When the chant “Death to America” goes out in Tehran, it should remind us of the nature of Barack Obama’s diplomatic partners in Iran. The radical Shiite Islamists who seized power in 1979 also seized the US embassy in Tehran and kept dozens of diplomatic personnel as hostages for 444 long days.
The chant became a regular feature of the nightly news, as the intense media coverage often included footage of the constant protests of the “students” while a feckless administration could do nothing to end the humiliation.
Unfortunately, subsequent administrations didn’t learn much from the folly of engagement with the radical mullahs that run Iran with an iron fist. Ronald Reagan tried to swap arms with Iran to end a string of kidnappings of Americans by Hezbollah, Tehran’s terrorist proxies that eventually took control of Lebanon and became Bashar al-Assad’s enforcers in Syria.
Every administration since has attempted to get the Iranians to end their support for terror, and the last two have tried to get Tehran to end its nuclear-weapons program since the discovery of their clandestine effort more than a decade ago. Despite the concessions made repeatedly to woo the mullahs into more responsible behavior, the response has always been a thinly veiled version of “Death to America.”
This week, Iran’s Supreme Leader didn’t even bother with the veil. A crowd attending a speech by Ali Khamenei in Tehran began the “Death to America” chant as the ruling mullah assented. “Of course yes, death to America,” Khamenei replied, “because America is the original source of this pressure” to end Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
This is, of course, the head of state in the high-stakes negotiations that President Obama has tried so hard to keep going. Furthermore, in the Iranian theocracy, it’s the ayatollah serving as Supreme Leader who counts for everything in a political sense. Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have hitched the security of the US and the very existence of our allies in the Middle East – especially Israel – on the basis that we can trust Iran to stick to a deal and not produce nuclear weapons, even though it would give them a significant advantage in the region. And the only man whose opinions count publicly cheers, “Death to America.”
The response to Khamenei’s statement by the White House may have been even more unnerving. According to CNN and National Journal’s Josh Kraushaar, the Obama administration didn’t take it seriously. They said it was “intended for a domestic political audience.” The administration dismissed the idea that was significant in terms of the deal Obama and Kerry have pursued, and for which the US and its allies have spent months negotiating. It’s just the Ayatollah being the Ayatollah, in other words.
Funny, but the White House took a distinctly less charitable approach to the ally that opposed Iran the previous week. Benjamin Netanyahu, in fighting for re-election in Israel, told voters there that he could no longer support a two-state solution under the current conditions of Palestinian leadership. He also warned Israelis that outside activists had attempted to boost voting of Israeli Arabs in an attempt to defeat Likud, and urged Israel’s Jews to turn out more heavily for him. In the final days of the election, Netanyahu won handily.
Did the Obama administration shrug Netanyahu’s words off as “intended for a domestic political audience?”
Ever since, the White House has been in high dudgeon, slamming Netanyahu’s campaign for both the comments about Arab turnout and the futility of negotiating with a Hamas-partnered Mahmoud Abbas. Netanyahu has tried making amends for both statements, but as late as Tuesday, State Department spokesperson Marie Harf sniffed that the US didn’t find Netanyahu credible any longer. “Given his statements prior to the election, it’s going to be hard to find a path where people seriously believe, when it comes to negotiations, that those are possible.”
Let’s get this straight. Benjamin Netanyahu, the elected head of government of a US ally, defies Obama on a policy that impacts Israel’s security, then apologizes for it, and yet is considered someone who lacks credibility. However, when the head of state of a nation that has sponsored terrorism for decades openly says, “Death to America,” the Obama administration shrugs off the statement as mere domestic politics and considers him a credible partner for peace.
We are truly through the looking glass with this President.
It has become abundantly clear that Obama wants a deal for the sake of claiming a foreign policy achievement, no matter what the cost, and no matter what it does to our allies, especially Israel. The situation is reminiscent of another confrontation between Western powers and an extremist dictatorship that professed its own destiny to rule the world, and where the dictator even wrote out his plans for world domination and practically begged everyone to read them.
In both cases, Western leaders told themselves that the extremist rhetoric was only intended for domestic consumption. Also in both cases, they treated with contempt their allies whose very existence was threatened by the new hegemon, who kept breaking international agreements and stalling negotiations until the West appeased them by betraying those same allies -- even locking their democratic allies out of the negotiations.
At least Neville Chamberlain learned his lesson after Munich, albeit far too late for the Czechoslovakians, Eastern Europe, and millions of Jews. Obama and Kerry seem determined to repeat those same mistakes. That can be described many ways, but smart power isn’t one of them.
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