Netanyahu’s Speech Before Congress
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu came, delivered his contentious speech before Congress, and left to thunderous applause. This applause has been commented on by one proud Israeli, as by “a man in a class by himself. One who will stand up to the world’s leaders,” and most observers believe it will help Netanyahu in his March 17 election try at retaining his Prime Minstership. Conveniently for him, it came just as the weekend’s polling showed some slippage by Netanyahu’s Likud to the new Zionist Union Party made up of a coalition of Isaac Herzog’s Labor Party and the remnants of Tzipi Livni’s Hatnuah. Clearly Netanyahu’s speech before Congress had the effect of interfering with Israel’s domestic political campaign, though we will have to see if there is a backlash against him because of the speech after the initial pride effect makes its mark.
Meanwhile, back in the good old U.S. of A., in the aftermath of what was clearly a Republican partisan move by Speaker Boehner in inviting Netanyahu in the first place without consulting the Democratic President, Republicans are doubling down on their attempt to destroy the long established bi-partisan nature of U.S.-Israeli relations. Republican Senator Mitch McConnell is trying to rush the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review through the U.S. Senate. He is trying to bypass debate in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and in order to rush it to the floor even before the negotiations with Iran are completed, and before anyone knows what the net effect on Iran’s possibility of obtaining nuclear weapons is.
Naturally, Democrats are aghast at these partisaninzing moves. Rep. John Yarmuth called the speech “right out of Dick Cheney’s playbook” and patronizing in that Netanyahu implied that the members of Congress didn’t know about the danger of Iran’s obtaining nuclear weapons, or of how untrustworthy Iran is. Rep. John Lewis called the speech “an affront to the President of The United States.” Ten U.S. Senators have already complained about McConnell’s slippery move to try and by-pass the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Rep. Lloyd Doggett argued that Netanyahu was a “rejectionist,” and that nothing could be negotiated, no amount of inspections would satisfy him. He also argued that war is not the best alternative. Rep. Jan Schakowsky noted Netanyahu’s arguments for invading Iraq and overthrowing Saddam Hussein and how our subsequent actions following his suggestions has benefited Iran. All have been strong supporters of Israel.
So what did Netanyahu say that was worth threatening the bi-partisan support for Israel? As President Obama said after reading Netanyahu’s address, that there was nothing new in the speech. And no alternatives to our negotiations was provided by Netanyahu. His only advice on the negotiations was that nothing but a perfect agreement would be acceptable. Thus, one must conclude that Netanyahu’s primary motive for going ahead with the speech, even after many friends of Israel objected to it, was to give his slipping campaign prospects a shot-in-the-arm. Rep. Boehner made clear that any hope for bi-partisan cooperation out of the new Congress was misplaced. He undercut our normal foreign policy procedures and threatened the U.S.-Israel bi-partisan support to satisfy the fanatical right in his own party—and probably erroneously thinks that this bone will satisfy their lust for his own carcass.
My own view is that both the invitation and acceptance by Netanyahu were terrible breaches of protocol. While the negotiations with Iran are not yet complete and we must wait to see what they contain, even less than perfect inspections will provide valuable intelligence. And there is nothing in the negotiations that even suggests that we would eschew further action should we find the Iranians cheating on the agreement.