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Blinded By The Right: Unwavering Support For Israel Hurts Wider U.S. Interests In The Middle East.

In 2003, Democrats upset about President George W. Bush’s plans to invade Iraq invited French President Jacques Chirac, an opponent of the war, to address a joint meeting of Congress. It was blatant political play, an attempt by the opposition to work with a foreign leader in offering a counterargument to the president’s invasion plans and limit his ability to carry though with his decision to go to war in the Middle East. Chirac was feted across Washington by liberal think tanks and pro-French lobbying groups as American politicians and Democratic activists fell over themselves to be identified with a strong anti-war leader.

This, of course, did not happen. The idea that Congress would openly side with a foreign leader against the president of the United States seems too far-fetched to believe. Remarkably, however, something not dissimilar happened in Washington Tuesday, May 24, as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke to a joint meeting of Congress (a speech interrupted more than 25 times by a rapturous standing ovation). While these types of congressional addresses are rare, this particular event is even a bit more unusual: The speech’s intention — with the full assistance and backing of the Republican leadership in Congress and implicit support of Democrats — was to give Netanyahu a public forum to offer a rebuttal to President Barack Obama’s recent proposals for moving forward with the Arab-Israeli peace process.

As the New York Times reported last week, the invitation was initially requested by Netanyahu of the GOP leadership before the president’s Middle East speech plans had even been formalized: It was “widely interpreted as an attempt to get out in front of Mr. Obama, by presenting an Israeli peace proposal that, while short of what the Palestinians want, would box in the president.” In turn, Obama’s May 19 speech was scheduled purposely so that the president could get out ahead of Bibi’s remarks.

It’s one thing for Republicans to oppose the president’s position on Arab-Israeli peace. In the hours after Obama’s Middle East speech, Republican presidential contenders like Tim Pawlenty and Mitt Romney did just that, arguing that the president had proverbially thrown Israel “under the bus.” (Never mind that Obama simply reiterated long-standing U.S. policy toward the Arab-Israeli peace process.) They were joined — in a bipartisan manner — by prominent Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, in offering pushback on the president’s words.

It is certainly appropriate for members of Congress to disagree with the president’s foreign-policy agenda. But it’s something else altogether to be appearing to work in concert with the leader of another country in trying to put the president on the defensive –and seeking to score a partisan political advantage in the process. By openly siding with Netanyahu against Obama and making Arab-Israeli peace a partisan issue, Republicans in Congress are at serious risk of crossing a dangerous line and in the process undermining U.S. interests in the Middle East.

This behavior follows a concerning pattern. Last November, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, after a meeting with Netanyahu, suggested that a Republican Congress would serve as a check on the Obama administration when it came to Israel policy (a position he later sought to walk back). In the fall of 2009, Cantor criticized the Obama administration for its rebuke of the Israeli government over the eviction of Palestinian families in East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood. Most surprising of all, the attack was lodged from Jerusalem, where Cantor was heading a 25-person GOP delegation — an unusual violation of the unspoken rule that members of Congress should refrain from criticizing the U.S. government while on foreign soil. Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee took a similar position this February while traveling in Israel. He called the Obama administration’s opposition to Israeli settlements (a position long held by Democratic and Republican presidents) equivalent to “racism” and “apartheid.”

Last week, as Netanyahu lectured Obama at a frosty White House news conference and issued statements on what he “expected to hear” from the president about his commitment to Israeli security, Republican lawmakers barely batted an eye at behavior that by any other foreign leader would spark outrage from their caucus — and instead aimed their attacks at Obama.

This seems at pace with the GOP’s default position on Israel. This February, writing in the pages of National Review, Romney stated that “Israel must now contend with the fact that its principal backer in the world, the United States, is seeking to ingratiate itself with Arab opinion at its expense.” It’s a view that no doubt would have been met with astonishment in Arab capitals, where America’s image remains largely negative. One can’t help but wonder whether the tail isn’t wagging the dog — after all, is there a reason that the United States shouldn’t seek to ingratiate itself with Arab public opinion? There is an implicit assumption here that no matter what Israel says or does the United States must continue to be blindly supportive — an odd stance for an American politician to take, particularly when Israel’s actions occasionally run counter to larger U.S. interests.

Although one cannot ignore the fact that strongly held empathy for Israel is, in part, motivating this position, there is of course a healthy dose of domestic politicking at work. Democrats have long relied on Jewish support — both electorally and financially. Republicans, though less reliant on Jewish voters, have successfully made support for Israel a litmus test for Democrats to prove their national security mettle. Moreover, with strong backing for Israel among the party’s conservative base, defending Israeli behavior has become a surefire way for Republicans to politically cater to social conservatives and evangelical voters. In fact, Israel probably enjoys more clear-cut support for its policies among social conservatives than it does among American Jews! (And Netanyahu, in particular, didn’t just fall into this love fest: He has long supported and helped spearhead the alliance between the Israeli right wing and American religious conservatives.)

All this is a very far cry from George H.W. Bush’s open conflict with Israel and the American Jewish community in 1991 over loan guarantees for Israeli settlements. That the perception continues to exist that Bush’s aggressive stance cost him severely in the 1992 presidential election no doubt haunts the Republican Party — and any American politician inclined to put public pressure on Israeli leaders.

But ultimately there is more than politics at stake here. At a critical moment in the political transformation of the Middle East, America’s steadfast and unyielding support for Israel — underwritten by both parties in Congress — risks undermining America’s long-term interests in the region. Last year, Gen. David Petraeus commented in congressional testimony that “Arab anger over the Palestinian question limits the strength and depth of U.S. partnerships with governments and peoples [in the region].” His statement provoked controversy in Washington, but ask any seasoned Middle East observer and you’d be hard-pressed to find one who disagrees with the general’s assessment. It is not Iraq, Afghanistan, or Libya which is the greatest source of anti-American attitudes in the Arab world — it is the continued lack of resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict and the view of many in the region that the United States has its thumb on the scale in favor of Israel.

None of this is to suggest that Washington should turn its back on the Jewish state. But this is also a time when a more evenhanded position on the conflict is desperately needed — particularly as the United States will need to deal with a new government in Cairo that will likely be less supportive of Israel, a wave of unsteady democratic reforms spreading across the Mideast, and a U.N. General Assembly that appears ready to endorse Palestinian statehood this fall. These events will have serious repercussions not just for Israel but for U.S. policy in the region. Obama at least seems to realize this fact and has — albeit tepidly — challenged a recalcitrant Israel to get serious about peace. Yet Congress seems intent on restraining his leverage, effectively holding U.S. actions hostage to the whims of partisan politics — and in the process working in concert with a foreign leader to do it. At some point, it raises the legitimate question of who is looking out not for Israel’s interests, but America’s.

By: MIchael A. Cohen, Foreign Policy, May 24, 2011

May 26, 2011 Posted by | Congress, Conservatives, Democrats, Foreign Governments, Foreign Policy, GOP, Government, Middle East, Politics, President Obama, Republicans | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Speaker Boehner In The Temple Of Tea Party Doom

Speaker of the House John Boehner looked as tanned and dashing as Indiana Jones escaping the Temple of Doom last week. He came out alive. He captured some treasure in the form of budget cuts. His friends shake their heads in amazement.

But the worried look on our hero’s face is a sly clue that he knows this is not the end of the movie. It is the start. And the worst is yet to come.

When the Speaker told ABC last week that there is no “daylight” between him and the Tea Party Caucus it was because they are wrapped around his neck like an albatross.

The Tea Party’s tremendous success in the mid-term elections elevated him to the speaker’s chair. But the Tea Party freshmen are all about talk radio rhetoric, campaign slogans and reveling in the widespread discontent with American politics. They have yet to display any capacity to govern.

By forcing the nation to wait on a last-minute deal, the Speaker was able to go back to his Tea Party freshmen and claim he got the best deal possible from the Democratic majority in the Senate and the President. But what he demonstrated to moderate and independent voters, as well as Republicans not entranced by the Tea Party, is that the least experienced, most extreme elements of the party are now defining the Republican brand with hysterical stunt governing.

The Speaker has been around long enough to know Republicans got blamed in the last government shutdown and he told his caucus they likely faced the same fate if there was a shutdown this time. But with widespread doubts among the freshmen as to whether Boehner is sufficiently conservative because he is willing to negotiate with Democrats the Speaker had to pretend he was not compromising. After his long, steady climb to power in Congress it is incredible and sad Boehner now finds himself unable to present himself as a trustworthy, responsible steward of the American government.

That is not the image the Tea Party freshmen want from the Speaker. They want him pulling stunts. They want to hear him attacking the President and calling out the Democrats in Congress as big spenders. And the Tea Party had veto power over the deal.

It is no wonder the Speaker reportedly complained to the Tea Party Caucus early last week that he felt they “abandoned” him when 54 of them voted against him on a continuing resolution.

This is the Tea Party that delighted in the theatrics surrounding a possible shutdown even after Democrats met the GOP’s original demand for more than $30 billion in budget cuts.

And that was before Tea Party freshmen made the Speaker and their own party look shallow and hysterical by turning a serious fight over cutting the deficit into a sideshow on abortion when spending federal money on abortion is already banned.

The polls that once showed Democrats and Republicans sharing blame over a shutdown began to shift against the Republicans. Self-identified Tea Party members made up the lone group open to a shutdown. And in a key shift brought on by the Republican hard-line, the independents who voted with Republicans last fall and said government was too intrusive now tell pollsters they want government to do more.

In a column for the National Journal last week, ace political handicapper Charlie Cook wrote: “Among the worries the party now has is that a government shutdown could get blamed on the GOP.” Looking ahead to debates about major cuts to entitlement spending, such as Medicare, in the 2012 budget, the Republicans now seem to have squandered credibility. Cook concluded that “these party insiders believe that taking on entitlements, specifically Medicare, could jeopardize the party’s hold on the House, its strong chances of taking the Senate and the stronghold that the party has established with older, white voters — not coincidentally, Medicare recipients.”  

 But the Speaker apparently felt he had no choice but to dance to the tune set by the Tea Party freshmen because he is leery of the ambitious young guns on his leadership team, Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). They are developing their own lines of loyalty among the Tea Party freshmen.

Boehner has seen this movie before. He was a freshman in 1997 when a member of Speaker Newt Gingrich’s team, Rep. Bill Paxon of New York, launched a coup against Gingrich. In addition, elements of the Tea Party are already looking for a candidate to run against Boehner on the charge he is too willing to compromise with Democrats.

Democrats are happy with a weakened Boehner because every public stumble gives middle-of-the road swing voters more faith in President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). With more budget battles coming soon, the Democrats are looking like steady hands, sensible statesmen as opposed to the reckless and political Republicans.

That leaves Boehner with little running room as the next series of battles over the debt ceiling and next year’s budget comes. At the last hour he survived last week’s fight. But the future does not look good for our hero.

By: Juan Williams, Opinion Writer, The Hill, April 11, 2011

April 12, 2011 Posted by | Budget, Congress, Conservatives, Debt Crisis, Deficits, Democrats, Economy, Elections, GOP, Government, Government Shut Down, Independents, Lawmakers, Medicare, Politics, President Obama, Republicans, Right Wing, Swing Voters, Teaparty, Voters | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How Small Differences Could Lead To A Government Shutdown

We’re hours away from a shutdown, yet there’s still no deal. The negotiations have become slightly reminiscent of Max Baucus’s Gang of Six: a group of people in a room who desperately want to agree on something but can’t figure out how to get the people outside the room to sign off on it. You can tell that Reid and Boehner want to come to an agreement. But having taken Democrats past the Republican leadership’s opening offer of $32 billion in cuts, Boehner can’t take them much further. But so far as the Tea Party is concerned, Boehner still has not taken them far enough.

Boehner and Reid say they’ve “narrowed the issues.” That means they’re very close on total spending cuts (somewhere around $35 billion) and very clear on what’s left to negotiate. The problem, however, is that as small as a policy rider over federal funding for Planned Parenthood might be, the distance between the two parties on the underlying issue is great. Democrats were appalled yesterday when Republicans made a one-week stopgap contingent on a rider barring Washington, DC from using its own money to fund abortion for low-income women (so much for home rule). The stop gap went nowhere, even though the issue of how DC can use its own funds is, in the national context, small.

And the problem isn’t just the policy. What the two parties are trying to prove about themselves, and about their relationship going forward, is very big. John Boehner is trying to convince Republicans in the House and Republicans in the country that they can trust him, that he’s conservative enough and steely enough to represent their interests in negotiations with the Democrats. And Democrats are trying to show that they will not be rolled over in negotiations simply because the Tea Party is unwilling to compromise, that they still control the Senate and the White House and they plan to act like it. These negotiations are really about the next negotiations, and the negotiations after that. Both parties worry that if they compromise now, they only embolden the other side later. And later is when the stakes get really high.

For that reason, more than a few observers and participants have suggested to me that perhaps a shutdown tonight would be healthy. Better, they say, that Democrats and Republicans test what happens if they refuse to compromise now, when the consequences can be contained, than later, when the fight will be over the debt ceiling and the consequences could be catastrophic. That they may be right is a depressing commentary on the forces buffeting our political system right now, and the very real, very large risks they pose to the country.

By Ezra Klein, The Washington Post, April 8, 2011

April 8, 2011 Posted by | Congress, Conservatives, Democrats, Economy, Federal Budget, GOP, Government Shut Down, Ideologues, Lawmakers, Planned Parenthood, Politics, Republicans, Right Wing, Teaparty | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Would John Boehner And The Republicans Shut Down The Government Over Planned Parenthood?

The good news is, Democrats and Republicans have reportedly reached a general agreement on the size of the cuts for the rest of the fiscal year. As of this morning, the package is up to $34.5 billion, from $33 billion, and now reportedly includes some additional reductions in military spending.

The bad news, Republicans still want to use the budget to wage a culture war, and tomorrow night, will shut down the government to advance this agenda.

Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the top Democrat in the Senate, said Thursday morning that he is “not nearly as optimistic” about avoiding a shutdown as he was after a Wednesday night Oval Office meeting and said “it looks like it’s headed in that direction.”

Mr. Reid said that Republicans have “drawn a line in the sand” on issues of abortion funding and changes to the clean air act, and he said those issues could not be resolved in the hours left before a government shutdown.

“The numbers are basically there. But I am not as nearly as optimistic, and that’s an understatement, as I was eleven hours ago,” Mr. Reid said on the floor of the Senate. “The only thing holding up an agreement is ideology.”

In case this isn’t already clear, we’re dealing with obvious madness. Republicans want to cut off Planned Parenthood and gut the Clean Air Act, but instead of pursuing legislation to achieve their goals, they’re insisting that this be part of the budget. Democrats can’t go along with this nonsense, and John Boehner is too weak a Speaker to tell his caucus to act like grown-ups, so the entire process is unraveling.

This has led to talk about the GOP shutting down the government over abortion, but even that’s not quite right — Planned Parenthood is already prohibited from using public funds to terminate pregnancies, and has been for many years. What we’re talking about here is Republicans shutting down the government over access to contraception and family planning services.

This is the basis for the GOP hostage strategy.

President Obama will host his third budget talks in as many days in two hours, summoning Boehner and Reid to the Oval Office. Stay tuned.

By: Steve Benen, Political Animal, Washington Monthly, April 7, 2011

April 7, 2011 Posted by | Abortion, Federal Budget, Government Shut Down, Ideologues, Lawmakers, Planned Parenthood, Politics, President Obama, Public, Right Wing, Teaparty, Women's Health | , , , , , | Leave a comment

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