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By MARTIN SHERMAN
That great scholar of Islam, Bernard Lewis, caution[ed] that America risked being seen as harmless as an enemy and treacherous as a friend. The Obama administration seems to have raised the thought to the level of doctrine. What has hitherto been unclear is whether this was through design or incompetence. – Mark Steyn, “Surrender in Geneva,” National Review, November 29.
These sobering sentiments expressed by Steyn, an incisive conservative columnist of Canadian origin, mirror with almost eerie accuracy those I articulated in my previous column “Will the West withstand the Obama presidency”, posted just one day earlier. In it I remarked: “the really chilling aspect of the Obama incumbency is that it is genuinely difficult to diagnose whether the abysmal results we see represent a crushing failure of his policies or a calculated success, the product of chronic ineptitude or purposeful foresight”.
‘Bungling stupidity cannot be ruled out’
Both pieces were written in response to the P5+1 deal brokered in Geneva on the Iranian nuclear program, largely under the stewardship of Obama’s Secretary of State, John Kerry, in which Tehran won significant gains – both economic and political – in exchange for…well, not a lot.
Given how incomprehensibly favorable the terms seemed to be for Iran’s tyrannical theocracy, Steyn was almost charitable in admitting that the possible explanation might lie in the realm of the stupid rather than the sinister. He concedes— caustically: “Certainly, John Kerry has been unerringly wrong on every foreign policy issue for four decades, so sheer bungling stupidity cannot be ruled out.”
This is charitable because with the passage of time, there is accumulating evidence that a more ominous possibility may be emerging as increasingly and disturbingly plausible.
The Geneva accord is so perplexingly perturbing, its terms so tenuous, so vague, so equivocal, so given to conflicting interpretation, that even some of Obama’s most sycophantic apologists have found themselves expressing unprecedented heretical doubts as to the soundness of its rationale. Some like Harvard Law professor, Alan Dershowitz, have been stridently blunt in expressing their misgivings.
Others, such as Jeffrey Goldberg, unkindly designated by some as Obama’s court-journalist, seemed almost contritely embarrassed for doing so, promising to balance his commendably well-argued censure of the deal in “a coming post”, in which “I will do my best to represent…the compelling arguments to be made in favor of this deal”.
But more on that later.
The ‘taqiyya’ thing
For those unfamiliar with the term taqiyya in the title, a brief explanation: The notion of taqiyya and its significance have been extensively discussed in the literature on Islam, so clearly we cannot encompass the full scholarly debate here. Accordingly a highly compressed account will have to suffice.
Historically, the Koranic-sanctioned practice was first codified by minority Shia Muslims and refers to the dissemblance (i.e. the act of concealing or disguising) of their religious faith to protect themselves from the persecution from the more powerful Sunni Muslims.
However today, as the well-known scholar of Islam, Raymond Ibrahim, tells us: ‘Taqiyya is not as is often supposed, an exclusively Shi’ite phenomenon.” To make the point he cites Islamic studies professor Sami Mukaram, author of over twenty books on Islam: ‘Taqiyya is of fundamental importance in Islam. We can go so far as to say that the practice of taqiyya is mainstream in Islam. Taqiyya is very prevalent in Islamic politics, especially in the modern era.’ Thus, Ibrahim asserts that taqiyya has come to be “deployed not as dissimulation but as active deceit… deceit, which is doctrinally grounded in Islam, [and] often depicted as being equal—sometimes superior – to other universal military virtues, such as courage, fortitude, or self-sacrifice.’
Now, while I have no intention of engaging in the ideo-theological debate over the true significance and scope of taqiyya, in general, or the scholarly merits of Ibrahim’s widely quoted interpretation of it, in particular, one thing is indisputable: There is clearly a considerable body of opinion which holds that, in the modern era, taqiyya seems to have become a means not only to defend Islam against the infidels but to advance it among them—particularly in the West.
Indeed, in the public discourse the term has come to denote “active doctrinal deceit” not only for the purpose of preserving religious Islamic values but to advance political Islamic goals. It is in this sense that it has become commonly used in the ideo-political debate on Islam and the methods used to advance its objectives in the West.
It is in this sense I will refer to it here.
Of course, it would be unfair to imply that subterfuge is a purely Muslim stratagem. After all, it has been touted by non-Muslims for centuries. For example, over 2500 years ago, the ancient Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu wrote: “All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when we are able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must appear inactive.”
Indeed even the Bible (Proverbs 24:6) prescribes that “By deception shall thy make war,” which for a while was the motto of Israel’s external intelligence service, Mossad.
However, in Islam, there seems to be a far greater doctrinal sanction for a wider, unabashed and overarching use of “active deceit” in contending with the infidel “other”— not so much in the interests of self-preservation among them, but of dominance over them.
Why ‘sheer stupidity’ is charitable
It is against the backdrop of the foregoing discussion that Steyn’s previously cited dilemma should be evaluated. For it provides the context to judge whether the Obama administration’s penchant for making America seem “harmless as an enemy and treacherous as a friend” is the result of “design or incompetence”; and a criterion for understanding why his assessment that “sheer bungling stupidity cannot be ruled out” tends to the charitable.
For as readers will recall from last week’s column, it is difficult to make sense of current US foreign policy unless we accept that, as Dinesh D’Souza, director of last year’s highest-grossing documentary, “2016: Obama’s America,” suggests: “Obama has no interest in weakening our adversaries while he does seem to have an interest in weakening our allies”. This is emerging as an increasingly plausible interpretation of the Obama-administration’s undisguised Islamo-philic propensities.
Of course the White House has been at pains—albeit not always spectacularly successful—to blur the nature of its true agenda. However, this endeavor is becoming increasing difficult to maintain, as a clear pattern emerges of intervention when this advances Islamist interests, and non-intervention when it does not. This is particularly true in the case of Israel, even more so in the wake of the P5+1 deal, which last week prompted Caroline Glick to charge: “The goal of Obama’s foreign policy is not to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power [but] to weaken the State of Israel.”
Indeed, the deal struck in Geneva is so implausible that is may actually prove to be a point of inflexion for many hitherto Obama disciples and a moment of revelation for them to grasp the ominous nature of his underlying political credo.
Dershowitz & the case for deliberate deception
It already sparked some uncharacteristic rumblings in usually Obama-supportive quarters.
Arguably, the most outspoken of these was Alan Dershowitz, who has authored several works with titles that begin with the words The Case for…. Indeed, Dershowitz was so scathing in his censure of the deal with the mullahs that one is tempted to wonder whether, in light of his vigorous rebukes, he might not be mulling over the possibility of a new book entitled: The Case for Deliberate Deception.
In weekend interviews immediately following the announcement he made the following acerbic assessment of its chances of success and the abilities of those who “cooked it up”: “When you do a risk-benefit analysis, the possibility that this will actually result in ending Iran’s nuclear weapons program is probably in the range of 10%…But when you weigh that against the 30 or 40% chance that they’re dead wrong–nuclear bomb wrong – then it’s a very bad assessment of risk and benefits…This is first-year negotiating theory, and this administration gets a D-minus with grade inflation” Elsewhere, he warned that the agreement “could turn out to be a cataclysmic error of gigantic proportions.” His concern was clearly reflected in an article he penned, warning that “This is not a liberal/conservative issue…
Indeed all reasonable, thinking people should understand that ..it is a prescription for disaster.” With evident exasperation, he asked: “Have we learned nothing from North Korea and Neville Chamberlain?” So if the Obama-administration’s policies appear immune to conventional reason and impervious to historical lessons, what could possibly explain its manner of conduct? Surely, then, the case for deliberate deception should not be discounted? Surely, the lawyer in Dershowitz would agree?
Is revolt brewing in the court?
Perhaps one of the most intriguing sources of criticism of the Iranian deal was none other than Jeffrey Goldberg, rumored to be among the journalists with the closest relations to the White House, at times even acting as a mouthpiece to convey messages on its behalf to the public.
It is, therefore, hugely significant that he, of all people, would produce a stingingly skeptical review of the accord.
In his very astute (seriously) “Six Reasons to Worry About the Iranian Nuclear Deal”, posted Wednesday on Bloomberg, Goldberg gives a masterful (seriously) critique of the agreement’s fatal weaknesses, which virtually ensure its calamitous failure—unless of course for the authors of the deal, failure is a not calamity, but an objective.
Here is a synopsis of Goldberg’s analysis and concerns:
1. The deal isn’t done…nothing was actually signed. The deal is not, as of this moment, even operational.
2. Momentum for sanctions is waning…many nations, many companies and the Iranians themselves are seeing this agreement as the beginning of the end of the sanctions regime.
3. The (still unenforced) document agreed upon in Geneva promises Iran an eventual exit from nuclear monitoring… This is not a comforting idea.
4. The biggest concession to the Iranians might have already been made… Essentially, Obama’s administration has already conceded, before the main round of negotiations, that Iran is going to end up with the right to enrich.
5. The Geneva agreement only makes the most elliptical references to two indispensable components of any nuclear- weapons program…Iran is free, in the coming sixmonth period…to do whatever it pleases on missiles and warhead development.
6. The Iranians are so close to reaching the nuclear threshold anyway—that freezing in place much of the nuclear program seems increasingly futile.
Was this really what well-meaning, gullible American Jews had in mind, when persuaded by Obama’s pledge that “I have Israel’s back,” they gave him their support— both at the ballot and the bank?
The Obama administration has been disingenuous in portraying virtually every element of the deal with Iran – from its (non)compliance with half a dozen UN resolutions, to its stipulations regarding the right to enrich.
The accord will have far-reaching geo-political and geo-strategic implications for the region—and well beyond.
Whether these will result in a clustering of pliant client- states around a nuclear-armed theo-tyrannical Islamist hegemon, or in a spiraling pan-regional arms race, with Sunni Arabs and Turks scrambling to develop—or purchase— their own non-conventional capabilities to match that of the Shia Persians, the consequences will be bleak— especially for Israel.
For whatever the outcome, it is likely to find itself facing a greatly empowered Islamic menace with a nuclear veto on any coercive action it may wish to undertake to ensure its security from external threats (e.g. Hezbollah) or domestic law-and-order (e.g quelling rebellion in the Galilee or Negev).
So much for “having Israel’s back.
So for anyone struggling to make sense out of all this seemingly inexplicable confusion, here’s some advice: Think taqiyya—and the pieces will all fall into place.
Martin Sherman (www.martinsherman.net) is founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies.