By Alemayehu G. Mariam
Minister Benjamin (“Bibi”) Netenyahu addressed a joint session of the United States Congress to deliver his diktat: Pass a law to prevent President Obama from negotiating with Iran because any U.S. agreement with Iran is not worth the paper it is written on. “We’re better off without it,” exhorted Netenyahu.
It was an astonishing act of chutzpah!
It takes guts for a leader of a small country to walk into the “legislature of the most powerful country in the world”, as Netenyahu described it, and demand the President of the United States stop conducting foreign relations because he disapproves.
Nearly 80 years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the “exclusive power of the President as the sole organ of the federal government in the field of international relations—a power which does not require as a basis for its exercise an act of Congress…” Perhaps Netenyahu and the Republican leadership are oblivious of that landmark case.
For President Barack Obama, the Bibi show in Congress was just drama. “I am not focused in the politics of this. I am not focused on the theatre. As far as I can tell, there was nothing new. On the core issue, which is how to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon which would make it far more dangerous, the prime minister did not offer any viable alternatives”, expounded Obama with an air of professorial finesse.
Netenyahu wants the U.S. to chuck the current negotiations with Iran because if successful it will spell doomsday. “If the deal now being negotiated is accepted by Iran, that deal will not prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons – it will all but guarantee that Iran will get those nuclear weapons – lots of them.”
The Republican leadership in Congress was fully behind Netenyahu. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) promised debate on a bill to shackle President Obama from finalizing a nuclear deal with Iran without approval by Congress.
Some 50 Democratic members turned their backs on Netenyahu; others attended but chafed. Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) issued a statement expressing her deep disappointment. “I was near tears throughout the Prime Minister’s speech — saddened by the insult to the intelligence of the United States as part of the P5 +1 nations, and saddened by the condescension toward our knowledge of the threat posed by Iran and our broader commitment to preventing nuclear proliferation.”
Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) commended President Obama for his efforts and opined, “Netenyahu did not offer any serious alternatives to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.” Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) declared, “Speaker Boehner has poisoned a critical foreign policy discussion with partisan gamesmanship.” Senator Al Franken (D-MN) described Netenyahu’s speech as “partisan spectacle” for the “impending Israeli election”.
Netenyahu articulated some serious concerns shared widely among U.S. policy makers about a nuclear-armed Iran. The Iranian government cannot be trusted to abide by any deal. If the Iranian government obtains nuclear weapons, it will trigger a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. The Iranian government supports terrorism and responds only to force or strict sanctions.
President Obama says the choice in Iran is either war or negotiations. He believes it is possible to negotiate a deal that would prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons and avoid catastrophic regional war.
There are no easy answers to the age old problems of the Middle East. There is, however, a tough question about the partisan process used by Speaker Boehner to invite Netenyahu, without consulting the President or the State Department. Would Boehner have invited Netenyahu to speak and embarrass the President if Obama had not black? That is the one question that weighs heavily on the minds of many people, including large segments of the African American community. (Actually, there is a second big question that weighs heavily on the minds of African Americans: Why is the Congressional Republican leadership boycotting the 50thAnniversary of the Selma March in Selma, Alabama on March 6, 2015?)
It may have been Netenyahu’s “shining moment” to stand before a joint session of Congress and lecture and hector President Obama. Macho Man Bibi may have stroked his own ego by giving President Obama a tongue lashing and verbal public flogging. Perhaps that plays well among his supporters at home.
The public image Netenyahu painted in his speech in the U.S. is unmistakable. He is top dog, Obama is underdog. (I did not say the tail wags the dog.) The joint session looked like a wrestling match with underdog Obama in one corner and the mean and lean tag team machine of “The Axis of Failure” with Boehner, McConnell and Netenyahu in the other.
Senator McConnell is no friend of Obama. On October 23, 2010 McConnell told a reporter, “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) also “hoped that President Obama’s policies don’t succeed.” Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN), Chairman of the House Republican Caucus in March 2009 asked if he agreed with Rush Limbaugh’s claim that “all Republicans want Barack Obama to fail,” “[Y]ou bet, we want [those policies to fail”. Netenyahu says Obama’s negotiation with Iran will certainly fail. “We’re better off without it.”
But why would the Republican leaders and Netenyahu want Obama to fail? If the President of the United States fails, doesn’t that necessarily mean America itself fails in some significant way? America’s allies also fail? What logic would ever justify wishing and actively working to ensure the failure of an American president? Should there even be public talk by the highest policy makers about the necessity and certainty of failure by an American president?
Would the Republican leaders have invited Netenyahu to address Congress if the president had been, say, Jeb Bush who was conducting the negotiations with Iran? Did Boehner’s and McConnell’s predecessors ever openly and defiantly declare that they wanted to see Bill Clinton’s presidency fail?
Perhaps Boehner and McConnell want to provide a platform for Netenyahu to show that Obama is a failure not only on domestic social and political issues, but also in foreign policy. Perhaps Netenyahu wanted to show his unbridled contempt for Obama.
What the world saw on March 3 was Boehner, McConnell and Netenyahu ganging up on Obama. It was the top three dogs against the one underdog. That ain’t a fair fight. I always root for the underdog, the poor guy or gal getting kicked around, even if the underdog is the President of the United States. I believe that “with but a few exceptions, it is always the underdog who wins through sheer will power.” Of all people, Netenyahu should appreciate that maxim.
I have major differences with President Obama in his human rights policy in Africa. I have been hypercritical of his human rights policy deficit in Africa: He speaks with soaring rhetoric but takes little action to back up his rhetoric.
I disagreed with President George W. Bush (43) on a number of policy issues, but I always acknowledged and respected him for his enormous contributions to fighting AIDS in Africa. I disagreed with him over the war in Iraq passionately; but I never wished him failure in everything, which is what the “Axis of Failure Mongers” wishes Obama.
Underdogs always win through sheer will power. I pray Obama, the underdog, succeeds as President because he was elected by the American people twice. If he fails, the American people who put him in office fail; we all fail. In the final analysis, whether we like or dislike Obama as a person, the fact remains that he is our president. Our respect or lack thereof for the individual occupying the office of President of the United States should never be confused with the constitutional office of the President of the United States. I believe Boehner, McConnell and Netanyahu showed flagrant disrespect for that great office. I believe Netanyahu spoke out of turn and in depraved indifference to American constitutional process.
My greatest fears and best hopes about America are expressed by two Republicans. Abe Lincoln said, “America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.”
Condoleezza Rice, the first African American woman Secretary of State under the Bush Administration said, “The essence of America – that which really unites us – is not ethnicity, or nationality or religion – it is an idea – and what an idea it is: That you can come from humble circumstances and do great things.”
Obama is the essence of America. I wish Boehner and McConnell would contemplate the wisdom of their Republican predecessors.
As for Bibi Netenyahu, I would only share with him a piece of ancient African wisdom. “When elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers.”
By Alemayehu G. Mariam