Yesterday morning, Speaker of the House John Boehner announced that he had invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress.
Now, inviting foreign leaders to address Congress is nothing new; for example, this is Netanyahu’s third time speaking in front of Congress (the first foreign leader since Winston Churchill to appear that many times). However, this time the background story’s rather interesting, not to mention troubling.
First of all, there’s the breach of protocol. Usually, if the leader of a foreign country is going to 1) visit another country, and 2) speak in front of the country’s legislative body, the visiting leader would contact the other country’s leader and tell him/her that a visit and an address was planned, and only then after the other leader’s acknowledgment, announce the visit. This didn’t happen in this case; Speaker Boehner notified the White House just before the announcement.
Next, there’s the timing of the announcement. On Tuesday night during the State of the Union address, President Obama specifically called on Congress to hold off on imposing additional sanctions against Iran, and said he would veto any legislation calling for new sanctions, saying:
“New sanctions passed by this Congress, at this moment in time, will all but guarantee that diplomacy fails—alienating America from its allies; making it harder to maintain sanctions; and ensuring that Iran starts up its nuclear program again. It doesn’t make sense. And that’s why I will veto any new sanctions bill that threatens to undo this progress.”
Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency, agrees with the President’s assessment, and says that any further sanctions would tank the Iran nuclear negotiations. So, what is Netanyahu going to talk about? Iran – and how the US should impose stricter sanctions.
There’s also the timing of the address itself. You see, Netanyahu has an election coming up in March; in fact, he has a well known Republican strategist as a campaign adviser. He could be using the address to boost his favorability ratings at home right before the elections. Of course, the irony of Netanyahu’s Likud party accusing Obama in 2013 of trying to influence the Israeli elections seems to be completely lost on him. Furthermore, there’s not much evidence that it would actually help that much, as the Israeli public is used to him getting a favorable reception from our Congress.
Now, the troubling aspects (as if the above weren’t troubling enough). First of all, there’s the fact that the head of a foreign government is allowing himself to be used as a pawn in the struggle between the GOP and the Obama administration. Of course, this isn’t the first time Netanyahu’s been in this position; ever since 2011 and his last appearance before Congress, Netanyahu has been more and more critical of the Obama administration, to the point where he’s been jokingly referred to in the Israeli media as “the Republican senator from Israel.”
This leads into our next big concern. In 1936, the Supreme Court ruled in United States v. Curtiss-Wright that “the President alone has the power to speak or listen as a representative of the nation.” If there are two branches of the government setting foreign policy, then effectively the US has two foreign policies, and not one. As Max Fisher puts it in a piece that was published on Vox;
“The idea is that the US government needs to be a single unified entity on the world stage in order to conduct effective foreign policy. Letting the president and Congress independently set their own foreign policies would lead to chaos. It would be extremely confusing for foreign leaders, and foreign publics, who don’t always understand how domestic American politics work, and could very easily misread which of the two branches is actually setting the agenda.”
With that in mind, just what in the world is a foreign leader doing determining our foreign policy? And, what in the world is one of our political parties doing not only allowing such a thing, but actively encouraging it?
There’s the sheer danger inherent in what Netanyahu’s proposing. Far from bringing peace or rationality to an already tense region, the sanctions he’s proposing would just add more fuel to the fire. As we pointed out earlier, even his intelligence agency (quite possibly the best in the world) says that it would completely ruin any negotiations with Iran.
Finally, there’s Israel’s record on human rights. We remember the horror of Gaza and the Israeli treatment of the Palestinians living there. The Israeli lobby and supporters paint Israel as the last bastion of democracy in the Middle East; we see it as a repressive, autocratic police state that, ironically enough, resembles Nazi Germany and their treatment of the Jews more than anything else in the way they deal with the Palestinians living in Gaza, not to mention elsewhere in Israel.
Over the last thirty years, we’ve seen an exodus of jobs overseas due to outsourcing. We never thought we’d see Congress outsource our foreign policy to another country, but that’s exactly what they’re doing. In quite a few countries around the world, they’d be sitting in prison on charges of treason after pulling a stunt like this. Hopefully, they’ll learn to put global stability before petty politics, and learn before it’s too late.