Liberal choice: honor Obama’s legacy or get tough with Iran?

President Barack Obama sits with then President-elect Donald Trump in the Oval Office, Nov. 10, 2016. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
President Barack Obama sits with then President-elect Donald Trump in the Oval Office, Nov. 10, 2016. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

By Jonathan S. Tobin/

Is there anything that would entice liberal Jews to stand with President Donald Trump or to join with him in trashing former President Barack Obama’s legacy?

The obvious answer is nothing. In the wake of Charlottesville, disgust with Trump is at an all-time high with most voters, but especially liberal Jews who were already appalled with him. Moreover, the longer Trump is in office, the better his predecessor looks to many Americans, if only for his more presidential temperament if not his policies.

Yet a desire to defend Obama’s record has been very much in the news these days. One especially egregious instance took place at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. While it’s regarded as a communal treasure, a board that’s made up of both scholars and political appointees governs it. So it was little surprise that after eight years of being packed with loyal Jewish Democrats (following eight years of Jewish Republicans appointed by George W. Bush) it would commission a study about events in Syria that was essentially a whitewash of Obama’s dismal failure to act to prevent what is arguably one of the worst human rights disasters of the 21st century.

The report was a scandal that undermined the museum’s mission by exonerating Obama for his decision to let Syria and its people burn, even when chemical weapons were being used to kill innocents. The shock the study generated forced the museum to almost immediately withdraw the document.

The lesson here was not so much the chutzpah of those involved in this disgrace but the extent of the loyalty prominent Jewish Democrats still feel for Obama especially now that he’s been replaced by Trump.

Yet as dismaying as this episode was, we may witness a similar scenario being played out on a far greater stage, as Jewish Democrats are faced with a choice about how to react to Trump’s efforts to roll back the Iran nuclear deal.

The Iran deal was Obama’s signature foreign policy achievement. In order to prevent a dubious Congress from preventing its confirmation, Obama made it a litmus test of party loyalty and Democrats filibustered Republican efforts to vote it down.

One of the key episodes of that battle was Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s mistake in accepting a GOP invitation to address a joint session of Congress to persuade them to defeat the accord. Obama was able to pressure most Democrats to view this as a personal insult to him and that helped get the deal ratified by a back door strategy.

But another key test awaits Jewish Democrats. With Trump intent on either renegotiating the deal with Iran or nullifying it, the Jewish community will be faced with what will be a difficult choice for many.

If this issue were removed from partisan politics and personalities, the debate would be one-sided. Support for an effort to either improve or throw out an agreement that empowered and enriched the world’s leading state sponsor of terror that is still intent on destroying Israel would be a no-brainer. Instead of seizing, in Obama’s words, an opportunity to “get right with the world,” Iran has used the last two years to become even more aggressive. The ayatollahs’ military expedition in Syria has established what is, for all intents and purposes, a land bridge to its Hezbollah terrorist auxiliaries in Lebanon. Along with their renewed alliance with the Palestinian terror group Hamas, this gives them the ability to launch a three-front war against Israel at any time of its choosing. Moreover, the terms that Obama negotiated do nothing to make the world safer since, at best, it merely puts off an Iranian bomb for a few years before they can proceed with impunity toward a weapon.

In other words, the pact is an indefensible swindle negotiated by an administration so determined to get a deal at any price that it abandoned every principle that it had going into the talks to defend. Were it not the personal project of Obama and the particular object of Trump’s enmity — a point emphasized during his address to the United Nations — it would be roundly denounced by every segment of responsible Jewish opinion.

Yet because many Jews see it as a political battle, rather than a genuine security threat, reactions to Trump’s effort are predictably partisan.

Perhaps it is too much to ask liberals to realize that even Trump can be right and Obama dead wrong about something so important. But if that is the only way they can view this issue, then the moral failure is theirs and not that of the president.

Jonathan S. Tobin is opinion editor of and a Contributing Writer for National Review. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.

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