News of the Tautological

Daily Best of the Web   —   Posted on September 8, 2015

News of the Tautological

The following is an excerpt from OpinionJournal’s “Best of the Web” at WSJ written by the editor, James Taranto.

Other Than That, the Story Was Accurate
“Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this article misstated Kim Davis’s political affiliation. She is a Democrat, not a Republican.”–New York Times, Sept. 3

News of the Tautological

  • “Utah Drought Eased by Abundant Summer Rain”–headline, KSL-TVwebsite (Salt Lake City), Sept. 3
  • “Feminists Are Angry That Kermit the Frog’s New Girlfriend Is Young and Thin”–headline, Daily Telegraph (London), Sept. 3

News You Can Us 
“Do Not Pay Con Artists Money to Ward Off Black Magic and Curses: Edmonton Police”–headline, GlobalNews .ca, Sept. 3

Kerry’s Perverse Warning  (from an August 5 BOTW post)
We have to hand it to the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg: Probably because he is (or at least appears) sympathetic to the Obama administration, he has a way of extracting statements from top officials that reveal their true thinking. The result is generally newsworthy – and terrifying. For an earlier example, see our May column on Goldberg’s interview with the president himself. For the most recent, read on.

This morning Goldberg published an interview with Secretary of State John Kerry on Iran. Here is the most alarming bit:

Kerry warned that if Congress rejects the Iran deal, it will confirm the anti-U.S. suspicions harbored by the Iranian supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and eliminate any chance of a peaceful solution to the nuclear conundrum:

“The ayatollah constantly believed that we are untrustworthy, that you can’t negotiate with us, that we will screw them,” Kerry said. “This”—a congressional rejection—“will be the ultimate screwing.” He went on to argue that “the United States Congress will prove the ayatollah’s suspicion, and there’s no way he’s ever coming back. He will not come back to negotiate. Out of dignity, out of a suspicion that you can’t trust America. America is not going to negotiate in good faith. It didn’t negotiate in good faith now, would be his point.”

Goldberg’s headline is “John Kerry on the Risk of Congress ‘Screwing’ the Ayatollah.” We write for a family newspaper, so we went with something a bit more delicate.

To put this as politely as possible – and believe us, we’re straining to do so – Kerry’s tender concern for the ayatollah’s “dignity” is perverse. It’s true that a degree of mutual trust is necessary for a negotiation to succeed, but Kerry ignores the “mutual” part. His analysis is one-sided, and on the wrong side. The main question for Congress – as it should have been for the administration – is whether America can trust Iran.

This is, after all, a regime that traduced all diplomatic norms by seizing the U.S. Embassy and holding dozens of Americans hostage for over a year. OK, that was a long time ago. But it’s the same regime, one whose slogan is “Death to America.”

As the New Yorker’s Robin Wright notes, Kerry was asked about that slogan at a congressional hearing last week. His response was evasive:

“Is it the policy of the Ayatollah, if you can answer for him, that Iran wants to destroy the United States?” the Texas Republican Ted Poe, of the House Foreign Relations Committee, asked Secretary of State John Kerry, on Tuesday.

“I don’t believe they’ve said that,” Kerry replied. “I think they’ve said ‘Death to America!’ in their chants.”

“Well, I kind of take that to mean that they want us dead,” Poe countered.

“I think they have a policy of opposition to us and a great enmity, but I have no specific knowledge of a plan by Iran to actually destroy us,” Kerry said. “I do know that the rhetoric is – is beyond objectionable.”

Goldberg didn’t bring up that subject, but he did ask Kerry a similar question about Israel (the “little Satan,” as per the Iranians, as opposed to the “great” American one). The answer was the same:

Goldberg: Do you believe that Iranian leaders sincerely seek the elimination of the Jewish state?

Kerry: I think they have a fundamental ideological confrontation with Israel at this particular moment. Whether or not that translates into active steps to, quote, “Wipe it,” you know–

Goldberg: Wipe it off the map.

Kerry: I don’t know the answer to that. I haven’t seen anything that says to me – they’ve got 80,000 rockets in Hezbollah pointed at Israel, and any number of choices could have been made. They didn’t make the bomb when they had enough material for 10 to 12. They’ve signed on to an agreement where they say they’ll never try and make one and we have a mechanism in place where we can prove that. So I don’t want to get locked into that debate. I think it’s a waste of time here.

Wright – not to be confused with the actress of the same name whose credits include “The Princess Bride,” “Forrest Gump” and Netflix’s “House of Cards” – also means to dismiss the significance of the “Death to America” slogan. She reports that “some Iranians” with whom she spoke “downplayed the revolutionary mantra’s importance,” while “others insisted it still has strong symbolic merit.” None, she implies, think it should be taken at face value. “All of them—particularly senior Iranian officials educated in the United States – seemed befuddled about why it would ever impact the fate of the nuclear deal.”

She adds that “the gap in perception may be the deal’s greatest vulnerability.” She closes with a quote from American-educated Nasser Haidan, “a Tehran University political scientist and influential voice in policy circles”: “Whom does America want to rely on to judge public opinion? The twenty per cent who do shout ‘Death to America!’ or the eighty per cent who don’t?”

In a regime that claims absolute religious authority, public opinion is rather beside the point. Still, it’s worth noting the contrast between the way in which Obama administration supporters treat domestic and foreign adversaries. When Tea Party protesters said “Take back our country”—a commonplace political trope—they imagined it had invidious racial implications and argued that it discredited opposition to Obama’s domestic initiatives. “Death to America” is invidious on its face, but the administration and its apologists are anxious to explain it away.

At any rate, “Death to America” is the slogan of the regime – the negotiating partner about whose trust and dignity John Kerry is so concerned. Wright quotes Rep. Eliot Engel – a New York Democrat who has expressed skepticism of the Iran deal but has not yet said how he’ll vote on it—at the House hearing: “You would think that after an agreement was signed with us there might be a modicum of good will that perhaps they would keep quiet for a week or two, or a month.” That’s asking far too little, but the point is right: “How can we trust Iran when this type of thing happens?”

Goldberg began his interview by asking Kerry about, as the interviewer put it, “something that you believe is analytical: If this deal goes down in Congress, if Congress doesn’t let this through, you’ve said that Israel will be blamed, Israel will be isolated. Many Israelis took this as a threat, not a piece of analysis. Why did you say this publicly?”

Kerry tried to avoid the question by saying nice things about Israel: “legitimately besieged,” “our friend,” “our ally.” Goldberg pressed ahead and finally got an answer:

Goldberg: Go to this Heisenberg question. By analyzing this publicly, you’re affecting this, giving permission to Israel’s enemies to isolate it—

Kerry: If you’ve ever played golf, you know that you yell “fore” off the tee. You’re not threatening somebody, you’re warning them: “Look, don’t get hit by the ball, it’s coming.” There are any number of analogies. What I’m saying is, I don’t want Israel to be isolated—obviously not. I don’t want Israel to see further tension and problems. I don’t want to see that. I really don’t want to get bogged down in this because then I look like the analyst. I was really sort of saying that there are consequences to the choices that everybody is making.

The Times of Israel reports that Obama has issued even direr threats – sorry, “warnings” – to the Jewish state:

If the US Congress shoots down the Iranian nuclear deal, America will eventually be pressured into a military strike against Tehran’s nuclear facilities, which will in turn increase terror against Israel, US President Barack Obama told Jewish leaders Tuesday, a source who was present at the meeting said.

During the two-hour meeting, Obama said it was legitimate for opponents of the deal to lobby lawmakers to reject it, but added that a discussion focused on personal attacks, rather than the merits of the deal, could jeopardize the coherence of the American Jewish community and ultimately the resilience of US-Israel relations, according to Greg Rosenbaum, the chair of the National Jewish Democratic Council. . . .

“[The Iranians] will fight this asymmetrically. That means more support for terrorism, more Hezbollah rockets falling on Tel Aviv,” Rosenbaum quoted Obama as saying. “I can assure that Israel will bear the brunt of the asymmetrical response that Iran will have to a military strike on its nuclear facilities.”

That points to the rather shocking inaptness of Kerry’s golf analogy. This is not a game. If the “ball” is “coming,” Obama and Kerry are the ones who “hit” it. They didn’t have to.

For more “Best of the Web” click here and look for the “Best of the Web Today” link in the middle column below “Today’s Columnists.”