Regular readers know that I avoid certain topics, including the Middle East. Nothing is absolute, however, and Tuesday’s speech to a joint session of Congress by Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu provides a more than adequate basis for commentary.
You’ve probably heard about this fiasco for awhile. The nuts and bolts are simple. Speaker of the House John Boehner invited the Prime Minister to address Congress while he was in Washington for the AIPAC (American Israeli Political Action Committee) annual do! The invite was not cleared with the State Department or the White House. It was arranged, instead, through Israel’s Ambassador to the United States, former Miami Beach resident and Republican Party operative Ron Dermer.
So what’s this all about, really? Three things! First, PM Netanyahu likes his job. Israeli elections occur on March 17, two weeks to the day after the speech. A speech before Congress helps, the Prime Minister thinks. His Ambassador is very plugged in to the crew that runs the Congress, so there will be a speech. On this level the speech is really just a campaign appearance, 6000 miles away from home. (If you think my comments about the speech and the re-election campaign are unfair, read Israeli election chief puts curbs on Netanyahu speech to Congress by Luke Baker for Reuters, posted on February 26.)
Second, the speech is about Americana politics. Speaker Boehner and Ambassador Dermer cooked up this opportunity to make Israel a Republican thing. There’s this whole meme out there about our Anti-Semitic president—the one who has hosted Passover Seders every year, has a frum Treasury Secretary and an administration full of Jews, etc.—because, perish the thought, we haven’t bombed every country who doesn’t like Israel or the United States. (I get this noise often, as many wrongly assume being Jewish means accepting, without any question, the position of any Israeli government.)
So, here, we have what amounts to American politics. Separate us. Turn policy differences into attacks about patriotism and beliefs. And, of course, watch Congress fiddle and diddle, mostly because … well, that’s its best thing!
Finally, there is some real substance. Misguided and dangerously mischievous, but substantive. The United States and several other nations are trying to resolve nuclear issues with Iran. PM Netanyahu and his friends in the U.S. Congress are upset. They think the deal—any deal, really—will leave Israel insecure. The speech provides an opportunity to set down certain markers on the Iran issue.
Now, here in America we have a Constitution. Article II, Section 2 vests in the president the “Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur.” An agreement with Iran will almost surely require Senate approval. Frankly, it’s hard to imagine two-thirds of the Senate agreeing on anything, much less something with which President Obama is associated. Still, in a functioning democracy it might just make a little sense to let the process work. Interfering with foreign relations borders on treason, and involving a foreign nation’s Prime Minister—even though the nation is an ally—gets you there. (As it happens, there’s an exchange in The Atlantic between Ambassador Dermer and Jeffrey Goldberg, where the Ambassador acknowledges an excellent, ongoing, honest, open, and constructive dialogue with the U.S. about the Iran talks, right before he all but admits that the purpose behind the speech involves sabotaging those talks. That’s not how diplomacy works!)
In others news, absent something totally unexpected, the Department of Homeland Security runs out of money today. That event will transpire because some pig-headed members of the House of Representatives think taking a stand is more important than having an agency of the federal government do its job. You can find Republicans who blame all of this on others. In A DHS shutdown by any other name… Steve Benen offers up Senator Ron Johnson (Rep.-Wis.), who goes further, claiming there is no shutdown, as 85% of the DHS workers are deemed essential and, thus, required to work without pay until Congress figures out how to pay them.
So Congress fails to fund a department which has as its sole mission protecting us on Friday, and interferes with foreign policy on the following Wednesday. My, but our elected representatives’ mothers must be so proud of them!