With Holocaust comment, Huckabee has gone too far

I like Mike Huckabee. I covered his bid for the Republican nomination in 2008, and found him to be smart, charming and exceptionally decent.

Back then, Huckabee and I spoke a fair amount about Israel and the strategic threats it faces. He left no doubt that he stood with the Jewish state on moral as well as geopolitical grounds. 

But on Saturday, Huckabee took his Zionist enthusiasm a step too far. In an interview with Breitbart News, he slammed President Obama’s deal with Iran as naïve (a correct assessment) but added that the president’s diplomacy “will take the Israelis and march them to the door of the oven.”

That is untrue for at least two reasons.

First, it is extremely unfair.  Barack Obama may not love Israel as much as Mike Huckabee, but that doesn’t make him Adolf Hitler or even Neville Chamberlain. You don’t need to admire Obama’s Iranian policy to accept that it rests on the president’s sincere understanding of American interests. Pursuing those interests is, after all, his job.

Huckabee’s Holocaust analogy is not only unfair, it is alarmist. Nobody is marching any Jews to the ovens.

Not that Iran wouldn’t love to do it. The Ayatollah is an eloquent proponent of the Final Solution.  Letting him -- or some similarly fanatical successor -- get near a nuclear weapon, now or 15 years from now, is an act of extreme irresponsibility by the United States. 

It is also true that the Obama administration, in trying to sell the deal, is guilty of its own exaggerations. It is false, for example, that there is no alternative to the deal Secretary of State John Kerry made. The problem is that he didn’t do a good enough job and left the administration with an obviously flawed product. And Kerry’s threat to demonize Israel for opposing his handiwork is the sort of petulant bullying that has become his trademark.

The Israeli government has the same right to fight this deal as the American government has to make it. Both are sovereign states with their own national security considerations.  

I say “national security” and not “existential,” an emotionally-loaded phrase sometimes deployed by Israeli leaders as diplomatic overstatement. There is no doubt that a future attack on Israel by a nuclear Iran could cause thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of civilian casualties. But it cannot snuff out the Jewish State, no matter how spiritually gratifying that would be to the Ayatollahs.

At the deepest core of the Israeli ethos is a brutally clear response to the Holocaust. Murder 6 million Jews once, bad on you.  Do it twice, bad on us.  This is by no means an attitude exclusive to the Likud and its vilified leader, Benjamin Netanyahu.  It is a matter of national consensus. 

The realities of living in the Middle East are not lost on Israelis. Neither is the fact that Israel is, in the final analysis, responsible for its own survival. It has motivated generations of young men and women to willingly serve in the army.  It explains the excellence of Israel’s elite combat units, which are routinely oversubscribed. It is the reason that Israeli husbands and fathers serve in the active reserves well into middle-age.

The consensus is implicit in Israel’s strategic thinking.  In 1981 Prime Minister Menachem Begin ordered the air force to destroy Iraq’s nuclear reactor. He did so over the objections of the Reagan administration. Ronald Reagan was a great friend of Israel -- certainly a greater friend than Obama -- but friendship wasn’t, and isn’t, the point.

Israeli military capabilities have grown substantially since then. So have its partnerships and alliances, in the Middle East and beyond. Iran is a big country with a bigger appetite, but it is also a crude dictatorship with a lot of enemies, an unproven army and store-bought technology. It cannot defeat Israel, an established and thriving regional power, much less destroy it.

This is an election season in America. A lot of Republican candidates are vying for pro-Israel support. Gov. Huckabee certainly has the credentials to be counted as a reliable friend of the Jewish State. And he is well within his rights to criticize the feckless of the present administration. But attempting to link Obama to Auschwitz is the sort of demagoguery that crosses a line and calls Huckabee’s judgment into question.  And it also has the unfortunate effect of feeding the Iranian regime’s delusions of genocidal grandeur.