Obama’s Blunder, and the Cotton Letter

In an unprecedented move, 47 of 54 Republican senators warned on Monday in an open letter to the leaders of Iran that a future U. S. administration -- presumably a Republican one -- may reverse or revoke "with the stroke of the pen" any deal on nuclear weapons made by the current administration. One may surmise that many Democratic senators were privately in agreement with that view.

The letter was mostly triggered by Benjamin Netanyahu’s superb address to the U.S. Congress one week earlier. The American legislators -- and by the same token, the American and Western public opinion -- knew for months that things were rapidly deteriorating in the Middle East. What they needed was a clearer picture: who is who in the mess, how we got entangled into it, and what is to be done now. This is precisely what Netanyahu provided.

He was probably the only leader in the Middle East to whom most congressmen and senators would listen, and the only one who would speak his mind and point to hard facts in an unrestrained way. Whether Netanyahu will be reappointed as Israel’s premier after the March 17 election or not (chances are that he will)  is irrelevant in that respect. Churchill’s defeat in the 1945 election did not mar his wartime achievements nor impair his personal authority as a statesman.

Netanyahu’s speech focused on three issues. First, he reminded the U.S. Congress that "the people of Iran,"  while "talented" and "the heirs to one of the world’s civilizations," had been "hijacked by religious zealots in 1979" and submitted to "a dark and brutal dictatorship":

America's founding document promises life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Iran's founding document pledges death, tyranny, and the pursuit of jihad.

He added that the regime never relented from such goals, even under allegedly "liberal" leaders:

Two years ago we were told to give President Rouhani and Foreign Minister Zarif a chance to bring change and moderation to Iran. Some change! Some moderation! Rouhani's government hangs gays, persecutes Christians, jails journalists, and executes even more prisoners than before.

Iran, Netanyahu added, has been at war with America "for 36 years": from the U.S. Embassy hostage crisis in 1979 to the recent "military exercise near Hormuz" culminating in "blowing up a mock U.S. aircraft carrier." It routinely calls for the destruction of the state of Israel and the mass murder of its population. And "as states are collapsing across the Middle East, Iran is charging into the void (…) and now dominates four Arab capitals, Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut and Sanaa."

The second issue, according to Netanyahu, is that Iran cannot be co-opted as a tactical ally against ISIS:

The battle between Iran and ISIS doesn't turn Iran into a friend of America. Iran and ISIS are competing for the crown of militant Islam. One calls itself the Islamic Republic. The other calls itself the Islamic State. Both want to impose a militant Islamic empire first on the region and then on the entire world. They just disagree among themselves who will be the ruler of that empire.

The third issue:

The greatest danger facing our world is the marriage of militant Islam with nuclear weapons. To defeat ISIS and let Iran get nuclear weapons would be to win the battle, but lose the war.

Thoughout his speech, Netanyahu made sure to pay all due respects to President Barack Obama and to thank him for supporting Israel in many crucial instances. Nevertheless, the three issues he raised do amount to severe indictments of the current administration’s policies in the Middle East.