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“Upending The Status Quo”: How Obama Is Shrewdly Using Partisanship To Sideline Netanyahu And Save The Iran Nuclear Deal

The conventional wisdom is that partisanship in Washington, D.C., is one of the biggest obstacles to solving America’s most entrenched problems, from fixing the immigration system to closing the inequality gap. But if the fallout from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s forthcoming address to Congress is any indication, partisanship can be a pretty useful tool when it comes to upending the status quo.

Throughout the controversy, the White House has been happy to run its relationship with Netanyahu through the partisan vortex, helping splinter a bipartisan consensus that was once the most potent domestic threat to a U.S. rapport with Iran — a deal that would constitute the crowning accomplishment of President Obama’s foreign policy legacy.

Of course, Netanyahu has himself to blame more than anyone. By accepting an invitation from House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to essentially hammer the administration before a joint session of Congress, without notifying the White House or the State Department, he took his longstanding disdain for Obama to new heights. When even Fox News anchors are questioning your treatment of the president, this may be a sign you have crossed a line.

He exacerbated his problems by rejecting an invitation from Democratic Sens. Dick Durbin (Ill.) and Dianne Feinstein (Calif.) to privately meet with Democrats, in what they said was an attempt to “balance the politically divisive invitation from Speaker Boehner.” Netanyahu explained that the meeting would “compound the misperception of partisanship regarding my upcoming visit,” but it seems his rejection accomplished that just fine on its own.

“Since when does an Israeli prime minister say no to a meeting with Democrats?” bemoaned a former Israeli official to The New York Times. And referring to Durbin and Feinstein, he said, “By the way, their Israeli voting record is impeccable. Not good, not very good, impeccable.”

This gets to the crux of the problem for Obama, as he potentially heads into the final stretch of a years-long attempt to reach a deal on Iran’s controversial nuclear program. He not only has to fend off opposition from Republicans, but staunch pro-Israel members of his own party, some of whom seem intent on passing additional sanctions on Iran to scuttle any deal. The problem is so acute that, as recently as January, Obama faced the prospect of a united Congress overriding his veto for the first time in his presidency.

But that has changed. By aligning himself so plainly with the GOP, Netanyahu may have made it impossible for Democrats to join the Republicans. As Dov Zakheim writes at Foreign Policy, “Netanyahu’s determination to address Congress has all but destroyed any chance the Hill’s passing new sanctions and overriding a presidential veto. The deal will therefore go ahead.”

The Obama administration appears to realize this, taking the fight to Netanyahu in a highly public way. The White House made clear it would snub Netanyahu, saying both Obama and Vice President Joe Biden would not meet with him. It still has not said who (if anyone) will be attending the annual summit this weekend of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the powerful pro-Israel lobby. [Update: Rice and Samantha Powers, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., will attend.] Then this week, National Security Advisor Susan Rice said Netanyhu’s speech was “destructive” to U.S.-Israeli relations — not “unhelpful” or any other boilerplate diplomatic language, but “destructive.”

Then Secretary of State John Kerry used his testimony on Wednesday to the House Foreign Affairs Committee to remind everyone that Netanyahu supported the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. Never mind that Kerry was for it before he was against it — he noted that Netanyahu is a hysterical hawk and associated the Israeli prime minister with the most divisive foreign policy issue of the last generation. After all, everyone knows that there is little rank-and-file Democrats hate more than the Iraq War and those who egged the Bush administration on. (Kerry’s attack was all the more remarkable given the fact that his friendship with Netanyahu goes back to the 1970s.)

This is all bad news for those who believe that a U.S. accord with Iran would spell doom for Israel. But for those who believe that diplomacy and negotiations are far better than the alternatives, they might have partisanship to thank.

 

By: Ryu Spaeth, The Week, February 27, 2015

March 3, 2015 - Posted by | Benjamin Netanyahu, Congress, Foreign Policy | , , , , , , , , ,

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