Eli Lake Rejects Obama’s “Politics of Fear”

by Derek Davison

When it comes to fear, Bloomberg View columnist Eli Lake knows what he’s talking about. Over the years he’s warned us of the dangers posed by Saddam Hussein’s stockpiled weapons of mass destruction, the Persian Gulf nation of Qatar (though, to be fair, Lake may have been getting paid for that one), and nefarious al-Qaeda conference calls, among many other things. So it was refreshing to see him come out strongly on Monday against appeals to fear by one side of the Iran deal debate. That’s right, Lake condemned…President Barack Obama’s “politics of fear” for poisoning the Iran discourse:

This Iran deal will be Obama’s foreign policy legacy. It’s clever of him to frame the agreement as a triumph over the mentality that got us into the Iraq War. It discredits the deal’s opponents before they can tarnish the deal themselves. But this tactic also counts as what Obama once called “the politics of fear.” No, Obama isn’t warning activists that the other side isn’t vigilant enough against terrorism. He’s just saying his opponents seek war and only his policies can bring peace.

I agree with Eli Lake. It is simply wrong for public figures, those who are trusted with positions of potentially great influence over the general public, to use hyperbolic statements and outright exaggerations to prey on people’s fears for political gain, especially around an important topic like the Iran deal.

Fear-mongering is wrong. And it must stop.

It is wrong for President Obama to air television advertisements that suggest an Iranian nuclear weapon would be turned on a major US city, potentially killing millions of Americans.

CORRECTION: Apparently that ad was created by an anti-Iran deal group called the “American Security Initiative.” Sorry for the confusion.

Certainly it was wrong for President Obama to write in the Washington Times that the Iran deal “will be dangerous for America and the West — and, yes, life-threatening for Israel.”

CORRECTION: Wait, that was actually Clifford May, president of the anti-Iran deal Foundation for Defense of Democracies, back in March. Fact-checking this stuff is hard!

President Obama definitely should not have told a crowd at the Hudson Institute last week that the JCPOA “gives Iran nuclear weapons capability, laying out an R&D roadmap for it to become a nuclear threshold state in barely a decade.” Talk about fear-mongering!

CORRECTION: Actually that was another deal opponent, Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR), who said that to his Hudson Institute audience. We regret these several errors.

Undoubtedly, President Obama was wrong to say that the terms of the JCPOA would make his administration “the world’s leading financier of radical Islamic terrorism.” That statement is too ridiculous to even be called “hyperbole,” and even Obama’s 2012 opponent, Mitt Romney, called it “over the line.”

CORRECTION: After looking it up, we found out that Cotton’s fellow Senator (and a current GOP presidential candidate) Ted Cruz (R-TX) was the person who said this, in a press event on July 28. We can only offer our continued apologies for these errors.

It was indefensible for President Obama to call the Iran deal “a nightmare for the region, our national security and eventually the world at large,” and to call it “akin to declaring war on Israel and the Sunni Arabs.”

CORRECTION: Oh, apparently another Senator (and presidential hopeful), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), also a staunch deal opponent, said that.

There was no cause for President Obama to interrogate Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz about the dangers of an Iranian “Electro-Magnetic Pulse” (EMP) weapon, long a favorite threat for fringe fear-mongers despite the fact that there’s little actual science to back it up.

CORRECTION: Oops, that was Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) who did that, last month. He was later joined by Cruz , who has had a busy couple of weeks of not fear-mongering about this deal.

It was wrong for President Obama to call the JCPOA “far worse than the deal that Neville Chamberlain made with Hitler,” and to predict that “tens of millions of people” could now be at risk if Iran uses one of those EMP weapons on the United States.

CORRECTION: Ach, wrong again: that was Congressman Louie Gohmert (R-TX), last week.

President Obama should certainly be publicly shamed for telling Fox News’s Sean Hannity that the Iran deal “will, in fact, I think put us closer to use — actual use of nuclear weapons than we’ve been at any time since Hiroshima and Nagasaki in World War II.” There’s no justification for scaring people like that.

CORRECTION: My goodness, that was actually former Vice President Dick Cheney. Talk about an error!

No one can argue, however, that President Obama went over the line when he said that the Iran deal would “take the Israelis and march them to the door of the oven.” Several Jewish groups criticized the president harshly for his choice of language.

CORRECTION: How embarrassing: it was actually former Governor (and yet another current presidential candidate) Mike Huckabee (R-AR) who said that in a Breitbart News interview on July 25. In retrospect, we probably should have gotten that one.

It was certainly wrong for President Obama to say that “Iran is 3 to 5 years from being able to produce a nuclear weapon.”

CORRECTION: Oh, wait, that was an Israeli legislator named Benjamin Netanyahu. In 1992. Again, our apologies for the error(s).

So, then, it was wrong for President Obama to warn Congress that “Iran is the greatest threat facing Israel” and that it was “was probably only one or two years away” from developing nuclear weapons capability.

CORRECTION: Ah, as it turns out that was Netanyahu again, in 2009 (this time he was running for prime minister).

Well, surely we can all agree that it was wrong for President Obama to go before the UN General Assembly and declare that Iran was only a little over a year away from having enough enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon.

CORRECTION: OK, well, apparently that was actually Netanyahu yet again, from 2012. Turns out he’d gotten elected prime minister by then, so good for him!

If you’re detecting a pattern, here’s Netanyahu definitely not fear-mongering about the completed JCPOA, in an address on Israeli TV on July 14:

In the coming decade, the deal will reward Iran, the terrorist regime in Tehran, with hundreds of billions of dollars. This cash bonanza will fuel Iran’s terrorism worldwide, its aggression in the region and its efforts to destroy Israel, which are ongoing.

Lake himself has, of course, never played to his readers’ fears in his reporting on Iran and has never acted as a mouthpiece for others who would seek to exploit those fears. In fact, as his recent column shows, he categorically rejects arguments that are based in fear, at least when he doesn’t agree with their premises.

Photo: Eli Lake

Derek Davison

Derek Davison is an analyst covering U.S. foreign policy and international affairs and the writer/editor of the newsletter Foreign Exchanges. His writing has appeared at LobeLog, Jacobin, and Foreign Policy in Focus.



  1. Plato is still so relevant as he was in amidst the morons stick in the dark cave watching the dancing shadows as reality .
    These guys can convince Americans that Sun actually has been rising on the West and Dinosaurs have been prevented by FBI from terror attacks.
    Its they who pushed for Iraq war and galvanized Americans through ier get shoddy poll data captured by crafty questions and spreading of fear

  2. An excellent collection of lies and fear mongering statements! Thanks.
    However, the kind of media chosen to disseminate these lies and deceptive statements is audio/visual systems which are most effective for the general public! Unfortunately a limited number of Americans do read to gain knowledge and to form their own opinion about any current events & issues which may even affect their lives later! In short the visual media is just as responsible as these fearmongers, if not more, for spreading these lies, deceptions and fear mongering statements just to make money! It is despicable and shameful!

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