It’s not every day that you hear President Barack Obama explain away rank bigotry. But in a recent interview, he did just that. “The fact that you are anti-Semitic,” Obama said of the Islamic Republic of Iran, “doesn’t preclude you from being rational.” Most subsequent commentary focused on whether the president actually understood anti-Semitism—by definition, a marker of unreason. But Obama’s comment also reveals the depth of his determination to partner with Iran.
Obama’s comment caps a series of revealing statements and policies that put the lie to the White House claim that its Iran policy is designed to empower the moderates in Tehran.
Let’s begin in Iraq, where the administration has dropped all pretense when it comes to partnering with the Shiite militias that are effectively under the control of Iran. Just a month ago, during the operation to take the town of Tikrit, the administration was still seeking to maintain a public veneer, however thin, of avoiding coordination with the militias, declaring instead that it would work only with the Iraqi Security Forces. But now, following the fall of Ramadi, the administration has formally announced that it is willing to work with the militias in the campaign to retake the city. “The militias have a part to play in this,” a Pentagon spokesman told reporters last week.
The White House’s approach to Iraq mirrors its policy in Lebanon. This is not to say that the administration is cooperating directly with Hezbollah. But it is doing so indirectly—by hiding behind the cover of the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF). The US has shared intelligence through LAF channels, knowing full well that the armed forces work closely with the group.
Persistent reports from Lebanon suggest that the US is sharing real-time, operational intelligence with the LAF on the movement of Syrian fighters in the Arsal area. The US is aware of the high likelihood that such intelligence would be passed on to Hezbollah, to support its military campaign in eastern Lebanon and the Qalamoun hills.
While aiding Hezbollah, the Obama administration has cut off assistance to its Shiite opponents. Citing a “shift in priorities” in Lebanon, the State Department terminated a grant for Lebanese NGO Hayya Bina, run by activist Lokman Slim, who has been openly critical of Hezbollah. As a result of this “shift,” the State Department clarified that “all activities intended [to] foster an independent moderate Shia voice be ceased immediately and indefinitely.”
News commentary in Lebanon quickly, and accurately, interpreted the move as an American “down payment” to the Iranians. This was a political statement that the Obama administration was not only partnering with the hard men of the Iranian regime on security and intelligence, but also it was publicly dropping any support for moderate voices that could in any way be seen as challenging Iran’s privileged position inside Lebanon.
There can be no doubt that this policy originates from Obama himself. The president has displayed a pronounced tendency to signal to the Iranians, publicly, his desire to secure rapprochement, as well as his disinterest in Iran’s adversaries—America’s traditional allies.
Take for instance the recent summit at Camp David with the leaders of the Gulf Arab states. At every turn, before, during and after the summit, the president went out of his way to reassure Tehran. Obama repeatedly stated that he thought Iran was not the real threat. What’s more, as he pointedly remarked in his solo press conference at the summit’s conclusion, the purpose of his security deliberations with the Gulf allies was not to confront “or even to marginalize Iran.”
As a result of this intention, Obama did not budge one inch on any of the regional theaters where Iran is involved, especially the all-important issue of Syria. Meanwhile, White House officials made sure to clarify—to Tehran more than anyone—that the real objective of the summit was to guide the Saudis by the hand to sit down and compromise with the Iranians. In that sense, it’s more fitting to describe the Camp David summit as a polite, public announcement of divorce between Obama and the countries of the Gulf than anything else.
But they are not the only ones on the outs. Obama’s remarks making light of Iranian anti-Semitism came in an interview where the president expressed anew his already-pronounced distaste for the Israeli government. He couched his criticisms in the language of disappointment with Israel for not living up to the ideals of its founding generation. Obama wanted to place the onus of his rift with Israel on the Israelis themselves; namely their prime minister. In reality, the core of the split is Obama’s very personal drive to befriend Khamenei’s Iran—the operative word here being Khamenei.
The function of the president’s studied comment on Iranian anti-Semitism, therefore, is to whitewash Khamenei and the hardliners.