How Can Obama Claim to Understand Israel’s Security Better Than Israelis?

Here is another excellent question from the Washington Institute’s Robert Satloff to President Obama, presented as part of our continuing series amplifying his critique of the deal.

It is surely legitimate for you to argue that the Iran deal enhances U.S. security but it certainly seems odd for you to claim to understand Israel’s security needs more than its democratically elected leaders. Are there other democracies whose leaders you believe don’t recognize their own best security interests or is Israel unique in this regard?

While supporters of the President’s Iran nuclear deal have gone to great lengths to point out the former Israeli military and intelligence professionals who believe the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) is good for the Jewish state, their efforts have been hampered by the facts: the overwhelming consensus among the Israeli populace, across the country’s political spectrum, and in the top echelons of its security apparatus is that the deal is an unmitigated disaster.

Why, then, do the President and his supporters persist in trying to convince us that the Obama Administration knows best?

The head of J Street, a leftist pressure group that criticizes Israel and thinks of itself as a “blocking back” for Obama’s Middle East policies, responded to this question this way:

…do you really believe that democratically elected leaders never misjudge their country’s security interests? That somehow success at the ballot box makes a president or prime minister immune to mistakes? Here at home, we only have to go back to the beginning of the last decade and the decision to go to war in Iraq to find a catastrophic mistake made by the world’s oldest democracy—and the fact that George W. Bush was democratically elected didn’t make him right on that one either.

It’s obviously true that democratically elected leaders can be incompetent and make mistakes. And it’s obviously true that President Bush made his share of errors. But it’s telling that the author broke out the wayback machine rather than simply looking at the unprecedented foreign policy ineptitude dominating the past six and a half years. In fact, one would do well to reformulate Satloff’s question as follows: given how often President Obama has been spectacularly wrong about American interests abroad, what is the source of his sanguinity about the JCPOA and its impacts on the United States, let alone Israel and the rest of the world?

After all, this is the Administration that proclaimed a “reset” with Russia by giving away (intentionally) our missile defense in Poland only to give away (unintentionally) the Crimea, that refused to aid the Iranian Green Revolution and allowed it to be gunned down in the streets, that served Israel up to its detractors and enemies because American leaders inexplicably believed we needed “daylight” between our two countries, that abandoned our longtime ally Hosni Mubarak when everyone outside the White House knew that the Muslim Brotherhood would fill an Egyptian political vacuum, that drew red line after red line on Assad’s use of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile and did nothing as he stepped over each boundary, that gave away our victory in Iraq and handed the country over to a toxic mix of Iran and ISIS, and that held up Yemen as a success story right before rushing coalition military assets to the Gulf of Aden to prevent that country being overrun.

And that’s not to mention the smaller (but no less awful) foreign policy disasters such as the First Lady’s #bringbackourgirls embarrassment, “leading from behind,” or our barely-strong-enough-plausibly-to-be-called-tepid reaction to China hacking our government personnel data.

And now we’re expected to believe that President Obama is right about a nuclear deal with Iran that the overwhelming majority of foreign policy experts rate on a scale from “imperfect” to “catastrophic,” that the American people overwhelmingly reject, and that will only be implemented over the objection of Congress? If President Obama knows what is best for everyone’s security interests, why haven’t we been treated to such clairvoyance before now?

For the United States, foreign policy has all too often been a plaything; we can afford to get it wrong because of our power, our geographical isolation, our wealth, and our belief in our own ability to fix anything. As the leaders of the post-World War II free world, we are historically called upon to have an opinion about everything and to try to solve every problem regardless of whether or not it is solvable.

The subtext of Satloff’s question is that, for some of our allies (in this case, Israel), there are existential realities to these decisions, very little margin for error, and a history of making them correctly that cannot, frankly, be claimed by the United States – let alone by this Administration.