Shmuley Boteach
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Obama’s failure of moral courage

The US President's doctrine of preserving the status quo is a lifeline to the Ayatollahs

The Obama Doctrine. What is it? The best I can discern is that it is a preservation of the status quo. As Obama himself put it, “America does not presume to know what is best for everyone.”


We don’t presume to know that elections are better than dictatorships? We don’t presume to know that women being beaten in the streets for showing an elbow is brutal?

American presidents should promote more than moral relativism. The Declaration of Independence was written by Thomas Jefferson as a universal proclamation of human liberty asserting that freedom is an ‘inalienable’ right possessed by each of G-d’s children.

President Obama has always possessed the potential for greatness. He has the intelligence, charisma, and above all oratorical gifts to be a truly inspirational leader. But leadership comes down to moral courage. Now, with the Iran deal the loser is not just the State of Israel. It is the leadership of President Obama. We’re back to an American foreign policy prepared to make deals with terror funding states, unfreezing billions of dollars in assets for a temporary halt to their nuclear ambitions.

Moses might have been just another spoiled Egyptian prince until the day he chanced upon an Israelite slave being beaten. The Bible relates, “And he looked this way and that way and saw there was no man. Then he smote the Egyptian.” When Moses saw there was none but him to address this moral outrage, he sacrificed his cushy position in Egyptian society and acted to right a wrong. At that moment he became instantly unpopular in Egyptian society but he also become an audacious leader. It should be noted that the great liberator and lawgiver could not give a public speech. He was a stutterer whose mouthpiece was his brother Aaron. But then, real leadership does not involve having the best mouth but rather the most courageous heart.

Of all the sins of which a leader can be guilty few are as egregious as the simple refusal to lead. Had he intensified the sanctions against Iran President Obama might have seen the total collapse of Iran’s brutal regime. The Ayatollahs were desperate. Their economy was falling to pieces. But along came President Obama and offered them a lifeline.

Watching President Obama’s at first deafening silence in 2009 during the Iranian Green Revolution and then the weak and hyper-cautious words that followed was deeply disappointing.

First President Obama said, “It is not productive, given the history of U.S.-Iranian relations, to be seen as meddling.” Was our President seriously comparing the 1953 CIA-inspired coup of the democratically-elected government of Prime Minister Mohammed Mosaddeq to an organic uprising of the Iranian people against a sham election and a supreme ‘religious’ leader who threatened to kill them if they protest? And if the President is right and has no right to meddle, then why did he pressure Iran not to develop nuclear weapons?

Of course we meddle. It’s our job to meddle. That’s what leadership of the world entails unless President Obama seriously believes that the place America occupies on the global stage is akin to Denmark or Madagascar. Meddling is only wrong when it serves a country’s selfish, imperial purposes. But when its aim is to save life and uphold liberty it is not only permitted but obligatory. Plenty of countries rightly ‘meddled’ in the affairs of the United States when they saw black children being blown down by powerful water hoses and attacked by dogs at civil rights marches. Martin Luther King invited them to meddle, which is why he repeatedly said, “The world is watching,” a phrase which President Obama himself used against Iran in 2009.

President Obama must decide if he will serve as leader, or spectator, of the free world. In 2009 all it took was a forthright statement from the leader of the free world: “The people of the United States support the people of Iran in their legitimate quest for democracy and freedom and will hold accountable any and all parties responsible for the bloodshed of non-violent demonstrators.”

President Clinton apologized numerous times that he did not meddle in Rwanda when 800,000 innocent people were hacked to death and we call the generation that meddled in Europe during the Second World War, ‘the greatest generation.’ For that matter, I am grateful to the France of the late eighteenth century for agreeing to meddle in Britain’s internal affairs when they tried to brutally crush an uprising of colonists overseas. Without their meddling the United States might have been stillborn.

Indeed, it was Dr. King who passionately rejected this argument of ‘outside agitator’ when it was used against him by eight white Alabama clergymen who accused him of fomenting hatred in their state when King lived in Georgia. In his memorable “Letter from Birmingham Jail” he said, “I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea.”

Fifty years ago another young charismatic President went to the very symbol of Soviet oppression in Berlin and directly inserted himself into Soviet affairs by identifying himself with the people who were risking their lives for liberty. “All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin, and, therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words “Ich bin ein Berliner.”

And though he was murdered just a few months later, his belief that great powers must meddle in the affairs of tyrannical regimes to give the hope of freedom to their people remains just as strong half a century after his murder.

About the Author
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is the founder of This World: The Values Network. He is the author of Judaism for Everyone and 30 other books, including his most recent, Kosher Lust. Follow him on Twitter@RabbiShmuley.
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