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“The Catastrophe Bibi Is Courting”: Bolstering His Re-Election And Pushing For War, He Should Be Careful What You Wishes For

So Bibi Netanyahu did not back down, and he’s here now in the United States, and he’s giving the speech Tuesday. In doing so, he has forced a true low point in U.S.-Israel relations. As has been often observed, he’s turning Israel into a partisan issue—up to somewhere around a quarter of congressional Democrats are refusing to attend the speech. That’s a crack, a big one. If he remains prime minister after the March 17 elections, the fissures between Netanyahu’s government and Barack Obama and the Democrats will only widen.

Congressional support for Israel is due for a reconsideration. As Scott McConnell wrote last month in The American Conservative (an anti-neocon magazine), Congress “does not come close to representing the views of the American people” on Israel, either with respect to Iran or the occupation. McConnell cites all the requisite poll numbers that make the case.

Now, Congress can go a long time without representing American public opinion. On certain big-money issues like banking, that’s all Congress does. But on most issues, Congress at least has to act like it’s listening to the American people, and on foreign policy questions in particular, Congress, and for that matter the president, can’t usually go where the American people don’t want to go. Obama probably wanted to drop a smattering of bombs on Syria in 2013, but public opinion was dead set against it. And remember how the Bush administration had to work public opinion in 2002 and 2003 to make sure the lies about Saddam Husssein’s nuclear ambitions got support levels up to 60 percent or so before it launched the war.

So one of these days, in two years or five or six, congressional fealty to Israel will cease being so bipartisan and reflexive—and that will be entirely an outcome of Netanyahu (and John Boehner’s and Ron Dermer’s and AIPAC’s) making.

But all that is just politics. Netanyahu is creating a much bigger problem here. Ultimately, he wants war with Iran. And American neoconservatives want it, too.  Few of them will say so (although some do—see below). But that’s what they want, and we need to be clear about it.

Think about it. What is the alternative to negotiating with Iran? Well, there is only one: not negotiating with Iran. And what are the possible courses of action under that option? At the end of the day, there are two. Number one, let Iran do what it wants. Number two, ultimately, be willing to start a war to block Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

Knowing the neocons’ world view as I’m sure you do, how willing do you think they’d be to let Iran do what it wants? Correct. Not very. That leaves war. There is the step of tougher sanctions as a middle course, but sanctions, even crippling ones, don’t usually change a regime’s behavior. So the clear implication of the anti-negotiation position is war—with a country of 77 million people, a huge army, and formidable wealth. As a point of comparison, Iraq in 2003 had about a third of Iran’s population.

As noted above, not many on the right are going to be honest enough to speak openly of war. The Republican presidential candidates, for example, don’t want the American public to think they’re crazy, so they won’t admit this—although interestingly, Rick Santorum became, I believe, the first Republican candidate to call for up to 10,000 U.S. combat troops on the ground to fight the so-called Islamic State.

With regard to Iran, the candidates hide behind the usual euphemisms. But a few war-makers are coming out of the closet. Matt Welch of Reason noted last week that on a panel at CPAC, both John Bolton and new Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton spoke openly of the desire for regime change in Iran. Bolton said U.S. policy toward Iran should be “overthrow of the ayatollahs.” Cotton added that we need regime change and “replacement with a pro-Western regime.”

Where is Netanyahu on this? Every indication he’s given us is that he’s on the Bolton-Cotton team. I don’t doubt that the prime minister sincerely believes that a nuclear-armed Islamic Republic would be catastrophic for Israel, and we should not dismiss that concern. No opponent of the neoconservative approach should be foolish enough to think that we can trust Iran. Israel has good reason to be worried. (I will, however, mention here Israel’s own 100-odd nuclear warheads, just on principle, because they always go unmentioned in columns like these.)

So Netanyahu wants, at the very least, a bombing campaign. But you know as well as I do that most of the leading experts say Iran’s centrifuge capacities are now too numerous and too geographically disparate for a bombing campaign of the usual scope to be very effective. That means a bombing campaign of unusual scope.

Do Netanyahu and Bolton really expect that Iran would not retaliate in such a case? Of course it would retaliate. And far more likely against Israel than against the United States. But the United States would be dragged into it, which is exactly what Bolton and Cotton told CPAC we should all want.

It seems to be what Netanyahu wants, too. It’s what he wanted back in 2002, when—then as a private citizen—he went to Congress and made the case for war against Iraq. As Josh Marshall noted last week, some of his words from back then are enough to make you shudder: “If you take out Saddam, Saddam’s regime, I guarantee you that it will have enormous positive reverberations on the region.”

It had the opposite effect, of course. It strengthened Iran and gave us ISIS. And now we’re supposed to make up for that huge mistake by trusting Netanyahu and the neocons again?

I’m sure Netanyahu’s words will be measured Tuesday. He wants Israel’s levels of support in America to be high, and he wants to win re-election. But don’t be fooled. He and his Republican backers are leading us down a potentially catastrophic path. And catastrophic not least for Israel itself: If this path someday reaches its logical end point, it won’t be only liberal Democrats in America who’ll conclude that we should just let Israel fight its own battles.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, March 2, 2015

March 3, 2015 Posted by | Benjamin Netanyahu, Congress, Foreign Policy | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Viva La Incompétence!”: Boehner’s and Bibi’s Blunders ‘Liberate’ U.S. Foreign Policy From NeoCons

It’s all happening because I am completely ignoring every urge towards common sense and good judgment I’ve ever had–George Costanza, “Seinfeld”.

President Dwight Eisenhower warned against the growing power of the military-industrial complex, but even the former 5-star general Supreme Allied Commander in World War II couldn’t do it. The quagmire of Vietnam couldn’t do it. The quicksand of Iraq couldn’t do it. The killing fields of Cambodia couldn’t do it. The Bush/Cheney failure on 9/11 couldn’t do it. Allowing bin Laden to escape at Tora Bora, and then failing to find and capture him, couldn’t do it. Allowing Pakistan to develop the “Islamic bomb” couldn’t do it.

Even the election of the Iraq invasion’s opponent as president couldn’t do it.

But, John Boehner (R-OH) has done it.

He cannot do much else, but he has achieved what no other politician could do for half a century: expose the entire Republican national security “brand” as a fraud.

Remember the pious platitudes about the first function of government to be protecting the American people? Remember the decades of demagoguery skewering Democrats as being lax on security issues, the disgusting draft-dodging Saxby Chambliss leveling that accusation on war hero and triple amputee Max Cleland (D-GA) in the waning days of a senate campaign? Recall the Bush/Cheney 2004 ads showing snarling wolves that would be unleashed against the American people if John Kerry were elected?

Now, thanks to Speaker Boehner, the Republicans have no credibility or standing on national security. None, zero, zorch, nada. The next time you hear a Republican bleating about national security, you can have a good laugh.

They were willing to leave us vulnerable, and took their threats to the brink.

A minimally competent Democratic party should be and would be screaming bloody murder. After all, Republicans are playing political games with our lives and our families’ security. Democrats would be filling the airwaves and the (now-neutral!) net non-stop, spreading the alarm to “every town, middlesex, village and farm” that Republicans will sacrifice our nation’s safety, and raise legitimate issues about their love of country.

[Not hearing that? Well, do not ignore the qualifier “minimally competent”.]

Not to be outdone, however, Bibi’s blunder is even worse for the neoconistas. At least since the Yom Kippur war in 1973, and perhaps earlier as well, it has been virtually impossible for US foreign policy to diverge in meaningful ways (i.e., those that might actually lead to peace) from Israel’s as defined by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). Any president, member of Congress, or candidate who criticized Israeli policy, who even spoke about pressuring Israel was immediately pounced upon by AIPAC, carrying with it the threat of political oblivion.

Until Bibi’s blunder, support for Israel was considered to be 100% support for whatever the government of Israel du jour decided to do.

The political price to be paid for deviating from that support was always more of the myth than reality. American Jews, although backing Israel, nevertheless vote more on economic and social issues than they do on competing claims of which candidates are helping Israel more.

Now, that myth is exposed. President Obama and many Democrats are shunning Bibi, but not wavering in their support of Israel. They refuse to be pawns in his political games to win the Israeli election. They refuse to scuttle prematurely the opportunity of avoiding another major armed conflict. They refuse to compromise the moral authority the US will have achieved by going the last mile with Iran if the negotiations fail.

From this day forth, presidents and members of Congress can oppose new settlements on the West Bank as impediments to peace without waiting until their retirements. They can let the Israelis know that our support is strong, but that we have expectations of them, too, that need to be honored.

Thanks to John Boehner (R-OH), Republicans have relinquished their (specious) claim to caring more and fighting harder to perform government’s primary mission, safety and security. Fearmongering 101 is not only no longer available to them, it will be fodder for mockery.

And, thanks to Bibi, liberated from the need to express support for everything any Israeli government does as a measure of how much they support Israel, the US will now become a more effective partner to bring peace and security to Israel and dignity to Palestinians.

Bibi has neglected to realize that Americans, like other people, do not appreciate a foreign leader who deliberately tries to embarrass the President, just like foreign countries tend not to enjoy being invaded and occupied.

There has always been a segment of the population who cannot abide a black man in the White House, especially exercising the powers of his office. The visual images rankle. [Obama is not just the first person of color to be president, he is the first black man ever to rule a white majority nation]. Some of that same segment, however, may find themselves for the first time siding emotionally with him as President when an Israeli (yes, Jewish) leader tries to embarrass him.

By asserting American priorities and not being cowed by Bibi’s influence in the US, the President will gain support among the American people, not just from his own base, but from die-hard opponents as well, exactly the opposite of what Bibi wanted.

Achieving the precise opposite of one’s intended outcome is one definition of incompetence. The US adventures in Vietnam and Iraq spring immediately to mind.

Boehner’s and Bibi’s blunders have liberated US foreign policy from the iron grip of the neoconistas.

Viva la incompétence!

 

By: Paul Abrams, The Blog, The Hufington Post, February 28, 2015

March 1, 2015 Posted by | Benjamin Netanyahu, John Boehner, National Security | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Ham Handed Politics”: Netanyahu Becomes Political Player, So Kerry Treats Him Like One

Secretary of State John Kerry testified on Capitol Hill yesterday, and going into the hearing, it was widely expected that he’d tout the importance of international nuclear talks with Iran. He did exactly that, though he also went a little further in challenging a critic of those talks.

Secretary of State John Kerry reminded Americans on Wednesday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, who is expected to denounce a potential nuclear deal with Iran during an address to Congress next week, also visited Washington in late 2002 to lobby for the invasion of Iraq.

Apparently referring to testimony on the Middle East that Mr. Netanyahu delivered to Congress on Sept. 12, 2002, when he was a private citizen, Mr. Kerry told the House Foreign Affairs Committee, “The prime minister, as you will recall, was profoundly forward-leaning and outspoken about the importance of invading Iraq under George W. Bush, and we all know what happened with that decision.”

In 2002, Netanyahu assured lawmakers that invading Iraq was a great idea. “If you take out Saddam, Saddam’s regime, I guarantee you that it will have enormous positive reverberations on the region,” he said at the time.

We now know, of course, that Netanyahu’s guarantee was spectacularly wrong, which matters insofar as credibility still counts – the same Israeli leader is now telling lawmakers an international agreement with Iran would be a disaster for the United States and its allies. Kerry’s point wasn’t subtle: those who were this wrong before probably shouldn’t be trusted to be right now.

There’s something almost refreshing about this. Note, there’s nothing personal or even electoral about the administration’s message – Kerry didn’t offer some prolonged complaint about Netanyahu and the Israeli elections, or the unprecedented nature of the prime minister’s partnership with congressional Republicans.

It’s far more straightforward. Netanyahu has positioned himself as a participant in a policy debate and, at the same time, he’s claiming great credibility on the subject matter. The White House is responding in kind, treating Netanyahu as a policy rival.

What’s wrong with this? Actually, nothing.

We’re accustomed to foreign heads of state, at least publicly, approaching these kinds of disagreements with great care and delicacy, but the Israeli leader has forgone the usual route and is engaging in a fight as if he were just another political pugilist.

Netanyahu effectively told Obama and his team, “I’m going to try to derail American foreign policy,” to which administration officials have replied, “And we’re going to try to stop you.”

In yesterday’s case, that meant doing a little research and presenting lawmakers with a reminder about Netanyahu’s track record.

Kerry’s comments came soon after Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) announced he will not attend the Israeli prime minister’s speech next week, calling the event “highly inappropriate.” Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), who is Jewish and represents a district with a large Jewish population, also said yesterday she’ll skip the joint-session of address, criticizing “the ham-handed politics” surrounding the Netanyahu/Republican partnership.

Barring an unexpected change, the Israeli leader will be on the House floor for his speech on Tuesday, March 3. As of yesterday, 25 House Democrats and four members of the Senate Democratic caucus have said they will not be there.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, February 26, 2015

February 27, 2015 Posted by | Benjamin Netanyahu, Congress, John Kerry | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Far Exceeding Necessity, Formal Budgets And Good Taste”: Report Blasts Israel’s Netanyahu For Lavish Personal Spending

In a scathing report with potential political and criminal repercussions, Israel’s state comptroller sharply criticized Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday for excessive spending of public funds in his official and private residences.

The highly anticipated report, which came just four weeks before Israeli elections, faulted Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, for using public funds to spend lavishly on a variety of personal goods and services, including cleaning, clothing, water and grooming, between 2009 and 2012. The spending dropped after that.

Netanyahu defended his behavior, but political opponents seized on the report. Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog said he found the findings infuriating.

“But it is not because of how you conduct yourself in your homes that the public wants to replace you, but because you have destroyed our home,” Herzog wrote on Facebook. “We will replace you because on your shift, Hamas grows stronger … young couples cannot buy a house … because you eat a $5,000 breakfast when every third child in Israel goes to bed hungry.”

The Netanyahus live and work in the official prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem and keep a private home in Caesarea, one of the country’s priciest spots. According to the report by Comptroller Joseph Shapira, spending on both often far exceeded necessity, formal budgets and good taste. In addition, the report pointed to improprieties in management of finances, human resources and external contractors.

When Netanyahu took office in 2009, expenses at both residences totaled roughly a half-million dollars a year. By 2011, that had roughly doubled before dropping to about $600,000 in 2013. Food and hosting expenses alone started out at about $55,000 and more than doubled to about $125,000 in 2011. After a modest cut in expenses the following year, expenses for 2013 dropped to near the 2009 level.

Cleaning both residences came with a particularly high price tag: a monthly average of about $20,000 between 2009 and 2013, including more than $2,000 a month for the Caesarea house, which was usually empty. Shapira found this spending “significantly exaggerated.”

About $20,000 a year was spent to order meal deliveries, despite employing an in-house cook. These and other expenses, Shapira wrote, were “not compatible with the basic principles of proportionality, reasonability, economy and efficiency.”

Personal grooming expenses for the prime minister and his wife totaled well over $100 a day, which Shapira found to be more than double the budgeted amount.

Some of the findings could lead to criminal proceedings. According to the report, Sara Netanyahu finagled employing an electrician who was barred by protocol because he was a personal friend and a member of the prime minister’s political party, Likud.

Justice authorities will have to decide how to address other breaches, including money kept temporarily from recycling bottles from the official residence several years ago and a set of patio furniture bought for the official residence but transferred to the private one. While these were noted in the report, they were not officially investigated.

“Public trust in government institutions is a cornerstone of every democracy,” Shapira wrote, adding that such institutions must gain this trust by adhering to both law and “moral norms.” While he welcomed the apparent cost-cutting after 2012, the comptroller said “one would expect an elected public official to demonstrate extra sensitivity … and serve as an exemplary model of saving public funds.”

Netanyahu was well-prepared for the report, as his attorneys and aides responded swiftly with a press conference, stressing there were no grounds for criminal concerns. The prime minister, said his spokesman, Nir Hefetz, respects the report and has instructed his staff to act on its recommendations.

A statement from Netanyahu’s Likud party accused the news media of pushing the issue for weeks in a “clear effort to remove the prime minister from office … through a focus on irrelevant minutia.”

The statement added that the uproar was distracting from “the real issue at hand,” which is “who will defend Israel in the face of the real security threats and pressure from the international community” — Netanyahu or rivals Herzog and Tzipi Livni.

But for others, money matters are a real issue, and the prime minister’s spending has struck a nerve with some voters who are concerned about the high cost of living and are demanding what they consider a more just distribution of resources.

Housing prices have soared since Netanyahu took office, and with 1.6 million people below the poverty line, Israel has the third highest poverty rate in the 34-nation Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

 

By: Batsheva Sobelman, Special Correspondent, Los Angeles Times (TNS); The National Memo, February 17, 2015

 

February 18, 2015 Posted by | Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel, Poverty | , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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