Doesn’t it trouble you, just a touch, Mr. President, that you might have this all wrong?
Isn’t there a nagging little voice, somewhere right at the back of your mind, warning you that, maybe, just maybe, you ought to be listening seriously to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei when he calls out “Death to America,” rather than insistently tuning him out?
Do you not have the slightest fear that, when history comes to judge you, it will bracket you alongside Neville Chamberlain? “The settlement of the Czechoslovakian problem, which has now been achieved is, in my view, only the prelude to a larger settlement in which all Europe may find peace,” the British prime minister declared on September 30, 1938 — precisely 76 and a half years ago. “This morning I had another talk with the German Chancellor, Herr Hitler, and here is the paper which bears his name upon it as well as mine… We regard the agreement signed last night… as symbolic of the desire of our two peoples never to go to war with one another again… I believe it is peace for our time. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Go home and get a nice quiet sleep.”
Does that inane rhetoric, that tragic rhetoric, not chill you as you read it all these decades later, knowing what happened next, and as your dutiful secretary of state seeks desperately to finalize the agreement you have sought with Iran — an agreement with a regime that makes no secret of its desire to see the elimination of Israel, an agreement with a regime that is expanding its hold on country after country in our region, an agreement that falls far, far short of dismantling Iran’s nuclear program? Do you not hear a grim historical echo, and ask yourself whether you are not risking the abandonment of another small, embattled democracy, and the emboldening of another ruthless would-be superpower, motivated by another hideous ideology?
Do you not worry, not even for a moment before you close your eyes at night, that your irritation with that impossibly arrogant prime minister of Israel has skewed your judgment? Can you easily shrug off his warnings that the Iranians are tricking you? Can you dismiss his charge that you could have done better, held firmer, set the bar higher? “One of the failures, I think, of our approach in the past has been to use a lot of strong rhetoric but not follow through with the kinds of both carrots and sticks that might change the calculus of the Iranian regime,” you told this writer when we spoke in Jerusalem in 2008, before you became president. Have you not offered too many carrots, and failed to brandish a terrifying stick? Can you ignore Benjamin Netanyahu’s concerns that the Iranians will inevitably violate this agreement, and that even if those violations are detected, you, Mr. President, are now the leader of an international community that lacks the will to prevent a subsequent Iranian breakout to the bomb?
Do you not ask yourself whether you might have acted differently in 2009, when the Iranian public mustered the beginnings of an attempt to oust the ayatollahs? You failed to offer concrete assistance, and their nascent uprising was brutally suppressed. Are you not even mildly disturbed by the notion that this accord, this deal you so determinedly seek, will cement in power this ideologically and territorially rapacious regime, this regime that so bitterly represses its own people?
Mr. President, I think you are troubled, and worried, and disturbed. I think, deep down, you do hear that nagging voice. I think the dispassionate, ultra-confident manner you affect masks the doubts. I fear you have surrounded yourself with people who dare not question you with sufficient intellectual vigor. I fear that you are willfully blinding yourself to the tragedy you are about to inflict upon us all.
I hope I’m wrong. I’m not certain. But we are plainly at a historical crossroads, and I worry — how could I not? — that a grave mistake is in the offing, with profound historical consequences, for Israel, the region, the free world. And it is the certainty with which you are pursuing what seems an unfathomable course of appeasement — of an enemy that reminds us all every day, in word and deed, that it is the enemy of the free world — it is that certainty of yours that worries me most of all.