Is a bad nuclear deal with Iran going to be the Obama legacy? The American president desperately needs a foreign policy achievement. His Russian “reset” ended abruptly with the Ukraine crisis. His Asian policy, including his famed “pivot to China”, has yielded little. The global economy continues to stagnate as the president’s own party balks at White House ideas for greater and greater NAFTA-like free-trade agreements. And in the Middle East, the distinct lack of any kind of coherent strategy has become glaringly apparent with each successive Obama policy move.
At first, it was the Obama embrace of the Muslim Brotherhood. In his famed 2009 Cairo speech, prominent members of this anti-Israel Islamist organization sat at the front of the auditorium as the new president extolled the virtues of liberal democracy and an open system of human and democratic rights. Apparently the young president was unaware of the history of the Brotherhood and its regional commitment to both Sharia law and the genocidal destruction of the Jewish state. But Israel was a secondary political concern for Obama. The so-called Turkish model of Islamism with a democratic veneer captivated the new administration, and soon a strong relationship developed between the president and Turkey’s Islamist prime minister.
But while Obama became infatuated with his perception of an Islamic democracy, when the young people of Iran rose up — against the flawed results of a deeply conservative election “victory” — the White House froze and said next to nothing. In complete contradiction, the same cannot be said for the Arab Spring. In 2011, when the “social media revolution” rocked Cairo, Obama was quick to embrace the opposition and throw longtime American ally, Hosni Mubarak, under the bus. Obama had great leverage in Egypt. As the Egyptian army sat on the sidelines, the American government felt that it was on top of events. After all, the Muslim Brotherhood had promised Washington that it believed in “liberal democracy” and it would not abrogate Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel. Never mind that Hamas was the violent Palestinian offshoot of the very same Brotherhood and was firmly committed to Israel’s destruction. And never mind that the Egyptian Brotherhood itself was deeply anti-Semitic and had expressed its vile rhetoric in open interviews with the US media.
Obama believed he understood the very nature of the Islamist “democratic revolution” and that Israel had nothing to fear from the Brotherhood. In the past, America had tolerated Arab anti-Semitism for the sake of its national interests. In fact, it had done so for decades. Anti-Semitism is endemic in the Arab Middle East. Even in the most “moderate” Arab countries (Jordan, for instance) volumes of such racist diatribes are sold openly in bookstores and airport kiosks. In fact, the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan openly refers to Jews as the “sons of apes and monkeys” and calls on the monarchy to tear up its treaty with Israel in order to pursue jihad. It seemed that no one in the Obama administration even questioned the relationship between Islamist anti-Semitic speech and calls for Israel’s destruction. Washington, under the Democratic Party, welcomed the Morsi election victory and Egypt’s new era of “Islamist democracy”.
Everyone in America knows what happened to Morsi, but what they don’t know is that Obama is the most hated American president in the history of Egypt. From Carter through Bush (the son), US policy in the Middle East rested on a strong Egyptian alliance. In a matter of less than two years, the Obama administration has essentially destroyed the relationship. From taxicab drivers to government officials, the American president is reviled. But as bad as Obama’s policy toward Egypt has been, his policy toward Syria and Iraq has been even worse. Unlike in Egypt (more like Iran), when the Syrian masses took to the streets, Obama slid back into inaction. Syria doesn’t have a Suez Canal or large amounts of oil, but it is a strong ally of Iran and Hezbollah. So from Israel’s perspective, Syria (like Egypt) is strategic. For that matter, the entire Levant holds a vital significance for the future of the Jewish state. A region controlled by Iran is as dangerous to Israel as the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program. In fact, the two go hand in hand. If Iran is to be allowed to become a threshold nuclear power without a clear rollback of its regional depth, Israel will face the greatest threat in its history.
So with Obama’s inaction on Syria, a huge vacuum was created. For the opposition to the Syrian government and Iran, the lack of American support has meant that the vacuum has been filled by extreme Islamist forces. Due to the complete lack of foresight inside of the Obama administration, these forces have had to rely on both Turkey and Saudi Arabia. This has been a crucial Obama mistake. Whether through misjudgment or simple inaction to appease the Democratic Party’s left-wing political base, the results have been catastrophic. The moderate democratic impulse in Syria has been wasted in the vain hope of American support. With the Islamist government in Ankara and the arch-conservative Wahhabi regime in Riyadh in the lead, the most extreme Islamism has now taken root in the Arab Middle East. Obama’s strategy was contradictory. For Israel, the US notion of “leading from behind” in the Middle East never seemed remotely realistic. Finally, however, after sitting on the fence for years, the Obama administration began to take action. But does Washington have a coherent strategy to defeat ISIS? Or will Obama rely on another misjudgment — that a region-wide rapprochement with Iran can reverse the damage created by its previous lack of action and leadership?
If Obama signs on to a bad nuclear deal with Iran, he will be castigated by Israel, the Sunni Arab states and the Republicans. Neither of these parties has sufficient leverage to deter or stop the president. It is only in the president’s own party, the Democratic Party, where an inhibiting lever can be applied. Only Congress (with the support of both political parties) can stop the president if he is willing to sign on to to such a tilt toward Iran. Only Congress can pass tough new sanctions against Iran. And only Congress can override the prospect of a presidential veto. This also means that Hillary Clinton and her husband, ex-president Bill Clinton, must also have to oppose any bad Iranian deal. And the Clintons won’t hesitate to do just that. If a prospective Obama veto has any chance of an override, Obama must either be isolated or placed in the distinct minority of his own political party. With Hillary’s and Bill’s blessing, the Democratic Party could make President Obama into a very early lame duck. This too could become his legacy issue.
If Obama signs on with the Ayatollah, he will be painted by the Republicans as the president who pushed Israel under the bus. And if the Democratic Party can’t stop him or his prospective veto of a Republican legislative response, the entire Democratic Party will be held accountable. This could very strongly influence the 2016 presidential campaign and, therefore, have great consequences for both Mrs. Clinton and the future of the Democratic Party within the American Jewish community and beyond.
For a very intelligent man, President Obama has not acted very wisely. In his last two years in office, he needs to construct a Middle East policy that leaves Iran, with its regional and nuclear ambitions, isolated. He needs to be bold and imaginative. He can’t possibly be perceived as entertaining thoughts of a strategic relationship (tacit or otherwise) with the Islamic Republic of Iran. He certainly doesn’t want to be perceived as the president who pushed Israel under the bus. Remember Mr. President: Your legacy will be written by those in your own party who come after you. The last thing you need is a major fight with Hillary and Bill Clinton. The Clinton team is far too savvy to stand behind a bad nuclear deal with Iran.