When it finds its premises are challenged, it has become lamentably common for this White House to substitute snide self-satisfaction for a counterargument. The most recent episode in which this administration embraced this unattractive tactic occurred just two weeks ago when the official White House Twitter account insulted and mocked the Prime Minister of Israel:
It was a play on the graphic Benjamin Netanyahu presented to the United Nations General Assembly in 2012 that warned Iran will soon be able to achieve nuclear breakout status. In an ill-advised victory lap following the administration’s announcement that it had secured a framework nuclear deal with Iran, the White House fired off the image above. The Iranian bomb had been defused, Barack Obama’s administration crowed.
Only a few short weeks later, that framework nuclear deal appears increasingly dubious. Iran has demanded that it sunset after only five rather than ten years. The Islamic Republic also wants to operate twice the number of centrifuges agreed to in Switzerland. The administration insists that it will provide sanctions relief to Iran in stages, but Tehran contends that it will have total relief right up front. According to The Wall Street Journal, the mullahs learned on Friday that they will receive billions in unfrozen funds once a deal is signed even as American and Iranian warships engage in a tense standoff off the coast of Yemen.
Few believe that the complex international sanctions regime in place today, a web of commitments that took years to assemble, could “snap back” in the event that Iran failed to live up to its end of the deal. “[O]nly a credulous sixth-grader could imagine that in the event that there is some evidence of Iranian cheating (and the evidence inevitably will be murky, incomplete, and subject to debate) that countries such as France and Germany, which are eager to do business with Tehran, much less countries such as China and Russia, which are not only cozy with Tehran but hostile to Western interests in general, will agree to reimpose sanctions,” Commentary Magazine’s Max Boot observed.
While Netanyahu might not have accurately assessed Iran’s nuclear capabilities in 2012, he was apparently correct when he insisted earlier this month that “Iran’s breakout time from start of deal will be near zero.” Today, Americans are learning that the administration knew Netanyahu was telling the truth about Iranian breakout times even as it was mocking him before an audience of the president’s sycophantic and naïve Twitter fans. As The Daily Beat’s Eli Lake wrote on Tuesday, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and a spokesman with the Director of National Intelligence’s office both confirmed that Iran could have the materials necessary to construct a fissionable device before the autumn.
“Here is the puzzling thing,” Lake wrote, “When Obama began his second term in 2013, he sang a different tune.”
He emphasized that Iran was more than a year away from a nuclear bomb, without mentioning that his intelligence community believed it was only two to three months away from making enough fuel for one, long considered the most challenging task in building a weapon. Today Obama emphasizes that Iran is only two to three months away from acquiring enough fuel for a bomb, creating a sense of urgency for his Iran agreement.
Back in 2013, when Congress was weighing new sanctions on Iran and Obama was pushing for more diplomacy, his interest was in tamping down that sense of urgency. On the eve of a visit to Israel, Obama told Israel’s Channel Two, “Right now, we think it would take over a year or so for Iran to actually develop a nuclear weapon, but obviously we don’t want to cut it too close.”
On Oct. 5 of that year, Obama contrasted the U.S. view of an Iranian breakout with that of Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who at the time said Iran was only six months away from nuclear capability. Obama told the Associated Press, “Our assessment continues to be a year or more away. And in fact, actually, our estimate is probably more conservative than the estimates of Israeli intelligence services.”
So, why mislead as this White House has misled when it invites an embarrassing rebuke like this? Because the lie is heard by all the right audiences, whereas the correction will languish in the obscure corners of the country where honesty remains a virtue.
Despite its mounting failures, the administration maintains its legitimacy by providing the smug and complacent reasons that justify their self-approbation. For many, the facts are fungible. So long as they believe in their hearts the president is brighter and more capable than his political opponents, no amount of demonstrable mendacity from the White House could shatter that belief. Even amid increasing evidence that this article of faith might not be true, the faithful will accept anything – even hastily constructed Twitter memes – so long as it affirms their creed.
“The trouble with our liberal friends is not that they’re ignorant,” Ronald Reagan said in a pivotal 1964 speech, “it’s just that they know so much that isn’t so.” And this White House hopes to keep it that way.