Abraham Lincoln asked listeners how many legs a calf would have if you called his tail a leg. The sixteenth president responded to the inevitable answer “five” with a quick rebuttal: calling a calf’s tail a leg doesn’t make it so. “Four.”
The lesson has yet to sink in for another Illinois politician. President Obama removed both Iran and Hezbollah from the terror threat list presented to the U.S. Senate this week by the National Intelligence director.
The epiphany on terrorism, by Washington and not Tehran, comes as the administration seeks to craft an agreement with Iran that would lift sanctions against the pariah state in exchange for promises to abandon their quest to build a nuclear weapon. Excluded by the president from a process in which the Constitution includes them, nearly four dozen senators hoped to instill in the Iranians a thumbnail constitutional law lesson, via missive, evidently missed by the constitutional lawyer residing a few blocks from the Capitol.
Without a sense of their own irony, the defenders of the president’s usurpation of the Senate’s role in ratifying treaties rail against Senator Tom Cotton as though a treasonous usurper. The New York Times, in a tempered response relative to others from the president’s boosters, called the note “disgraceful” and the veteran of tours in Afghanistan and Iraq—and on the House Foreign Affairs and Senate Armed Services Committees—as bringing “no foreign policy credentials” in his authorship of the open letter.
The Arkansan merely informed the Iranians of two realities: an agreement between Obama and the Iranians does not rise to treaty status without ratification by two thirds of the Senate and the president leaves office in less than two years while many of the senators left out of this process will remain in power for years if not decades longer. He seeks neither their advice nor their consent.
“What these two constitutional provisions mean,” Cotton and company inform, “is that we will consider any agreement regarding your nuclear-weapons program that is not approved by the Congress as nothing more than an executive agreement between President Obama and Ayatollah Khamenei.”
Khamenei may or may not understand America. Does Obama know Iran?
“Iran is providing material support for attacks on American troops,” Obama’s predecessor noted in 2007. A State Department report from that same year provided evidence of Iranian munitions used in terrorist attacks on our troops in Iraq, enemy fighters receiving training from the Shiite state, money from across the Eastern border supporting those fighters in Iraq, and Iranians in the warzone holding false identifications. Before proxies of the Iranian government killed Americans in Iraq they bombed Marines in Beirut and hijacked air travelers on U.S.-bound TWA 847. The Iranians, of course, launched their regime by holding dozens of Americans captive for more than a year.
Obama’s hear-no-evil-approach marks the latest instance of the incessant, and seemingly unambiguous, “Death to America” chant getting lost in translation. Western fantasies projected upon the Islamic Republic are as old as the Islamic Republic itself.
“What kind of state might result if Khomeini or his followers take power?” asked Mother Jones in 1979. The magazine prophesied “democratic reforms, freedom for political prisoners, an end to the astronomical waste of huge arms purchases, and a constitutional government.”
“One thing must be clear,” French philosopher Michel Foucault wrote in late 1978. “By ‘Islamic government,’ nobody in Iran means a political regime in which the clerics would have a role of supervision or control.” Foucault, a visitor to the Shah’s state whose personal life might have won him a public execution under Khomeini’s regime, imagined a future of women’s rights and democracy in the post-revolutionary state.
Kai Bird, who later won a Pulitzer Prize, insisted in 1979 that “there is every reason to believe that the still unpublished [Iranian] Constitution will include all the elements of a liberal democratic system.”
An Iran stripped of its nuclear ambitions would be a welcome development. So would have been an Iran embracing “democratic reforms, freedom for political prisoners, an end to the astronomical waste of huge arms purchases, and a constitutional government.” The relevant current question centers on whether the president possesses any more power to influence the former change through diplomacy as his 1970s forebears possessed to wish into existence the latter state of affairs.
In defense of the Nation, Mother Jones, and Michel Foucault, they did not have a 36-year track record of town-square hangings, body-tent chadors, and state-sponsored terror bombings upon which to base their evaluations. What’s the president’s excuse for getting Iran so wrong?