Personality vs. Policy

There is an interesting juxtaposition of articles in today’s (Nov. 11) Times of Israel.  Rabbi Yosef Blau has written a featured post headlined “The ethical cost of Jewish communal support for Donald Trump,” while the ToI itself carries a news article headlined, “UN watchdog: Iran storing 12 times more enriched uranium than nuke deal allows”.  They make for interesting reading, particularly if they are read in series.

Rabbi Blau’s thrust is that there is a substantial “ethical cost” to be paid by those Jews, whether in Israel or the U.S., who supported Trump.  This is true, according to Rabbi Blau, because Trump is:

“crude,”

“rude,”

prone to “name-calling instead of arguments,”

“using his position for personal gain,”

someone who “has been accused of serious sexual misbehavior, as well financial illegalities,”

someone who “believes winning is all that matters [and] sees life in transactional terms,”

“not conducting himself in accord with [religious denominations’] expectation of upright behavior,”

and someone who “went bankrupt many times, yet never personally paid the price.”

The rabbi is not one of Trump’s biggest fans.

I think the rabbi would have a hard time proving some of his allegations: rather than profiting from the presidency, I’d bet Trump actually lost a very substantial amount of money he could have earned in the last four years.  And one other allegation is wrong on its face: Trump never “personally” paid a price for bankruptcy because, in fact, Trump never “personally” went bankrupt—not even once.

But, put those caveats aside, and consider the rabbi’s summary:

“Many of his Jewish supporters acknowledge these character flaws, but argue that policy gains outweigh them.  Yet it is embarrassing to justify supporting a candidate because one benefits from his positions on issues that are particularly important to the voter, while knowing that the candidate’s flaws have hurt others.”

I’m someone who acknowledges many of those flaws, but I’m not embarrassed in the least by my support for Trump.  And this is where the news article about Iran’s nuclear enrichment activities comes in.

The ToI reports that, according to the nuclear watchdog agency, Iran is in violation of the limits that the Iran nuclear deal imposed on both the amount and the enrichment grade of the uranium it is permitted to stockpile.  The Iran nuclear deal was, of course, agreed in 2015 between Iran, on the one hand, and the U.S. (under the Obama administration), France, Britain, China, Russia, and Germany, on the other.  The Trump administration withdrew the U.S. from the deal in 2018.

Pres. Trump, like Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, believes it was a grave mistake for Pres. Obama to accept the deal in the first place.  Trump has argued that the deal is grievously flawed because (a) it does not prevent Iran from developing long-range missiles that, with or without nuclear warheads, could reach targets in the Middle East, including Israel, (b) it doesn’t restrict Iran’s support of terrorism in the Middle East and elsewhere, and (c) after the deal expires, Iran will be free to develop nuclear weapons.

Pres. Trump has insisted (again in agreement with P.M. Netanyahu) that a better strategy for dealing with Iran would be to re-impose and even strengthen the economic sanctions that drove Iran to the bargaining table in the first place.  This would, Trump believes, force Iran to address the issues that the deal left unaddressed.

There are, of course, many people in the U.S. and in Israel who believe that it would have been better for the U.S. to remain in the deal.  They point to the fact that Iran is now openly violating the deal as proof that, everything considered, withdrawing was a mistake.

These differing points of view must be judged in the very specific context created over the years by Iran’s leaders.  It will be remembered that, in 2012, the then-president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, described Israel as “a cancerous tumor” and asserted: “The nations of the region will soon finish off the usurper Zionists…[I]n the new Middle east there will be no trace of Americans and Zionists.”  In 2019, Brig. Gen. Mohammad Reza Naqbi, a senior commanding officer in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, asserted: “Israel must be destroyed and wiped out.”  And Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has spoken of wiping Israel off the map, while other senior Iranian clerics have threatened to raze Tel Aviv and Haifa.

I can’t prove that it was a good or a bad idea for Obama to enter into the Iran nuclear deal in 2015, or for Trump to pull out in 2018.  No one could offer such a proof.  There are so many weighty factors to consider that reasonable minds will always differ.

There is, however, one thing I know for certain: every one of the defects in Donald Trump’s character cited by Rabbi Blau is completely and entirely irrelevant to vitally important issues, such as how the U.S. ought to deal with the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran.  Contrasted with an issue of that magnitude (and there are many other momentous issues a U.S. president must face), Rabbi Blau’s list of personality or character flaws is, to put it politely, silly.  If Iran were ever in a position to threaten Israel or any other U.S. ally with nuclear weapons, the character flaws of the then-incumbent U.S. president might be important to Rabbi Blau, but they will be irrelevant to everyone else.

About the Author
David E. Weisberg is a semi-retired attorney and a member of the N.Y. Bar; he also has a Ph.D. in Philosophy from The University of Michigan (1971). He now lives in Cary, NC. His scholarly papers on U.S. constitutional law can be read on the Social Science Research Network at: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/cf_dev/AbsByAuth.cfm?per_id=2523973
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