Tuesday, February 24, 2015

With Netanyahu, Congress is only making it worse

On March 3rd the prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, will be coming to Washington to speak to a joint session of congress, about…practically whatever he wants. Apparently the subject has not been nailed down. But that is no matter, in a house that has had comedians, world leaders, and religious leaders address this body over the centuries, one more leader from some far off country should not be a bad thing, right? It will boost C-SPAN ratings, (that phrase sounded weird just writing it) and might even keep all of the members of congress awake through an entire legislative day, definitely an epic task.

Wrong. People will definitely be awake, but not just because of interest. Tension will be as high as the dome under which the join-session will be meeting-in the same hall where the president gave his State of the Union Speech just over a month ago.
For you see, the president doesn’t want Netanyahu to speak before congress. Congress didn’t ask Obama, they can have who they want, and there is little the president can do about it besides either taking it like a grownup or start an epic pouting period. Or he could just not say anything about it at all, which probably have been the sensible thing to do. But this is Washington DC we are talking about…
A firestorm of argument has been lit off all around the country by this.
But while Obama stalks about making arguments against Netanyahu coming-some good, some not, we must remember that the president of here and the prime minister of there have not always been on the best of terms. Someone in the White House said “there will be consequences” for Netanyahu for coming. Whatever that means.

Some would paint it simply as Barak Obama feeling left out of the loop. He will not be meeting Netanyahu at all when he comes. But there is another, deeper reason for concern about this. Traditionally  speaking, congress asks the White House before inviting people, especially foreign leaders from wild parts of the world like the Middle East.
And this is where the blame begins to fall on congress.
The president is not only America’s number one diplomat; he is the final decider on American foreign policy. And a part of that foreign policy currently is trying to make sure Iran does not build itself a nuclear bomb. As a close neighbor to that country, as one of our greatest allies, as one of our great friends who should always remain so, Israel, and by extension Netanyahu is a part of those ongoing talks, as is our president, of course. Israel and America have been on the same side almost since our great allies’ nation was created less than seventy years ago. But were these talks to break down, and were we to leave Israel threatened with a nuclear bomb due to our lack of good diplomacy, that could cause tension even higher than the capitol dome.

And if all is not well in the strategy room-if Netanyahu and Obama are bickering, even about something as little as Bibi speaking to congress, then our opponents will take note, and notice that we are arguing. Obama and Netanyahu have had problems before, and this only highlights it. When, in the 90s, Saddam Hussein saw internal arguing, he saw it as a sign of weakness, and thought he could start a war. We don’t know what could happen if Iran thought they saw weakness.
And the fracturing is not just on the foreign front, this is not helping things at home, either. On the Keystone Pipeline Bill the senate passed, the president is threatening to veto it. On the immigration action the president recently signed, congress is threatening to overturn it. The Republican Congress and the Democratic President don’t agree on much. Originally both sides said they were going to try to be bipartisan in their dealings with each other, and instead they are fighting on everything, down to whether one of our own allies should speak to congress. Netanyahu coming is only making things worse. This is not some massive piece of legislation; no great moral principle is here at stake. This is just argument almost for argument’s sake.
If congress wanted someone to come talk to them, they should have called a comedian. Then C-Span’s ratings really would have sky-rocketed. Ten people might have watched.

Andrew C. Abbott

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