Viewpoint

Netanyahu’s Churchillian warning

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Congress against a deal with Iran.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Congress against a deal with Iran. WASHINGTON POST

Benjamin Netanyahu’s address to Congress was notable in two respects. Queen Esther got her first standing O in 2,500 years. And President Obama came up empty in his campaign to pre-emptively undermine Netanyahu before the Israeli prime minister could present his case on the Iran negotiations.

On the contrary. The steady stream of slights and insults turned an irritant into an international event and vastly increased the speech’s audience and reach. Instead of dramatically unveiling an Iranian nuclear deal as a fait accompli, Obama must now first defend his Iranian diplomacy.

In particular, he must defend its fundamental premise. It had been the policy of every president since 1979 that Islamist Iran must be sanctioned and contained. Obama, however, is betting instead on detente to tame Iran’s aggressive behavior and nuclear ambitions.

For six years, Obama has offered the mullahs an extended hand. For his pains, Obama has been rewarded with an Iran that has ramped up its aggressiveness in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Gaza and Yemen, and brazenly defied the world on uranium enrichment.

Like the Bourbons, however, Obama learns nothing. He persists in believing that Iran’s radical Islamist regime can be turned by sweet reason and fine parchment into a force for stability. He simply can’t believe that such people actually believe what they say.

That’s what made Netanyahu’s critique of the U.S.-Iran deal so powerful. Especially his dissection of the sunset clause. In about 10 years, the deal expires. Sanctions are lifted and Iran is permitted unlimited uranium enrichment with an unlimited number of centrifuges of unlimited sophistication. As The Wall Street Journal’s Bret Stephens points out, we don’t even allow that for democratic South Korea.

The prime minister offered a concrete alternative. Sunset? Yes, but only after Iran changes its behavior, giving up its regional aggression and worldwide support for terror.

Obama’s petulant response was: “The prime minister didn’t offer any viable alternatives.” But he just did: conditional sunset, smaller nuclear infrastructure. And if the Iranians walk away, then you ratchet up sanctions, as Congress is urging, which, with collapsed oil prices, would render the regime extremely vulnerable.

And if that doesn’t work? Hence Netanyahu’s final point: Israel is prepared to stand alone, a declaration that was met with enthusiastic applause reflecting widespread popular support.

It was an important moment, especially because of the libel being perpetrated by some that Netanyahu is trying to get America to go to war with Iran.

In its near-70 year history, Israel has never once asked America to fight for it.

Compare that to a very partial list of nations for which America has fought and for which so many Americans have fallen: Kuwait, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Vietnam, Korea, and every West European country beginning with France (twice).

Netanyahu offered a different path in his clear, bold and often moving address, Churchillian in its appeal to resist appeasement. This was not Churchill of the 1940s, but Churchill of the 1930s, the wilderness prophet. Which is why for all its sonorous strength, Netanyahu’s speech had a terrible poignancy. After all, Churchill was ignored.

Charles Krauthammer’s email address is letters@charleskrauthammer.com.

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