I made a decision on the spot—later partially regretted—not to deploy the H-bomb just then because I am a) very mindful of Godwin’s Law; b) I don’t believe the Iranian regime is the modern-day equivalent of the Nazi regime, in part because the Nazi regime is without peer; and c) the invocation of Hitler’s name in these matters tends to set teeth too much on edge. In retrospect, though, I should have raised it, because Hitler is the perfect, but not singular, example of a world leader who made decisions that seemed, to his adversaries, deeply irrational except if you understood his desire to wipe out the Jews of Europe as an actual overriding policy goal, a raison d’etre of his rule. Anti-Semitism was not simply an “organizing tool” for him. And if you’re paying attention, you will see that bringing about the end of the sovereign Jewish state in the Middle East is a paramount political and theological mission of the Iranian regime.
And so I was glad that Obama acknowledged the supreme leader’s heartfelt anti-Semitism, and I’m glad that he understands that the supreme leader seeks to do great harm to Israel. I suppose I part with the president’s analysis on the question of exactly how much pain the supreme leader believes Iran should absorb on behalf of this goal. Obama believes the Iranian leadership will check its behavior in order to avoid potentially catastrophic fallout. He may be right, but I would like to see his administration place slightly less faith in the idea of regime rationality.
Obama and Kerry both say they understand Jewish anxiety on this issue. (My position on this is simple: If, in the post-Holocaust world, a group of people express a desire to hurt Jews, it is, for safety’s sake, best to believe them.) When I asked Obama, at the end of last week’s Roosevelt Room discussion, to describe what he is learning about Jewish fears from his recent encounters with Jewish leaders, he answered: “Well, first of all, Jeff, as you know, there is a wide range of views within the Jewish community, so it’s not monolithic.”
At which point I noted that that I myself share most of those opinions.
The president continued, “The polls—if they’re to be trusted—would indicate that a majority of American Jews support the deal, but a sizable minority oppose it. Among the organizations, I think that there are those who are fiercely opposed and there are those who are strongly supportive. And then there are a bunch of folks who are skeptical and anxious and still trying to figure it out.”
He went on, “As I said in the speech, the anxieties of the American Jewish community are entirely understandable. Those are amplified when there appears to be across-the-board opposition inside of Israel, not just within Likud, but among other parties. And some of that is emotional—in a legitimate way. You don’t like dealing with somebody who denies horrible things happening to your people or threatens future horrible things to your people. Some of it is based on legitimate concerns about what an economically stronger Iran could do to further enhance their support of Hezbollah.