Profiles in Courage Anyone?
Like all boys of my generation with an interest in politics, I eagerly read John F. Kennedy's (well, actually Theodore Sorenson's) Profiles in Courage – a series of vignettes of courage in the political arena – and imagined myself in the role of the book's heroes.
It will take thirteen such profiles in courage – the number of Democratic votes necessary to override a presidential veto of a congressional vote of disapproval – to reject the Iran deal. Democratic senators will come under ceaseless pressure from the White House, be accused of undermining a Democratic president and of harming Hillary's candidacy. They will be tarred with placing constituent's concerns over the national good (as President Obama did to the face of New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez). And if they are Jewish, they will also be charged with caring more about Israel than the United States.
Yet all they will be asked to do is to place country over party. The Iran deal constitutes a major humiliation for the United States. It is, as even the Washington Post's liberal columnist Dana Milibank admitted, a perverse celebration of American weakness, or lack of "leverage" in Obama's words, and a guarantee of greater future weakness.
If America lacked leverage, it was only because Obama took all the sources of American power and neutered them. Rather than tighten sanctions, at a time they were crushing the Iranian economy, he lifted some. And despite having explicitly said at least thirteen times (by the count of Obama Court reporter Jeffrey Goldberg) that he retained a military option, he showed the Iranians that he was bluffing when he failed to respond to Bashir Assad's crossing his self-imposed red line and using chemical weapons against his own citizens. As Adam Garfinkle, editor of the American Interest notes, parties to negotiations will never receive within the negotiating room what they are unwilling to contest outside it.
The key to understanding the agreement is Michael Oren's observation in Ally that not once in his autobiography Dreams of My Father does Obama express any pride in or love of the country he would one day lead. He views American power as more often than not malevolent.
In his press conference defending the deal, the President said that the United States had not even put on the table a demand for four American hostages held by Iran on trumped up charges, for fear that the Iranians would ask for more concessions. What humiliation. The Iranians (abetted by Russia) had no such compunctions demanding at the last minute an end to the arms embargo against them – a demand so outrageous that many assumed it was Iran's way of blowing up the negotiations, since the United States could not possibly accept it. But Obama did.
That combination of a $100 billion or more sanctions relief coupled with an end to the arms embargo within five years is lethal. At the outset of the U.S.'s entry into the negotiations, Iran was a second-rate power. By lifting the arms embargo, and granting Iran access to the most sophisticated weapons in the Russian and Chinese storehouses, he has rendered the U.S. Fifth fleet too vulnerable to any longer ensure free passage through the Straits of Hormuz (adjacent to Iran), through which 30% of the world's oil supplies flow. According to Yale's Charles Hill, he has turned Iran into a major power and handed off U.S. leadership in the Middle East to Iran – a "relentless, deceptive, deceitful enemy of the international order."
There's even a provision that the Europeans and unnamed other signatories will help Iran protect its nuclear facilities, for which it has no conceivable civilian use. That is intended as a rude gesture to Israel. They might as well have drawn a heart and written P5+1 and Iran BFF (best friends forever), even as the Supreme Leader assures Iranian students that destroying the Great Satan will always remain part of the raison d'etre of the Islamic Revolution.
After the U.S.'s 1996 Agreed Framework with North Korea, the latter at least had to expel inspectors to complete its nuclear weapons. Last week's agreement creates such porous inspections Iran might not even do that. But the front-loading of sanctions relief and the assurance that Teheran will soon be awash in Europeans eager to sell the Iranians the rope with which to hang them gives them little incentive not to renege on the deal a few years down the line.
Finally, the agreement all but assures the very nuclear proliferation that it was its purpose to avoid. At least three other countries in the world's least stable region will almost surely acquire nuclear weapons in short order. And as Garfinkle notes, each additional nuclear state increases geometrically the likelihood of nuclear conflagration or of some terrorist group getting its hands on a bomb.
It is highly symbolic that the agreement is explicitly contingent on the approval of the Iranian parliament, but makes no mention of the U.S. Congress, which President Obama has already indicated he will by-pass by seeking to enshrine the agreement in a U.N. Security Council Resolution before Congress votes. Aren't there 13 Democrats who will refuse to sign off on a humiliation agreement proclaiming "America: Weak and getting weaker. (And that's a good thing)"?
No Jew living in Israel will ever again feel completely secure. President Obama's claim that the agreement struck with Iran prevents Iran from attaining nuclear weapons is a bald-faced lie. Little more than a decade from now, as Obama has previously acknowledged, almost all restrictions on Iran's nuclear program will be removed. Over the intervening period Iran will have plowed much of the hundred billion dollars or more in sanctions relief granted under the deal into research on advanced centrifuges and otherwise laying the infrastructure for an industrial size nuclear weapons program. Tens of billions more will be spent acquiring a vast arsenal of the world's most sophisticated and lethal weapons to defend that infrastructure.
And that's if Iran does not cheat – something at which they have long experience and great expertise. Thus, in the not so distant future, Israel will be living with a nuclear-armed Iran, or one capable of producing nuclear arms in a few months, committed to its annihilation.
And until the day Iran goes nuclear, we can cheerfully contemplate all the ways that Hezbollah and Hamas will use the billions of dollars in new funds available to them from their Iranian patron to menace Israel. In five years, the Iranians will be able to buy all the most sophisticated weapons systems in the world from the bankrupt Russians and cynical Chinese and ship them to their terrorist allies.
By virtue of last week's agreement, Iran is no longer a rogue state subject to Section VII of the United Nations Charter for aggressors and other threats to the peace, despite being the world's leading state exporter of terror, with offices around the world. Iran today is just a nation like any other open for business with eager men in tailored suits and silk ties. Holocaust denial, threats to wipe Israel off the map, virulent official anti-Semitism – none of these cast any pall of opprobrium on Iran.
Three-quarters of a century after the Holocaust, "Never again" has never seemed like a more hollow boast. State-sponsored anti-Semitism has been normalized by the paragons of Western society. Time to move on.
In his last few weeks of life, Rabbi Noach Weinberg met with Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv and ylch"a, the Gerrer Rebbe to discuss the threat to the Jewish people from Iran. Rav Elyashiv agreed with Reb Noach that the situation of Klal Yisrael was every bit as precarious as Reb Noach thought – as precarious as in 1939, according to Rav Elyashiv. One of those present in the room scoffed, "A few rockets fired at Sderot is another Holocaust?" Rav Elyashiv silenced him with one word, "The Iranians (hairanim)."
SO IF JEWS IN ISRAEL feel a bit insecure, it is not without cause. But we do have one consolation: We are all in this together. An Iranian nuke will not make fine distinctions based on levels of religiosity.
If Hashem has made it so crystal clear that the Jews of Eretz Yisrael share a common fate and are inextricably linked to one another, could He also be showing us that part of the necessary tikkun to deal with the gezeirah handing over us is to do everything possible to strengthen the internal unity of Klal Yisrael, particularly in Eretz Yisrael?
Our Sages tell us what a powerful force unity can be. Despite the low spiritual level of Jewish people in the days of Ahab, Jewish armies still prevailed in battle because of the level of love of the soldiers for one another and because they did not speak lashon hara about one another.
Last week, a leading Torah figure spoke to a Gesher leadership mission made up of Israeli Jews from across the religious spectrum. He told them, "Your fellow Jew's spiritual level is not your concern. That is between him and Ribbono Shel Olam. Your job is to show your love and concern for him."
He did not mean, I'm sure that we should not be concerned with our fellow Jew's spiritual state. Of course we should. But that concern must arise from a desire that he or she become like me, but out of a desire that he or she experience the greatest good possible – a connection to Hashem through His Torah.
Reb Noach Weinberg defined love as focusing on the virtues of the beloved and defining him or her in terms of those virtues. And that is precisely what we need to do with respect to our fellow Jews – focus on their virtues.
About twenty years ago, David Geffen began an organization called Common Denominator, which, inter alia, brought Jews of diverse backgrounds and varying levels of religious observance to work together on projects of common interest. Before starting, he went to ask Rav Elyashiv whether his project was worth the effort if all it did was remove stereotypes and lessen tensions between Jews, but not a single secular Jew became halachically observant as a consequence. Rabbi Elyashiv told him clearly that reducing animosity between Jews would itself be an important goal.
Geffen also brought about 25, 000 secular Jews to Meah Shearim to meet with local families over a period of several years. When Rabbi Yaakov Weinberg, the late Rosh Yeshiva of Ner Israel, heard about his project, he had tears in his eyes. "If you can get chareidim to love chilonim as they are, and not just for kiruv, you will do more than all the kiruv organizations together, and possibly bring Mashiach."
May we each do our part this year and turn Tisha B'Av into a day of rejoicing, one in which all the gezeiros have been torn up forever.