What explains Obama’s zeal for a deal with Iran?

Published in The Jerusalem Post and Israel Hayom, February 20, 2015.

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It’s ardor for Islam and sympathy for Islamic ambitions of global leadership, not just distaste for American overreach, that apparently fuels Obama’s secretive dash towards a deal with Iran. There is no other plausible explanation for his willingness to overlook Iran’s emerging Islamic empire.

Why does US President Barack Hussein Obama so desperately want a deal with Iran? Why is he so fixated on a grand bargain with the Islamic Republic, the world’s biggest killer of Americans? What explains the president’s passion to embrace the radical mullahs of Teheran, despite the fact that all America’s traditional allies in the region are calling for him to check Iran’s advances? Why the deferential approach that seeks Iran’s partnership, instead of its isolation?

The question becomes even sharper when you consider the fact that Iran is patently not seeking integration in the Middle East or reconciliation with the West, but rather obviously domination of the region and apocalyptic victory over the West.

After all, you don’t have to be an expert to discern the expansionist and threatening Iranian strategy. Teheran is seeking to create a land corridor under its domination from the Persian Gulf through Iraq and Syria to the Mediterranean. The only missing link in this land bridge of Shiite supremacy is Anbar province in western Iraq, now under Islamic State (ISIS) control. Now you understand why Iranian troops are now leading the fight against ISIS in this zone.

What’s not understood is American airstrikes against ISIS in Anbar, which seem to be tailored to match the movements of Iranian ground advances. The clear US-Iranian military coordination in this theater of operations gives lie to Washington’s denials that it has already entered into a tacit alliance with Iran.

While the defeat of ISIS is a rational American policy goal, acquiescence in Iranian ascendancy in ISIS’s stead is not. Nor is American acceptance of the Iranian takeover of Yemen, through its Zaydi/Houthi Shiite allies – which gives Iran choke-off control of the vital Bab el-Mandeb waterway at the opening the Red Sea. Obama’s Washington hasn’t even whimpered in protest or concern about this.

We also have no indication that in its current negotiations with Teheran the administration has tackled Iranian adventurism in Syria and Lebanon, and along Israel’s northern and southern borders. Just the opposite: The administration says that the talks with Iran have been narrowly focused on centrifuge and uranium stockpile limits. Iran’s regional subversion (plus its long-range missile capabilities and its human rights record, etc.) has not been on the agenda.

I can’t believe for a second that Obama truly thinks he can bring about substantial moderation of Iranian diplomatic and military behavior; that by giving Ayatollah Khameini the comprehensive sanctions relief and renewed international legitimacy that Iran seeks, the Islamic Republic will stop being the expansionist and aggressive Islamic Republic it is.

That’s just not believable. Iran has consistently cast its quest for regional power as a movement of “Islamic resistance” against the US and its sidekick in Israel. There is no basis for the assumption that moving to a less polarized relationship with Iran will accelerate a transition toward a more democratic, less theocratic, and less expansionist regime within Iran. On the contrary: A nuclear deal that lifts sanctions without addressing Iran’s regional ambitions would have the effect of greatly strengthening Iran’s hand.

And indeed, an Iranian Islamic empire is emerging in vast swaths of territory, from Shiraz to Sana’a and from Tabriz to Tripoli, right under Obama’s nose.

SO AGAIN, what explains Obama’s relentless pursuit of strategic partnership with Iran; a partnership that is so perceptibly detrimental and dangerous to the West – and to Israel and other long-standing American allies in the region?

A spate of recent articles by American analysts (Anthony Cordesman, Bill Kristol, Colin Dueck, Eli Lake, Elliott Abrams, Eric Edelman, Jonathan Tobin, Josef Joffe, Michael Doran, Michael Ledeen, Raymond Ibrahim, Victor Davis Hanson, Walter Russell Mead) have sought to plumb the depths of Obama’s fervor for rapprochement with Iran.

They mostly conclude that the roots of Obama’s approach rest in the fairly widespread, basically liberal, and quintessentially leftist convictions that America has for decades been sinful and diplomatically domineering, and must atone for its arrogance through retrenchment and accommodation. Obama shares the progressive aversion to the use of American power. Hence his chronic need to apologize for such.

Thus, US Cold War culpability – in Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Africa, South America and Cuba – is a burden on America that must be addressed by shrinking America’s global footprint, and allowing indigenous, revolutionary movements to legitimately emerge and stabilize.

As such, the rules of nuclear non-proliferation are an unfair Western construct and need not apply to Iran. China is an authentic power with vast continental rights. And Israel is an abnormality, a Western outpost of capitalism and privilege where it has never really belonged, an irritant that should be treated like any other country as much as politically possible – no more.

In short, Obama believes that he will be leaving the world a better place by cutting America down to size.

TO ME, this is an insufficient explanation of Obama’s symptomology. Nor does it help to call Obama messianic and self-absorbed – as in George Will’s delicious quip this week that “If narcissism were oil, this president would be Saudi Arabia.”

None of this explains the depth of commitment to a deal with Iran that Obama has evinced since his first day in office (and perhaps, even before taking office, as Michael Doran has sought to show in Mosaic magazine). Nor does it explain the administration’s commitment to keeping everybody in the dark about the extent of its apparent pact with Iran.

It seems to me that Obama’s fervor for Iran lies somewhere much more fundamental: In a deep-seated ideological belief that Islam has a rightful leadership place in the world.

Consider the fact that Obama’s inaugural address abroad was “A New Beginning,” delivered in Cairo in 2009 – a contrite appeal to the Moslem world for forgiveness and for partnership. Go back and listen as Obama waxes eloquent about “hearing the call of the azaan” as a youth in Indonesia, and about the historical achievements of Islamic civilization in algebra and architecture. This is Obama speaking from the recesses of his soul.

Consider Obama’s refusal to acknowledge the Manichean and irreconcilable nature of the challenge posed to the West by radical Islam; his refusal to even mutter the words “Islamic extremism” or “jihadism”; and his absolute unwillingness to connect terrorism to Islam or even admit that Islamic terrorists deliberately target Jews (such as those Jews in Paris’ HyperCacher grocery).

The terms radical Islam and Islamic terrorist aren’t in Obama’s lexicon because deep down Obama doesn’t believe that Western (or Judeo-Christian) civilization is any better than Islamic civilization.

No better, perhaps, than even the Islamic State. Speaking to the National Prayer breakfast in Washington on February 5, Obama said: “Before we get on our high horse and think this [ISIS beheadings, sex slavery, crucifixion, roasting of humans, etc.] is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.”

This is tantamount to saying that the West is rooted in immorality, and that it is time for other, no less moral, and possibly more moral, powers to emerge – specifically, Islamic powers. It is equivalent to saying that the denouement of America and rise of an Islamic superpower will elevate world politics to a better sphere.

It is like saying – actually this is exactly what Obama is saying! – that America is ready to legitimize a seismic shift in the global balance of power through a grand civilizational bargain with the Ayatollahs of Iran.

It’s ardor for Islam and sympathy for Islamic ambitions of global leadership, not just distaste for American overreach, that apparently fuels Obama’s secretive dash towards a deal with Iran.

David M. Weinberg is a think tank director, columnist and lobbyist who is a sharp critic of Israel’s detractors and of post-Zionist trends in Israel. Read more »
A passionate speaker, David M. Weinberg lectures widely in Israel, the U.S. and Canada to Jewish and non-Jewish audiences. He speaks on international politics and Middle East strategic affairs, Israeli diplomacy and defense strategy, intelligence matters and more. Click here to book David Weinberg as a speaker

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