It took nearly seven years, but I’m getting a handle on Barack Obama’s presidency.
Go for the big stuff — save the oceans, clear the world of the nuclear threat, no more chemical warfare, end the practice of not having medical insurance. The small stuff bores him. “I wasn’t elected president to balance the budget,” you could almost hear him say.
The reason it took me so long to figure this out was because Obama so rarely gets animated enough about things. But when he does, it plainly shows. The gleam in the eyes. The mocking smile and acerbic remark. He throws out straw “critics,” scornfully tallying their arguments before eviscerating them.
But when you’re taking both sides — presenting your opponents’ case and then destroying it — you get to choose which arguments don’t get mentioned.
These were all onstage Wednesday when the president spoke at the American University to defend his deal with Iran. There were “critics” who don’t have arguments, they have “prepared talking points.” Which are “backed by tens of millions of dollars in advertising.” The same “critics” who are against his deal were also for the war in Iraq.
He noted that Iran can have an atomic bomb within months without a deal, but neglected to mention the fact that he promised numerous times that Iran will not become a nuclear power under his watch. And he forgets to mention that Iran is building missiles to reach America.
The president rightfully — and gallingly — said that Iran’s hardliners are making “common cause with the Republican caucus” in opposing his deal. But he left out that there are no hardliners and moderates in Iran, just smiling faces and scowls.
As part of his grand-scheme presidency, Obama made clear, he doesn’t just want to end the Iraq war — he wants to end the mindset that warfare can solve anything.
Let’s put aside that, after 15 years, Iran can freely develop a nuclear weapon. Just like the people supporting this deal said in 1994 in order to push through a similar deal with North Korea, there will still be inspectors, but they can only inspect, with no power to stop anything. Obama is betting on the fact that the regime will be overthrown by then. Just like with North Korea, it’s a risky gamble. And North Korea ended up kicking out the inspectors and developing an estimated four nuclear bombs.
The deal is predicated, as Obama stated Wednesday, on discounting the call by his negotiating partners for “death to America, death to Israel.” The clerics, Obama claims in the next chapter of his expertise of what Islam is or isn’t, don’t represent the people’s feelings. Their wishing of death to the “Satan,” both the big and little one, is just the small print recited after their prayers.
So does the deal evoke Munich? No, said Obama. That’s what the “critics” are trying to say, in order “to play on people’s fears, to magnify threats.”
Indeed, the critics are wrong. It actually brings Versailles to mind.
World War II ended with the world clear-eyed about the fact that nations cannot be stopped from going to war and rules must be established to negotiate instead. But 30 years earlier, the Great War and its 30 million dead fresh in their minds, the world naively set up the League of Nations, with a goal to end all warfare.
The only previous law professor to have served as president before Obama — Woodrow Wilson — was one of its principal framers; and he set out to get Congress to back it. But with Congress newly controlled by Republicans, the Democratic president did not take any of them along to the Versailles peace conference in France. He ignored them.
Despite a plea that a rejection of the League of Nations would “break the heart of the world,” Congress preceded to do just that.
Which is just as well. Because the world’s heart does not bleed with liberal feelings. It is a harsh world out there, populated by autocracies and theocracies — Germany and Japan in the 1940s, Russia and Iran in the current century.
It is that same mindset that is governing Obama’s deal. It is also that mindset that ended with the Second World War.
So there you have the real disagreement between Obama and his “critics.” One side, which erred on the side of caution and urged a war to overthrow the Iraqi regime accused of developing weapons of mass destruction, and another side whose naiveté brought about the most destructive six years in history.
And it’s not as if the “critics” are the only ones to be wrong. Obama’s worship of negotiations über alles led him to stop a missile strike against Syria at the last minute two years ago, putting a dagger to the heart of every U.S. ally.
Because Obama doesn’t like to just end wars and save lives. He’ll only do that if it accomplishes a grand scheme, such as the end of chemical weapons. So when Syria’s Assad attacked his people with poison, Obama threatened war. When Vladimir Putin offered to get rid of Syria’s chemical stash, the threat was withdrawn.
The 210,000 Syrians killed through conventional weapons and barrel bombs just don’t make the cut. Neither will the threat of a terror-supporting Iran against Israel.
It’s the promise to rid the world of nukes that got him the Nobel.