Bad for us. Bad for them. Bad for everyone.
Earlier today, Benjamin Netanyahu addressed a joint session of Congress for the third time in his political career.
He called his first speech, delivered three weeks after his initial election as Israeli prime minister, “a tribute to the unshakable fact that the unique relationship between Israel and the United States transcends politics and parties, governments and diplomacy.”
His third speech, delivered just two weeks before he faces a frustrated Israeli electorate, could not have been further from that ideal. Having accepted the unilateral invitation of congressional Republicans, Netanyahu aimed to rally Americans against their own president during the delicate final stages of negotiations to contain the Iranian nuclear program.
Let that sink in. Republicans partnered with a foreign government to actively undermine U.S. foreign policy and the President of the United States.
Never in American history has an opposition party convened a special session of Congress for someone to chastise the government. The Israeli prime minister has always loathed Barack Obama, but his decision to openly ally himself with congressional partisans against a sitting president goes beyond the pale. So much for transcending parties and politics.
But at least Netanyahu was doing what he thought best for his people. When John Boehner spent thirteen days arranging the address behind the president’s back, he wasn’t doing it as Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. He was doing it as a Republican eager to score points against a Democrat, as someone willing to put the interests of another country before his own.
American Jews think Netanyahu has gone off the deep end. Israeli officials warned that the speech undermined their own diplomatic efforts across the region. Nearly fifty congressional Democrats boycotted the address, outraged that the Speaker would use them as props in a foreign re-election campaign.
Boehner is delighted. Netanyahu doesn’t care. The prime minister has railed against the supposedly imminent threat of nuclear Iran for nearly twenty years. Nothing has ever come of it, but he thinks that American tax dollars should fund his war drum policies all the same.
Make no mistake, Iran has never been a friend of Israel or the United States. It likely never will be. But Netanyahu didn’t come to Washington to find a solution. He came to deliver a frothing campaign speech before a crucial election. Doomsday rhetoric to stir his political base, nothing more and nothing less.
If the Iranian problem were as simple as he claims, other nations would have already signed on in support. That our allies have time and again backed President Obama instead speaks volumes. Netanyahu has spent two decades trying and failing to defeat Iran by screaming “No!” at everyone around him. You know what they say about the definition of insanity.
None of that mattered to John Boehner. When asked why he chose to blindside the administration, he explained that he “wanted to make sure there was no interference… I frankly didn’t want them getting in the way.” The Constitution may reserve foreign policy for the president, but the Speaker doesn’t seem to care. This from the man suing the president for supposed constitutional overreach. It would be comical if it weren’t so absurd.
But if Republicans won’t listen to their current president, perhaps they’ll heed an older one. Reuters found that “Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson was first to reprimand a foreign dignitary for appealing to Congress over the head of the executive. When Edmond-Charles Genet, who represented the revolutionary government of France, sought congressional support in 1793 for a policy opposed by President Washington, Jefferson brought him up short.”
At the time, Jefferson warned the French to respect the separation of powers in American government. Washington himself would later remind his colleagues that the Constitution made him the “sole channel of official intercourse” with foreign nations and leaders.
What Speaker Boehner and congressional Republicans did today bordered on sedition. They humiliated the president and diminished the United States to score political points for a foreign power. It shouldn’t matter whether that power was Israel or Iran. It was wrong.
We all deserved better.