When House Speaker John Boehner invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address Congress without bothering to let the White House know, as is normal practice when dealing with foreign leaders, he no doubt thought he was getting a little sauce for the gander. You want to find ways to get Republicans mad, President Obama? Okay, how about if I invite the leader of one of our closest allies here to basically lobby against your position on Iran? How do you like that?
Boehner was right on that score: President Obama doesn’t like it very much. Neither did Nancy Pelosi, who blasted Boehner’s move this morning as “inappropriate,” adding: “It’s out of the ordinary that the Speaker would decide that he would be inviting people to a joint session without any bipartisan consultation.”
But maybe this skirmish over diplomatic protocol is a good thing for everyone. Maybe we can stop pretending that Americans and Israelis are nothing more than loving and committed allies offering unwavering support to one another, when the truth is that parties in both countries are active participants in each other’s partisan politics.
The current disagreement is about negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program. There’s a bill in the Senate, sponsored by Republican Mark Kirk and Democrat Bob Menendez, to impose new sanctions on Iran if a deal isn’t struck by June 30. The administration says that passing such legislation now, while the negotiations are at a sensitive point, would guarantee failure: the Iranians would pull out, then ramp up their nuclear program.
Republicans, and some Democrats like Menendez, don’t think so. They seem to believe that the only thing that produces results is being “tough,” and that even in diplomacy there are no carrots, only sticks. This also happens to be the position of the Netanyahu administration, which supports the sanctions bill. But not all in the Israeli government agree. Josh Rogin and Eli Lake report that the Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency, has been telling both the Obama administration and whatever American senators will listen that “if legislation that imposed a trigger leading to future sanctions on Iran was signed into law, it would cause the talks to collapse.”
So the Republicans have asked Netanyahu to come join them in this debate, and he is more than willing. Which shouldn’t be much of a surprise. For years we’ve had one party (the Republicans) that is fervently committed to the right-wing Likud’s vision for Israel, and another party (the Democrats) that is much more committed to the Israeli Labor party’s vision. When each holds the White House, they put those beliefs into policy. But both will say only that we all have a bipartisan commitment to “support” the Jewish state, as though what “support” means is always simple and clear.
Meanwhile, Netanyahu has done what he can to help Republicans. In 2012, his all-but-explicit advocacy for Mitt Romney ended up getting him in trouble back home. The current Israeli ambassador to the U.S. is American-born political operative Ron Dermer; as Josh Marshall says: “His relationship with Netanyahu has been compared to Karl Rove’s with George W. Bush. And a main reason for his being Ambassador is his ties to DC Republicans.”
And here’s a colorful illustration of the symbiotic relationship between the GOP and Netanyahu’s Likud. The Republican Party’s greatest patron is casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, who spent somewhere between $100 and $150 million trying to unseat Barack Obama in 2012. And who is Benjamin Netanyahu’s greatest patron? None other than Sheldon Adelson, who a few years ago created a free daily newspaper, Israel Hayom, whose primary purpose is to blanket the country with news favorable to Netanyahu.
It has long been true that the debate about what Israel should do — with regard to the Palestinians or anything else — is infinitely more varied and robust in Israel itself than here in the United States, where the only allowable public position for a politician to take is that we support whatever the Israeli government wants to do. This unanimity is maintained by a variety of forces, most notably the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), which calls itself “America’s Pro-Israel Lobby,” but in practice has for decades been not the Israel lobby but the Likud lobby, representing one particular faction in Israeli politics.
Benjamin Netanyahu is the leader of his country, but he’s also the leader of that faction, and at the moment he’s in the midst of an election campaign (one the Obama administration would be all too happy to see him lose). If Congressional Republicans want him to come be a spokesperson for the Republican position in the debate over Iran, that’s fine. But we should use the occasion to allow ourselves a little honestly. Yes, the United States and Israel are close allies whose core interests are aligned. But in neither country is there agreement about how to serve those interests. There’s no such thing as a “pro-Israel” position on this issue, because Israelis themselves have a profound dispute about it, just as there’s no such thing as one “pro-America” position on anything we argue about.
So we can call this speech what it is: an effort by one conservative politician to help a bunch of other conservative politicians achieve their preferred policy. Maybe afterward, John Boehner can return the favor and cut some ads advocating Netanyahu’s reelection. Though I’m not sure how well that would go over in Israel.
By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line, The Washington Post, January 22, 2015
Yesterday wasn’t the best day for Rand Paul’s efforts to transform himself from a less cranky version of his old man into a power broker and potential presidential candidate in the Republican Party. Aside from Chris Christie’s contemptuous rejection of Paul’s suggestion that they sit down over a tall cool one and resolve their war of words over foreign policy, Paul failed to make much headway in the Senate in his long-standing attempt to cut off military aid to Egypt, despite having an almost ideal set of circumstances. While Democrats united behind the administration’s position that an aid cutoff could de-stabilize Egypt, most of the floor action involved the pummeling of Paul by his Republican colleagues, prior to a 86-13 vote against his amendment to the THUD appropriations bill.
WaPo’s Dana Milbank captured the flavor of the debate:
More than a dozen senators sat or stood at their desks in the usually empty chamber, engaging Paul, who tried to rebut their points. So many wished to join the fray that Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) extended the debate.
The result reinforced the proud tradition of internationalism in the body, and in the GOP. For all the talk of a Republican civil war over foreign policy, Wednesday’s vote showed that the internationalists still dominate. McCain portrayed Paul as the heir to the America Firsters. But there has been no growth in the isolationist sentiment since March, when an amendment to restrict aid to Egypt failed, 74-25, or since September 2012, when a Paul bill to cut off aid to Egypt, Pakistan and Libya went down, 81-10.
The coup de grace probably occurred when Lindsay Graham read aloud a letter from AIPAC opposing the aid cutoff.
McCain needled Paul. “The question here is whether the senator from Kentucky knows what’s better for Israel, or Israel.”
Paul shook his head, reclaimed the floor and challenged the “so-called leadership” of AIPAC.
When the clerk called the roll, McCain whipped his colleagues aggressively: arguing with Dean Heller (R-Nev.) after the new senator took Paul’s side, applauding when John Hoeven (R-N.D.) voted against Paul and working over Tim Scott (R-S.C.) until the senator cried uncle. “I’m with you,” Scott said.
For the Republican internationalists, this wasn’t about winning but dominating.
Well, maybe. 13 Republicans decided to Stand with Rand on aid to Egypt. That’s just one short of the number of Republican senators who stood with McCain and Graham on immigration reform, which was supposedly a triumph of party “pragmatism” against the craziness of the House GOP. You also see some significant names supporting Paul’s amendment: Mike Lee, the majordomo of the Senate’s “constitutional conservatives,” and his boon companion Ted Cruz, a potential rival of Paul’s in 2016. There’s Mike Enzi of Wyoming, who may be counting on help from Paul in rebuffing a primary challenge from Lynn Cheney that bids fair to become a national Neocon crusade. And then there was Mitch McConnell, who has clearly decided that snuggling up to Paul is his best insurance against his own primary challenge next year.
For dedicated Paulites, this was just another vote in a long struggle against foreign policy internationalists in both parties. For the GOP as a whole, it’s unclear whether the vote pitted the dominant faction against the fringe, or the party’s past against its future.
By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, August 1, 2013
Unless Ron Paul somehow wins the nomination, it looks as if a vote for the Republican presidential candidate this fall will be a vote for war with Iran.
No other conclusion can be drawn from parsing the candidates’ public remarks. Paul, of course, is basically an isolationist who believes it is none of our business if Iran wants to build nuclear weapons. He questions even the use of sanctions, such as those now in force. But Paul has about as much chance of winning the GOP nomination as I do.
Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich have all sought to portray President Obamaas weak on national security — a traditional Republican line of attack. They have tried to accuse Obama of being insufficiently committed to Israel’s defense. In the process, they’ve made bellicose pledges about Iran that almost surely would lead straight to conflict.
Santorum’s apocalyptic rhetoric about Iran practically takes for granted an imminent clash. Gingrich would essentially abdicate the decision to Israeli leaders, giving them the green light for an attack whenever they choose.
Romney, the likely nominee, has been somewhat more circumspect — and less forthright. He published an op-ed in The Post this week blasting Obama’s foreign policy as “feckless” and promising that, under a Romney administration, things would be different. He then went on to outline the steps he would take in dealing with Iran — most of which turn out to be steps Obama has already taken.
“I will press for ever-tightening sanctions.” Check. “I will speak out on behalf of the cause of democracy in Iran and support Iranian dissidents.” Check. “I will make clear that America’s commitment to Israel’s security and survival is absolute.” Check. “I will buttress my diplomacy with a military option.” Check.
Romney’s only new initiatives would be to make Jerusalem the destination of his first foreign trip and to deploy an additional aircraft carrier group in the region. I imagine the intent would be to show Iranian leaders that they are isolated and under siege, but I think they get that already.
In a speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee — a pro-Israel lobbying group — Romney was much more specific in establishing his bottom line: “We must not allow Iran to have the bomb or the capacity to make a bomb.” It is difficult to imagine how this statement can lead anywhere but to war.
U.S. policy under Obama — and previous administrations — has been that it is “unacceptable” for Iran to have nuclear weapons. The clear implication is that, while military force is an option that could be employed at any time, including the present, force will be employed if Iran tries to make a bomb.
To say that Iran must never have “the capacity to make a bomb,” as Romney does, is to draw a line that has already been crossed.
Does capacity mean having the fuel for a bomb? Iran knows how to produce the enriched uranium that would be used in a bomb, and while U.S. air power alone — unsupported by ground troops — could destroy or damage most of the enrichment facilities we know about, the Iranians could have the program back up and running within a few years.
Does capacity mean the expertise necessary to construct a bomb that would actually explode? If so, will Romney order an attack whenever intelligence agencies report that a librarian at some Iranian university has ordered a textbook in advanced metallurgy from Amazon.com?
The truth is that every nation with sufficient wealth and scientific infrastructure has the capacity to build a bomb if it really wants to. An attack is likely to increase the Iranian regime’s resolve, not lessen it. Bombing Iran every few years is not a realistic option and in any event would not be effective in the long run; when the Iranians rebuild their facilities, they will surely do a better job of hiding and bunkering them.
The United States and its allies should seek to eliminate the Iranian government’s will to make a bomb, not its capacity. I hope Romney realizes that, while sanctions and diplomacy may not be working as well as we’d like, they’re the best tools we have — and that an attack at this point gets us nowhere. But if he believes his own rhetoric, this election may be about more than the economy. It may be about war and peace.
By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, March 8, 2012
Two days ago, Barack Obama went before AIPAC (which is commonly known as “the Israel Lobby” but would be better understood as the Likud lobby, since it advocates not Israel’s interests per se but the perspective of the right wing of Israeli politics, but that’s a topic for another day), and said, among other things, the following:
“I have said that when it comes to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, I will take no options off the table, and I mean what I say. That includes all elements of American power: A political effort aimed at isolating Iran; a diplomatic effort to sustain our coalition and ensure that the Iranian program is monitored; an economic effort that imposes crippling sanctions; and, yes, a military effort to be prepared for any contingency. Iran’s leaders should understand that I do not have a policy of containment; I have a policy to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. And as I have made clear time and again during the course of my presidency, I will not hesitate to use force when it is necessary to defend the United States and its interests.”
This didn’t surprise anyone, because it’s the same thing Obama has been saying for a while, in scripted and unscripted remarks alike, in both speeches and interviews. Yet later that day, Mitt Romney went out and said the following:
“This is a president who has failed to put in place crippling sanctions against Iran. He’s also failed to communicate that military options are on the table and in fact in our hand, and that it’s unacceptable to America for Iran to have a nuclear weapon.”
So here’s my question: Just what will it take for reporters to start writing about the question of whether Mitt Romney is, deep within his heart, a liar?
Because he does this kind of thing frequently, very frequently. Sometimes the lies he tells are about himself (often when he’s trying to explain away things he has said or done in the past if today they displease his party’s base, as he’s now doing with his prior support for an individual mandate for health insurance), but most often it’s Barack Obama he lies about. And I use the word “lie” very purposefully. There are lots of things Romney says about Obama that are distortions, just plain ridiculous, or unfalsifiable but obviously false, as when he often climbs into Obama’s head to tell you what Obama really desires, like turning America into a militarily weak, economically crippled shadow of Europe (not the actual Europe, but Europe as conservatives imagine it to be, which is something like Poland circa 1978). But there are other occasions, like this one, where Romney simply lies, plainly and obviously. In this case, there are only two possibilities for Romney’s statement: Either he knew what Obama has said on this topic and decided he’d just lie about it, or he didn’t know what Obama has said, but decided he’d just make up something about what Obama said regardless of whether it was true. In either case, he was lying.
The “Who is he, really?” question is one that consumes campaign coverage, but in Romney’s case the question has been about phoniness, not dishonesty, and the two are very different things. What that means is that when Romney makes a statement like this one, reporters don’t run to their laptops to write stories that begin, “Raising new questions about his candor, today Mitt Romney falsely accused President Obama…” The result is that he gets a pass: there’s no punishment for lying, because reporters hear the lie and decide that there are other, more important things to write about.
To get a sense of what it’s like when reporters are on the lookout for lies, remember what Al Gore went through in 2000. To take just one story, when Gore jokingly told a union audience that as a baby his parents would rock him to sleep to the strains of “Look for the Union Label,” everyone in attendance laughed, but reporters shouted “To the Internet!” and discovered that the song wasn’t written until Gore was an adult. They then wrote entire stories about the remark, with those “Raising new questions…” ledes, barely entertaining the possibility that Gore was joking. Why not? Because it was Al Gore, and they all knew he was a liar, so obviously if he said something that wasn’t literally true it could only have been an intentional falsehood.
That is not yet the presumption when it comes to Mitt Romney. There’s another factor at play as well, which is that reporters, for reasons I’ve never completely understood, consider it a greater sin to lie about yourself, particularly about your personal life, than to lie about your opponent or about policy (I wrote about the different kinds of lies and how the press treats them differently here). Because Romney is lying about his opponent and about a policy matter, reporters just aren’t as interested. But at some point, these things begin to pile up, and they really ought to start asking whether this dishonesty is something fundamental in Romney’s character that might be worth exploring.
By: Paul Waldman, The American Prospect, March 6, 2012
1) It’s complicated. We should no longer be surprised that a major Obama speech on an important topic is characterized mainly by its embrace of complexity. Here’s why this matters:
Traditionally the role of a Presidential speech is to say, in bald terms, which side of an issue the Administration is coming down on. Are we going to war, or not? Is the president going to sign a bill, or veto it? People outside the government underestimate how important big presidential speeches are in resolving policy arguments and deciding what an administration’s approach will be.
Obama’s big speeches have been unusual, because the side they come down on is that of complexity. In his classic Philadelphia “race in America” speech: the recognition that every part of our racial mix has its insecurities and blind spots. In his Nobel prize address: that military force is not the answer but is an answer. In his West Point speech a year and a half ago: that the U.S. can’t stay in Afghanistan forever but should stay for a while. You can apply this analysis to almost every major address.
Including these latest speeches. He argued that the United States has “interests” in the Middle East — oil, stability, anti-terrorism — and it also has ideals. So it will try harder to advance its ideals, without pretending it has no (often contradictory) interests. He presented Israel-Palestine in this same perspective. As a meta-point, he said that Israel-Palestine is only part of the larger Arab-world evolution, but is a crucial part. On the merits, he emphasized that Israel has to be secure, that Hamas must accept that reality, that Israel must be able to defend itself — but that it cannot stand pat, wait too long to strike a deal, or forever occupy the West Bank.
My point here is about Obama rather than about the Middle East. From some politicians, for instance those otherwise dissimilar Georgians Jimmy Carter and Newt Gingrich, a collection of “complex” ideas often comes across as just a list. Obama, most of the time, has pulled off the trick of making his balance-of-contradictions seem a policy in itself. Rather than seeming just “contradictory” or “indecisive.” This is unusual enough that it’s worth noting. (And for another time: the vulnerabilities this approach creates.)
2) Israel’s Cheney. By “a Cheney” I refer to the vice presidential version of Dick Cheney, who (in my view) mistook short-term intransigence for long-term strategic wisdom, seemed blind and tone-deaf to the “moral” and “soft power” components of influence, profited from a polarized and fearful political climate, and attempted to command rather than earn support from allies and potential adversaries.
That was bad for the U.S. when Cheney was around. It’s what Netanyahu is doing to Israel now, and Israel has less margin for strategic error than America does.
Right after Obama made his big speech, it was welcomed in most of the world and by most major U.S. Jewish organizations. The immediate critics were Mitt “throw Israel under the bus” Romney, Sarah Palin, Tim Pawlenty, Mike Huckabee, and Binyamin Netanyahu. Explain to me the universe in which this is a wise strategic choice for a nation highly dependent on stable relations with the United States — and on ultimately making an agreement in the region that allows it to survive as a Jewish democratic state.
Think of this contrast: when China’s Hu Jintao came to Washington for a state visit, each of the countries had profound disagreements with the other. (Chinese leaders hate the U.S. policy of continued arms sales to Taiwan, much more so than Netanyahu could sanely disagree with any part of Obama’s speech.) Neither China nor America is remotely as dependent on the other as Israel is on the United States. Yet Obama and Hu were careful to be as respectful as possible, especially in public, while addressing the disagreements. High-handed and openly contemptuous behavior like Netanyahu’s would have seemed hostile and idiotic from either side. As it is from him.
The real service Netanyahu may have done is allowing easier U.S. discussion of the difference between Israel’s long-term interests and his own.
3) God bless this speech. President Obama showed that it is possible to end a speech with … a real ending! The usual one might have sounded odd in a speech largely addressed to the Islamic world. So the release text of his speech concluded in this admirable way:
“We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal.”
Those words must guide our response to the change that is transforming the Middle East and North Africa — words which tell us that repression will fail, that tyrants will fall, and that every man and woman is endowed with certain inalienable rights. It will not be easy. There is no straight line to progress, and hardship always accompanies a season of hope. But the United States of America was founded on the belief that people should govern themselves. Now, we cannot hesitate to stand squarely on the side of those who are reaching for their rights, knowing that their success will bring about a world that is more peaceful, more stable, and more just.
By: James Fallows, National Correspondent, The Atlantic, May 22, 2011