A Dybbuk in the Nuclear Deal

The White House, as if possessed, made a deal with the devil.

Steve Apfel

OpEds Steve Apfel
Steve Apfel

In Jewish folklore a dead malcontent may return to possess the living. The troubled soul is known as a “dybbuk’, and it runs amok making mischief. In books and on stage and screen the fiend is invoked to aggravate family wrangles to the point of madness. Yet for all its wicked antics the dybbuk wants nothing more sinister than to settle a score. It may upturn some lives in the ghetto, but not the balance of world power. And no dybbuk, until now, toyed with the President of America.

Love or hate the nuclear deal, no one disputes that Obama’s ‘any deal is better than no deal,’ has upturned the balance of power. Iran, hitherto America’s number one foe, shall henceforth be, in the world’s number one hotspot, America’s number one ally. A detente, in other words, is brewing between the world’s powerhouse and the world’s sour pickle jar.

This devilish diplomacy has nothing to do with Don Corleone’s, ‘keep your friends close but your enemies even closer.’ Washington has not kept long-time Middle East friends close. They’re left bewildered and hurt. At least five powers - Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Israel – look at the mullah coddling by which Tehran had to be coaxed to the table, and wonder what they’ve become to the White House: still allies or new discards. Never mind historic deal: the nuclear accord bears the hallmarks of an historic barter. The dealmakers in Vienna acquired a valuable trading partner in return for a wink and a nod and the signatures of a murderous cabal. 

Ridding the world of the ‘Zionist cancer’ was non-negotiable. So it was not negotiated.
Unenforceable ‘snap back’ sanctions and a pre-arranged checking mechanism, in case Iran cheats, mean that Obama rolled the dice on a wing and a prayer. And he knows it. That dash to the Security Council to lift sanctions in order to blunt the teeth of Congress is not the way a dealer you can trust behaves.

Call the deal catastrophic or a triumph of diplomacy: Obama swears it was the best of no alternatives. It will stop, he convinced a minority of people, Iran from making The Bomb. It’s what he set out to do, audiences are told; it’s what the ‘good for everyone’ deal does. Sceptics and proponents may both be wrong: the White House’s move to bring war-mongering mullahs in from the cold was neither brash nor bold. Prophetic more fits the bill; not in the narrow sense of foretelling what the future holds, but prophecy that paves the way for upheavals of biblical magnitude. The making of Iran into a regional power (the President’s undercover motive according to Michael Doran of the Hudson Institute), could be the harbinger of tectonic shifts and rude fractures.

A bubbling cauldron of disparate voices; Iran’s consummate cunning, emboldened by weak-kneed Washington and partners. Mullahs knew how deeply Obama was invested in the project. As badly as they needed a deal, he signalled that he needed one far more. Tehran knew that Europe had no stomach and Russia and China no scruples. One shackle after the other came off master criminals, even as the teams parried. The P5+1 conceded sticking point after sticking point; and when all was said and done, six impatient dealmakers left with no guarantees that Tehran would not go back to wicked old ways. The mullah’s red lines, unlike Mr Obama’s, were real and firm. Ridding the world of the ‘Zionist cancer’ was non-negotiable. So it was not negotiated. Anything for the devil to make a pact with Obama.

A spectacle of natural allies falling out of bed and habitual enemies climbing into bed brings to mind a celebrated tale of bedlam. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, left alone in the workshop, enchants a broom and a pail to do chores for him. In no time there’s chaos, with the greenhorn clueless how to stop the magic. He splits the broom in half, hoping that will do the trick, but both pieces turn into more brooms while the pail slops water at twice the rate. “Powerful spirits should only be invoked by a master wizard,” scolds the sorcerer when he beholds the mess. A late lesson for the White House and its unholy alliance? Don't get into bed with religious fanatics you can’t control. Perhaps there lies the moral of the nuclear deal, which may be more a ticking bomb than a moment for the world to relish.

Like Marlowe’s creature, Mephistopheles, like hell’s monster, Hitler, Iran would never have struck a deal it meant to honor. The accord with Iran is some more “Peace in our time” scrap paper. Britain’s Neville Chamberlain was innocently bamboozled. Dr Faustus danced with his devil merely to relieve boredom. What made the world’s most powerful leader let his genie out the bottle?  Who or what is the mischief-maker behind the nuclear deal? What fiend runs amok in the corridors of power? If the genie has been freed, what possessed the world’s most powerful leader to let it go free?

The White House’s wager with the devil is a gamble. Faustus gambled his own soul; Obama with the lives of hundreds of millions. And while he tries to sell the pact it’s worth remembering: the devil never deals itself the bad card. It signs pacts with blood, and that’s another thing worth remembering. More, the devil likes to break its word before giving the signature time to dry, and that’s something else to keep in mind.

Let no one accuse Tehran of non disclosure. It revealed its hand. But in the thrall of a dybbuk bent on mayhem, Obama wouldn’t heed bad omens. Which probably explains why pacts with madmen and the paper they’re written on are equivalent in value. Feted honour beckons like a pot of gold.

The fate of Marlow’s Dr Faustus was eternal damnation. But the gambling medic was not the President of America. Faustus sealed his own fate, not the fate of mankind, which is what detente with Iran could seal. Embracing his new ally, Obama seems to have set the clock ticking for a final doomsday war.