What to make of President Obama's interpretation of the Iranian leadership? Challenged by The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg to account for the seeming inconsistency of relying on the rationality of a regime that holds a profoundly anti-Semitic worldview, the president denied that the "venomous anti-Semitism" (his words) of the mullahs is a barrier to rational decision making:
"Well, the fact that you are anti-Semitic, or racist, doesn't preclude you from being interested in survival. It doesn't preclude you from being rational about the need to keep your economy afloat; it doesn't preclude you from making strategic decisions about how you stay in power; and so the fact that the supreme leader is anti-Semitic doesn't mean that this overrides all of his other considerations. You know, if you look at the history of anti-Semitism, Jeff, there were a whole lot of European leaders — and there were deep strains of anti-Semitism in this country."
Walter Russell Mead of The American Interest made an important observation:
"It seems clear from this exchange that the president either doesn't understand or flatly disagrees with the point Goldberg has in mind. Goldberg's point is that serious anti-Semites (that is, people whose worldviews are shaped and informed by Jew hatred as opposed to people who have, for example, a social prejudice against associating with Jews) don't understand reality the way that other people do. They see a world dominated by Jewish plots and secret cartels, and believe that the Elders of Zion rule the world behind a screen of deception and misdirection."
Exactly. The anti-Semitism of the Iranian regime is not remotely comparable to the prejudice you can still find in America. With a knee-jerk reliability, Obama cannot permit any acknowledgment of the evils of other nations to pass without mentioning our own sins ("there are deep strains of anti-Semitism in this country"). This is both an intellectual and moral failing on Obama's part.
It's an intellectual failing because Obama has clearly failed to grapple with the nature of the Iranian theocrats. Iran's leaders are infected by a disease of the mind that prevents them from perceiving the world accurately. Their anti-Semitism is Nazi in intensity. They believe, as Hitler did, in a worldwide Jewish conspiracy that is responsible for wars, sectarian conflict among Muslims (!), disease and oppression. The regime hosts Holocaust denial conferences. They ceaselessly refer to Israel and Jews as "cancers" or "rabid dogs." What do you do to cancers and rabid dogs? You kill them.
The regime has repeatedly threatened to wipe Israel off the map and has referred to Israel as a "one-bomb country" and a "threat to the world."
Is such a regime rational? During the Iran/Iraq war, the mullahs sent children as young as 12 to the front lines with promises of Heaven if they died in battle (some say they were issued plastic keys to paradise to wear around their necks).
It's profoundly worrying that Obama can shrug off the abundant evidence that the Iranian regime is in the grip of dangerous illusions about Jewish power and Jewish evil, and casually compare it to the kind of anti-Semitism found in modern-day Europe and America.
It's also morally offensive. The mullahs' anti-Semitism, along with their threats, should be enough to cause Obama, or any decent person, to recoil in disgust. Instead, he has made it the cause of his second term to reach a rapprochement with Iran. He has invited the regime to take the "path" he's offering to become "a very successful regional power."
Obama claims that he first became inspired to enter politics by the plight of Nelson Mandela in South Africa. At Mandela's funeral, he said, "Over 30 years ago, while still a student, I learned of Nelson Mandela and the struggles taking place in this beautiful land, and it stirred something in me. It woke me up to my responsibilities to others and to myself, and it set me on an improbable journey that finds me here today."
How would Obama have felt about an American president who minimized the nature of apartheid South Africa, or failed to prevent that regime from acquiring nuclear weapons, or invited the racist state to become a "very successful regional power"?
The analogy is imprecise, because South Africa, though brutal and reprehensible, did not nurture genocidal ambitions, but it's enough to demonstrate that Obama's morality is always in service of his politics, not the other way around.
Mona Charen is a Senior Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.