Obama’s memoir: The anatomy of Iran-appeasers and bash-Israel-firsters

President-elect Joe Biden and his new team should correct Obama’s mistakes, not repeat them.

FORMER US President Barack Obama speaks at the memorial service for US senator John McCain at the Washington National Cathedral in 2018. (photo credit: REUTERS/CHRIS WATTIE)
FORMER US President Barack Obama speaks at the memorial service for US senator John McCain at the Washington National Cathedral in 2018.
(photo credit: REUTERS/CHRIS WATTIE)
I was reading Barack Obama’s memoir A Promised Land, as the politically correct response to the assassination of Iran’s leading nuclear scientist congealed.
“IRANIAN SCIENTIST’S KILLING,” PBS’s graphic proclaimed. The New York Times tweeted that “Iranian officials... have always maintained that their nuclear ambitions are for peaceful purposes, not weapons.”
Even more absurd, John Brennan, Obama’s counterterrorism “czar” who planned the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, tweeted: “This was a criminal act & highly reckless.” Clearly, one “Promised Land” – America – is allowed to defend itself; that other “Promised Land” – Israel – isn’t.
The hypocrisy is stunning. Considering Mohsen Fakhrizadeh just a scientist is like calling bin Laden just a cleric. He was a senior officer in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
Under Obama, the US executed 563 mostly drone strikes against bad actors who are nevertheless far less dangerous than Fakhrizadeh.
In an April, 2012 speech, Brennan said the president should “harness... every element of American power” to “protect the safety and the security of the American people.” Defining the criteria that make drone strikes “legal” and “ethical,” Brennan listed: “ensuring the individual is a legitimate target...; determining whether the individual poses a significant threat...; determining that capture is not feasible;” double-checking the “identity of the target”; and not harming “innocent civilians.” By that analysis, the countries the Iranian leaders keep threatening – especially Big Satan – the US – and Little Satan – Israel – would be justified in targeting Fakhrizadeh, in this surgical hit which killed only him and a bodyguard.
So why the double standard? Obama’s memoir explains the worldview of the Iran-appeasers and the blame-Israel-firsters.
Reading A memoir is like having an extended intellectual playdate. Charming, self-deprecating and candid, Obama appears more human than Bill Clinton did in his memoir, which read like it was etched in marble, trying to make Clinton monumental.
Obama’s love of America – and proof that the American dream can work – repudiates the “anti-racist” orthodoxy woke progressives (including many American Jews) champion, branding America irredeemably racist.
Reading about Obama’s fairy tale “Yes We Can” presidential victory gave me goosebumps. His advice to live with purpose without being grandiose, because we all “turn to dust,” makes this memoir a book of wisdom, too. And his frank description of his “chronic domestic tensions” with Michelle validates many modern couples’ frustrations, especially when one partner’s career soars.
Still, Obama has his blind spots. He blames Republican obstructionism too frequently to dodge his own political shortcomings, just as he ignores the Muslim Brotherhood’s rise in Egypt after he bullied Hosni Mubarak into retirement. And Obama foolishly remains hard on Israel yet soft on Iran.
Obama belongs to “a post-Vietnam generation that had learned to question its own government and saw how – from the rise of McCarthyism to support for South Africa’s apartheid regime – Cold War thinking had often led America to betray its ideals.” He remains “wary of the notion that good resided only on our side and bad on theirs.” He remarks how “it had taken generations of protest, progressive lawmaking, muckraking journalism, and dogged advocacy to check, if not fully eliminate,” the “raw exercises of power” you used to see in America, from Chicago political bosses’ manipulations to CIA plotters’ machinations in the 1953 Iranian coup. “That reform tradition was in large part what had inspired me to enter politics.”
Feeling guilty about America’s past dishonors, Obama believed he could engage Iran’s mullahs honorably. And uncomfortable with the West’s disproportionate power globally, he decided that “given the asymmetry in power between Israel and the Palestinians... it was reasonable to ask” Israel, “the stronger party, to take a bigger first step in the direction of peace.”
Ideologically, in pressuring Israel while engaging Iran, Obama overcompensated for America’s previous “sins.” That’s why he sanitizes the Palestinian turn from negotiation toward terrorism in 2000 by describing a mutual “lure of violence,” while underplaying how the terrorism Palestinians initiated betrayed and traumatized Israelis. Instead, he decides ”Israeli attitudes toward peace talks had hardened, in part because peace no longer seemed so crucial to ensuring the country’s safety and prosperity.” This obsession with Israel’s economic and military power blinds him to Israelis’ feelings of vulnerability and Palestinian culpability.
Personalities played a part, too. Obama writes that Bibi Netanyahu’s “vision of himself as the chief defender of the Jewish people against calamity allowed him to justify almost anything that would keep him in power.” In our new book, Never Alone, Natan Sharansky agrees that Netanyahu “believes his staying in office keeps Israel alive, an equation that only grows more significant the longer he stays in power.”
Sharansky, however, writes with admiration, tinged with occasional frustrations; Obama exudes contempt.
Obama believes his position is equitable, idealistic – and resents the criticism he received, especially from AIPAC. But his European-style obsession with power dynamics and America’s lack of exceptionalism made him too indulgent of the sins of dictators and terrorists like the Iranians and the Palestinians, and too harsh regarding the missteps of liberal democrats like the Israelis.
President-elect Joe Biden and his new team should correct Obama’s mistakes, not repeat them. Look peripherally, not just bilaterally. It’s not just about borders or nukes: Palestinian leaders must stop terrorizing Palestinians and Israelis; Iranians must stop terrorizing the world. Rather than bashing friends like Israel and coddling enemies like the Iranians and the Palestinians, restore the true moral order to the universe: Support your friends, your fellow liberal-democrats, and confront our enemies.
A distinguished scholar of North American history at McGill University and the author of nine books on American history and three on Zionism, the writer’s book Never Alone: Prison, Politics and My People, coauthored with Natan Sharansky, was just published by PublicAffairs of Hachette.