Breaking with past practice isn’t always cause for panic, however. Contrast the hysterical reaction to Trump’s phone call—and it’s worth remembering that it was a 10-minute phone call—with the fawning coverage of Obama’s decisions to cast aside bipartisan U.S. policy on Cuba and Iran. Obama’s moves were “bold” and “historic,” and he has been cast as a courageous and visionary leader willing to set the country on a new course.
The reality of what Obama was doing was jaw-dropping. The president of the United States was seeking rapprochement with a longtime enemy of the United States, a rogue state the State Department had labeled for years as the world’s leading state sponsor of terror, a regime that had as a deliberate policy the targeting of U.S. troops overseas and is responsible for hundreds—perhaps thousands—of American troop deaths. To achieve better relations, the Obama administration would turn a blind eye to Iran’s terrorism, boost its businesses, provide billions of dollars that even Obama’s own secretary of state conceded would be used for terrorism and regional troublemaking, and, as the Obama himself conceded in an interview with NPR, agreed to a nuclear deal that would leave Iran with breakout times “almost down to zero” down the road. Obama did all of this even as his own administration repeatedly accused Iran of hosting al Qaeda’s “core pipeline”—that is, as Obama must know, Iran is a key hub for the terrorist organization that killed nearly 3,000 Americans inside the United States on 9/11.
In order to sell the policy, the president and his team repeatedly misled the American people—about secret talks with Iran, about IAEA side deals, about palettes of cash delivered to a longtime enemy.
You want a break from nearly four decades of diplomatic practice? This was it. And the result is clear: Iran is in a much better geostrategic position today, expanding its influence in the region and beyond, than it was in 2009, when Obama’s precedent-breaking diplomacy began. The fact that Obama did all of this deliberately is not exculpatory, it’s damning. And many of the journalists and foreign policy experts currently losing their minds over Trump’s phone call were amplifiers or cheerleaders of this departure from protocol.