A Dybbuk in the White House
A Dybbuk in the White House

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. Writers and people of stage and screen invoked the fiend 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 Obama’s par-cooked nuclear deal, there’s no doubting the architect’s turn-up of the old order. Iran, hitherto America’s number one foe, is to 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. The President’s resolve to bring war-mongering mullahs in from the cold is life-changing. Debate his grip on reality; fret at the madness of trusting Iran to abide by unverifiable terms; believe that the terms will inhibit or pave the way to nuclear breakout; extol Obama’s indefatigable self-belief or cut at his mulish naïveté, it all pales beside one dominating horror. Effectively a president of America has decamped to the enemy.

Obama’s swap of colours is not apiece with Don Corleone’s, ‘keep your friends close but your enemies even closer.’ The White House has not kept Sunni Arab and Jewish allies close. He’s left them not knowing which category they fall into:  friends or enemies of America. Spare a thought for Israel. Obama balks at warning Iran against an attack on the Jewish state. He won’t tell the mullahs to stop calling for a mushroom cloud over Tel Aviv. He’ll not make it plain that such talk is unacceptable to America. Add in the President’s oft-proclaimed aversion to the military option, and remembering the ephemeral red lines he draws, Tehran is left to understand that an attack will not provoke a military reprisal – not while this commander-in-chief haunts the Oval Office. Obama has doffed his hat to a devil in thin disguise.  

A cauldron of support and opposition; Iran’s consummate cunning, emboldened by stooges from Europe across the table. The mullahs know how deeply Obama is personally invested in the project. They need a deal badly, but they know he needs one even more. Iran’s negotiators know that Europe has no stomach and Russia and China no scruples. International criminals have only to hold out – wait for the deal they want to fall into their lap. No fools, they’re aware that left to stew the P5+1 will concede the terms Iran demands: all sanctions lifted with no guarantee that it will order its affairs as the West would like it to. Tehran’s red lines, unlike Washington’s, are real and firm. Ridding the world of the ‘Zionist cancer’ is non-negotiable. As well it might be. Already Mr Obama speaks of “creative negotiations” if that is what it takes for the devil to make a pact with him.

So Tehran twiddles its thumbs while on the home front Washington sweats. From the White House that tried and tested tonic for helping a bitter remedy go down: mobilize supporters, marginalize resistors, meaning that troublesome Israel lobby. True, many hail, in Obama’s words, the “historic moment”. But sanctions lifted and Iran open for business would be worth untold billions to business–hungry powers that be. Dollar signs are one thing; the devil-may-care behaviour of Washington is quite another. Detente with the devil might not be a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” but a once-in-a-lifetime threat. The die has been cast, and a slippery die it is. Even the trumped-up agreement does not exist. Secretary of State Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif failed to agree on the text of an agreement. Instead they issued separate “fact sheets” with facts that contradict more than correspond. And even the fact sheets were made possible only by baiting the hook not with palatable Swiss cheese, but by taking Iran’s world-wide web of terrorism and proxy wars off the dinner table.

Whatever happens next the genie is already out. Iran is taking capital after capital in the Middle East, failed state after failed state. Long before Lausanne, Israel knew it was out in the cold. Some, with Obama’s ear, told us in unmistakable words that Israel was out of favour. Bemoaning the albatross around the President’s neck, Harvard foreign policy buff Stephen Walz wrote: “The sad fact is that the United States has no appealing Middle East partners left today… The special relationship with Israel fuels anti-Americanism and makes Washington look both hypocritical and ineffectual in the eyes of much of the world.” The words would have been music to a White House at the time coercing Israel to make painful concessions while enticing Palestinians to make fanciful demands.

The genie, warn long-in-the-tooth nuclear dealmakers, can never be put back. Old Secretaries of State Shultz (architect of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty with the Soviets) and Kissinger (architect of the Strategic Arms Limitation Agreement with the Soviets) are certain that Iran is off the hook. “Negotiations that began 12 years ago as an international effort to prevent (a capability) to develop a nuclear arsenal are ending with an agreement that concedes this very capability.” With the tacit backing of the White House Iran is about to raise bigger hell than ever.

What gives in the White House? If the genie is out the bottle what made, of all world leaders the most powerful, let it out? Who, or what, is the mischief maker behind the nuclear talks? What spirit runs amok in the corridors of power? The freak alignments lately fashioned point to some fiend on a depraved mission. American bombers now support Iranian troops to keep a chemical-weapon-dropping Syrian madman in power. Saudis and Israelis co-operate to stymie an American-made pact. An emissary from the White House supposedly told the Argentine government not to pursue Iranian murderers of eighty-odd Jews in Buenos Aries. Obama gives tacit blessing to the sale of a Russian ground-to-air missile system to Iran, which will make it more difficult for Israel to flatten those nuclear sites. A US President who sets all this, and more, in motion would have to be possessed.

It brings to mind the tale of the sorcerer’s apprentice. Left in the workshop to his own devices, the apprentice enchants a broom and a pail to do chores for him. In no time the place is in chaos and the apprentice is 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. Warns the old sorcerer beholding the unholy mess on his return: “Powerful spirits should only be invoked by a master wizard.” Here is an apt lesson for the White House. There can be no clearer warning than the spectacle of natural allies falling out of bed and habitual enemies climbing into bed. Don't get into bed with fanatical Islamists you can’t control: that would be the moral of the nuclear talks, which may be more a ticking bomb than a moment for the world to relish.

Like Marlowe’s creature Mephistopheles and Hitler before it, Iran will not strike a bad deal – that is to say a deal that’s bad for Iran. The framework bargain is another Chamberlain road to hell paved with good intentions. Pure and simple, it’s a pact with the devil. But here’s a wager infinitely more reckless than Dr Faustus made with his devil. The medic gambled his own soul. Team Obama bartering with Iran behind closed doors, gambles with the lives of hundreds of millions. And as the President tries to sell a 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 signatures time to dry, and that’s something else to keep in mind.

Let no one accuse Tehran of non disclosure. It has revealed its hand. But in the thrall of a mischievous dybbuk 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. Trumpeting his new ally, Obama may have ushered in the era of Gog and Magog.  

Steve Apfel is a management accountant, lecturer, consultant, columnist and author based in Johannesburg. His books include, ‘Hadrian’s Echo: The whys and wherefores of Israel’s critics (2012); ‘War by other means’ (Contributor, Israel Affairs 2012), and the latest book, ‘Enemies of Zion’ to be published this year.A novel, ‘Balaam’s curse’ is in the pipeline.