The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Our Arab allies understand what Obama doesn’t

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Were President Obama to acknowledge forthrightly that “extremists” are out to kill Jews (whether in Europe or in genocidal fashion once nuclear weapons are obtained) and then Christians and other “nonbelievers,” he would be obliged, in turn, to recognize the ideological underpinnings of the Islamic jihadists. It is unsurprising, then, that he is in a political and rhetorical fight with the Jewish state’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who will not ignore the deliberate targeting of Jews; will not minimize the threat (unlike Obama, Netanyahu is quite clear this is an existential threat); will not go along with the charade in the P5+1 talks that will, if Obama has his way, result in a North Korea-like deal that allows the mullahs to go nuclear; will not accept (like Obama) Iranian gains throughout the region; and worst of all, will not shut up and let Obama enjoy his denial in peace. But what is even more intriguing is the degree to which Obama ignores the concerns of our Arab allies.

A conservative Middle East scholar recently commented to me, “Notice how Obama never says ‘Iran threatens Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Israel.’ It’s always just about Israel.” Indeed, if one really wanted to mount a robust opposition militarily, politically and rhetorically, one would not portray the Iranian problem as “merely” a threat to Israel; one would have to concede it is an existential threat to all of our Arab allies. If one wanted to stop treading water and throw everything we have against the Islamic State, one might follow the example of Jordan and Egypt, which conducted bombing runs when their people were slaughtered by jihadists. If Obama actually appreciated the threat Iran poses to its Sunni neighbors, he would be horrified instead of copacetic about Iran’s efforts to dominate Iraq. (“Shiite militias backed by Iran are increasingly taking the lead in Iraq’s fight against the Islamic State, threatening to undermine U.S. strategies intended to bolster the central government, rebuild the Iraqi army and promote reconciliation with the country’s embittered Sunni minority.”)

While he might imagine he can shut up Netanyahu or make it nearly impossible for the Jewish state to object to a done-deal with Iran on its nukes, Obama will not be able to dissuade Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia from ordering up their own nuclear weapons, thereby setting off a regional nuclear arms race. He might try to bully Israel, as his secretary of state did in truce talks to end the latest Gaza War, but Egypt won’t abide by a deal that strengthens the hand of Iranian-backed Hamas. (Nor will Egypt desist from attacking Hamas forces in the Sinai.)

In short, Obama’s vision for reconciliation with Iran and for slow-walking the battle with the Islamic State is doomed to fail, not just because the jihadists will continue to strike out against the West and not just because Israel won’t allow a nuclear-armed Iran. It is destined to fail because Sunni Arab states won’t abide by an Iran-dominated Middle East or by jihadists who slaughter their people. In a very real sense, on the threat posed by Islamic terrorists, Obama is far behind our Arab allies and Israel, neither of which have the luxury of self-delusion.