The Purim story becomes more real by the day. To find our contemporary Haman we don't even have to change the coordinates on the map from Megillas Esther. And in the supporting role, as the most powerful man in the world, we have a contemporary leader who provokes the same question that Chazal asked about Achashveirosh: Is he a fool easily duped or Haman's full partner in his hatred of Jews?
Looking at one of those ubiquitous photos of Secretary of State John Kerry shaking hands with Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif recently, it suddenly struck me that there was something terribly wrong, quite apart from the insane terms of the nuclear agreement with Iran that the United States and the other Western powers are poised to accept. Iran's leaders, from Khomeini to Khamenei, have long proclaimed Israel a cancer (that must be extirpated like a tumor), and their eagerness to be the surgeon. Even as they sponsor Holocaust-denial conferences, they lay plans for a second Holocaust.
Yet here are all the leading Western powers hobnobbing with Iranian negotiators as if Iran were a nation like any other. I doubt that a rap artist who produced a crude anti-Semitic screed would be invited to a White House dinner. But if you threaten to wipe out over 6 million Jews, not just a handful, you can be wined and dined by every Western leader.
Isn't there something a little peculiar about Western European leaders denouncing the rising scourge of anti-Semitism in their countries while simultaneously shaking Zarif's hand and treating Iran like any other negotiating partner?
The problem goes far beyond sending double messages about the acceptability of lethal anti-Semitism. The United States and the West simply don't take seriously Iran's stated desire to rid the world of Israel. Yet if there is one clear lesson that Hitler yemach shemo should have taught us, it is that threats to exterminate the Jews must be taken at face value. There is rarely anything to be gained by proclaiming one's desire to rid the world of Jews unless one is absolutely serious about it.
Had Neville Chamberlain bothered to read Mein Kampf, he would have found Hitler's Final Solution elaborated in detail, as well as Hitler's derisive comments about how easy it would be to deceive France and Germany. But Chamberlain was in no mood to be forewarned. Chaim Weizmann records in his autobiography Czech Foreign Minister Jan Masaryk's account of a meeting with Chamberlain immediately after the latter's return from Munich.
Masaryk visited the Weizmann residence that evening. He related how he had accused Chamberlain of deliberately betraying Czechoslovakia, which had been excluded from all negotiations with Hitler, just as Israel is excluded from all negotiations with Iran today. To which Chamberlain replied, "Mr. Masaryk, you happen to believe in Dr. Benes [the president of Czechoslovakia]. I happen to trust Herr Hitler."
Weizmann bitterly noted that "a great democratic country, a magnificent army, and a superb munitions plant has been delivered to the future conqueror of Europe, and a people which had fought valiantly for its freedom was betrayed by the democracies." (Does that description remind us of any contemporary nation?)
The West today is negotiating with Iran as if we trusted the Ayatollah Khamenei. Nuclear treaties are notoriously difficult to verify, as lead US negotiator Wendy Sherman should know: She also played a major role in negotiating a series of agreements with North Korea during the Clinton years, in which North Korea undertook to abandon its nuclear program and submit to increased inspections. Within little more than a decade, however, North Korea had tested its first nuclear device and confirmed its possession of nuclear weapons. Iran has repeatedly stymied International Atomic Energy Agency inspections, even since the current Joint Plan of Action negotiations began. And it has been excused by the P5+1 negotiators from providing details of it earlier nuclear weapons program, without which it becomes almost impossible to monitor continued compliance.
PRESIDENT OBAMA DOES NOT just trust Iran and its leaders, he has made support for the current Iranian regime the linchpin of his foreign policy since day one, effectively reversing the policy of containment of Iran pursued by every American administration since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Far from lacking a strategic vision, as many have charged, Michael Doran, a former senior director of the National Security Council, argues in a must-read February 2 piece in Mosaic that President Obama's Middle Eastern policy has been guided by a laser-like pursuit of a grand bargain with Iran from the start.
Obama came into office determined to reverse the foreign policy of his predecessor George W. Bush and extricate America from the various military entanglements in the Middle East into which Bush had plunged the country. The central question that confronted Obama was: What will replace the set of American-led military alliances created by Bush?
His short answer was that Iran was the country best placed to play the role of regional hegemon, ensuring stability, and allowing America to pivot from the Middle East. During Obama's first year in office, more foreign policy meetings were conducted on Iran policy than on any other subject.
The outreach to Iran that followed was based on two premises: the first that America and Iran share numerous common interests, despite Iran's longstanding role as the leading nation-state supporter of terrorism; the second that responsibility for Iranian enmity toward the great Satan largely rests with the latter. That involved a refusal to credit Iran's expansionist Islamist theology and its total rejection of such Western concepts as democracy.
Thus, when the Iranian leadership unleashed the Revolutionary Guard on demonstrators during the 2009 Green Revolution, following rigged elections, Obama said little and did nothing in order not to destroy the chances of a grand bargain with the mullahs. Similarly, when an internal revolt broke out against Iran's most important ally, Syrian tyrant Bashar al-Assad, Obama rejected the advice of virtually his entire foreign policy team — CIA director David Petraeus, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, even Secretary of State Hillary Clinton –—to train moderate Syrian rebels with no ties to Al Qaeda or radical Sunni groups. Again, aiding a rebellion against a key Iranian ally, the president feared, would anger Iran and drive it away from any grand bargain.
For three years, Obama has pretty much granted Iran a free hand in both Syria and Iraq. One result is the opening of an additional front of Hezbollah and Iranian Revolutionary Guards against Israel from the Golan Heights. A second is to have allowed Iran to dominate the security apparatus of the Iraqi state, and thereby edge closer to gaining control of the Iraq's oil reserves, the fifth largest in the world.
And a third consequence is the rise of ISIS. The brutality of Iraqi Shiite militias loyal to Iran against Sunnis in Iraq ensures that there will be no reprise of President George W. Bush's successful "surge," which was based on Sunni tribesman, against ISIS.
And now, the Obama administration has cited ISIS in support of a tactical alliance with Iran. But that is to completely invert priorities. ISIS is indeed a mortal threat to the inhabitants of Syria and Iraq, though hardly the only one. Iran is a threat to the entire world. It makes no sense to strengthen Iran in order to fight ISIS, no matter how heinous the latter.
PRESIDENT OBAMA could never have openly announced his tilt in favor of the Iranian mullahs to American citizens, who still remember the 1979 takeover of the American embassy in Teheran and harbor deep suspicions of Iran. As a consequence, he has followed the twin paths of extreme secrecy and duplicity.
Congress has been kept almost entirely out of the loop of the current JPOA nuclear negotiations. Every time the administration has attempted to characterize its "tough" negotiating position, senior Iranian officials have been quick to correct the Americans. Iranian descriptions of the negotiations have consistently turned out to be more accurate.
It is increasingly clear that in return for a temporary slowdown of Iran's enrichment program, the United States has made crucial permanent concessions, including recognition of Iran's right to enrich — despite numerous UN Security Council Resolutions explicitly denying that right. In addition, Iran has been left free to work on improving the efficiency of its centrifuges and to carry forth all other military research connected to nuclear weaponization. Moreover, all restrictions on Iran are to be of limited duration, making any accord basically one to keep Iran from going fully nuclear only until Obama leaves office.
The president claims that he only entered into nuclear negotiations with Iran after sanctions had forced Iran to the bargaining table and the election of the "moderate" Hassan Rouhani as president of Iran made agreement possible. But Obama consistently opposed congressional sanctions out of fear of angering Iran. And leaving aside that Ayatollah Khameini, not Rouhani, fully controls Iran's nuclear negotiating stance, the main elements of the JPOA accords were fully in place long before Rouhani's election, including significant sanctions relief and recognition of Iran's right to enrich.
Even as he has offered Iran's nuclear negotiators more and more concessions, Obama has been consistently taken aback by Iran's hardline negotiating position and its willingness to walk away from the table. He had convinced himself that Khamenei was eager for some face-saving way to ice Iran's nuclear program in return for being readmitted to the international community. He ignored the fact that Iran's Arak heavy-water reactor and the underground facilities at Fordow — both of which Iran hid until they were discovered — have no civilian justification.
Even Martin Indyk, the longtime bane of successive Israeli prime ministers and a close Obama confidant, has written recently of the sandcastle of Obama's dreams of partnership with Iran: "It is fanciful to imagine that the United States could convince Iran to shift from the region's most threatening revisionist poser and become instead a partner in establishing a new order in the Middle East. It would require the Supreme Leader to overcome his extreme paranoia about the intentions of the United States and curb the Revolutionary Guard Corps and the Ministry of Intelligence and Security — the regime's mechanisms for pursuing it s regional hegemonic ambitions."
Obama has hysterically personalized his dispute with Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu precisely to cover up the huge divergence of strategic view and in order to prevent Netanyahu from laying out the case for how Israel's security — indeed that of the entire Western world — has been sold down the river. (Senior administration officials have boasted about how Obama intimidated Netanyahu out of attacking Iran until it was "too late" to do so.)
For those of us watching this modern Purim story unfold, there remains only the same recourse chosen by our ancestors so long ago: tefillah and teshuvah.