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President Obama insists that his nuclear agreement with Iran is the best path toward a peaceful world for today’s generation and those that follow. If no deal is reached now with Iran, says the president, the consequences will be disastrous. He defends the agreement because it prevents the “risk of another war in the Middle East” and it “gives peace a chance.”

Obama’s critics cite Neville Chamberlain’s misguided concession to Hitler in September 1938. As Great Britain’s prime minister, Chamberlain flew to Munich and surrendered part of Czechoslovakia to Nazi Germany on written and oral assurances from Hitler. He declared to a wildly approving British public that he had negotiated “peace with honor” and “peace for our time.” Chamberlain’s deal looks utterly foolish today, his trust of Hitler astonishingly naïve.


But given England’s lack of preparedness for war, it may have been the best a British government could do to neutralize the powerful military forces Hitler had gathered. Whether Chamberlain was fooled by Hitler and naively supposed Hitler would honor his assurances or whether his decision was a pragmatic choice of the lesser of evils may be debatable.

By contrast, Obama’s foreign policy and his attitude toward Iran are not based on American weakness. America’s president apparently anticipates that Khamenei, Rouhani, and the others who currently and in the foreseeable future control Iran’s conduct will keep their word if they sign an agreement with the United States. Rouhani has publicly expressed his intention to be true to any promise he makes, and Obama apparently believes Iran’s leadership will abide by a signed agreement.

Former secretaries of state Henry Kissinger and George Shultz have persuasively described the enormous difficulties of policing compliance with Iran’s assurances in their compelling April 8 Wall Street Journal critique of the proposed Iran agreement. Obama’s belief that, notwithstanding these obstacles, Iran can be trusted puts him in the same gullible and naive league as Mahatma Gandhi, an archetypal model for the world view that has guided American foreign policy since Obama took office – that evil leaders can be persuaded, by kind words and pleas for friendship, to forgo ambitions of violent conquest.

Letters Gandhi wrote to Hitler in 1939 and 1940 exude the same wishful thinking and naivete that underlie the current negotiations with Iran. They are addressed to “Dear Friend.” Although Gandhi lost no love for the Jews, his letters express childlike innocence rather than anti-Semitism. In a letter dated July 23, 1939, Gandhi wrote to Hitler:


Dear Friend,

Friends have been urging me to write to you for the sake of humanity. But I have resisted their request, because of the feeling that any letter from me would be impertinence. Something tells me that I must not calculate and that I must make my appeal for whatever it may be worth. It is quite clear that you are today the one person in the world who can prevent a war which may reduce humanity to a savage state. Must you pay that price for an object however worthy it may appear to you to be? Will you listen to the appeal of one who has deliberately shunned the method of war not without considerable success? Any way I anticipate your forgiveness, if I have erred in writing to you.


Hitler apparently ignored Gandhi’s 1939 letter. Hitler’s invasion of Poland in September 1939 and the war Europe was fighting against Hitler’s Wehrmacht did not shake Gandhi’s belief that Hitler could be persuaded by the kind of brotherly approaches Obama is now invoking in his dream that the United States can swathe Iran and the whole Middle East in a blanket of tranquility by initiating cordial conversation.


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Nathan Lewin is a Washington lawyer who specializes in white-collar criminal defense and in Supreme Court litigation.
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