranian expansionism were a tertiary concern, and he was surprised when the most important Sunni powers didn’t show up for a 2015 summit that was supposed to sell them on the deal. He likewise pooh-poohed Iran’s eliminationist anti-Israel rhetoric (“at the margins, where the costs are low, they may pursue policies based on [Jew] hatred as opposed to self-interest,” he told The Atlantic‘s Jeffrey Goldberg). His aides described a sitting Israeli prime minister as a “chickens—t” (on background, naturally).

He lectured and condescended, and then lectured some more.

On the home front, meanwhile, Obama relied on his signature “pen and phone” methods to ram the deal through. Rather than welcome GOP hawks as good-faith actors seeking to strengthen his hand against an adversary, he treated Republicans as the adversary. He thought his diplomacy pitted him and reasonable Iranians like Javad Zarif against “hard-liners” in Washington and Tehran.

Meanwhile, Obama’s Ben Rhodes-operated media echo chamber swarmed and shouted down journalists and experts who raised concerns about the terms of the accord, not least the fact that it permitted the Iranians to inspect their own military sites and left unaddressed the question of ballistic missiles. The Obama administration never satisfactorily answered critics’ questions about Iran’s refusal to come clean about its prior weaponization activity—the glaring flaw in the deal’s architecture that contributed the most to its undoing this week.

And here we are. The deal’s demise, then, was written into it by its primary author.

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