Do they talk this way about Iranian President Hassan Rouhani?
After learning that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had accepted an invitation to address a joint session of Congress about the need for new sanctions to stop Iran’s nuclear program, the Obama administration went . . . well, nuclear.
One “senior American official” threatened Netanyahu, telling the Israeli newspaper Haaretz that “Netanyahu ought to remember that President Obama has a year and a half left to his presidency, and that there will be a price.” Meanwhile a “source close to [Secretary of State John] Kerry” told The Post that the “secretary’s patience is not infinite” and that “playing politics with that relationship could blunt Secretary Kerry’s enthusiasm for being Israel’s primary defender.”
Oh, please. No wonder Netanyahu is going around these people to Congress for support. Is Kerry defending Israel as a favor to Netanyahu, or because it is in the United States’ vital interests to stand with our closest ally in the Middle East? Just the threat of withdrawing that support validates Netanyahu’s suspicion that the Obama administration does not have Israel’s back in its negotiations with Iran.
Using anonymous officials to attack Netanyahu is nothing new. Unnamed officials have called him “chickens---,” “recalcitrant,” “myopic,” “reactionary,” “obtuse,” “blustering,” “pompous,” and “Aspergery” — all to one journalist (Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic, who keeps a running list).
The Obama team’s outrage is a bit overwrought. Clearly, it is not a breach of protocol for a foreign leader to lobby Congress. After all, Obama himself deployed British Prime Minister David Cameron to lobby lawmakers to oppose new sanctions on Iran. It seems Netanyahu’s crime is not so much a breach of diplomatic protocol, but rather, opposing the administration’s position.
The fact that Netanyahu felt compelled to speak directly to Congress in order to oppose the administration’s position speaks poorly, not of Netanyahu, but of Obama. If the leader of one of our closest allies is so worried about the deal Obama is going to cut with Iran that he is willing to risk a diplomatic rift with the administration to speak out, perhaps the problem is not with Israel, but with the Obama administration. And it is not just Israel that opposes Obama’s deal with Iran; Arab leaders have made clear that they share Israel’s view.
No doubt politics plays a role in Netanyahu’s decision to address Congress. His speech will come just two weeks before the Israeli elections. But is it wrong for a politician to use the foreign stage of an ally to buttress his electoral case back home? If it is, then Barack Obama — who gave a campaign speech in Berlin before 200,000 adoring Germans who could not vote for him — is the wrong man to level that criticism.
Obama claims that new sanctions on Iran “will all but guarantee that diplomacy fails.” If the mere threat of sanctions is enough to derail Iran’s nuclear talks, then whatever deal is in the works is not worth having. It means that Obama is far more desperate for a deal than Tehran is — which is a sure-fire way to guarantee a bad agreement.
Obama wants a nuclear deal with Iran because it would be a major feather in his political cap at a time when his foreign policy is imploding across the world, from Yemen to Syria to Iraq. For Israel, Iran’s nuclear program is not a political challenge; it is an existential one.
Obama can afford a bad deal because, as that anonymous official put it, he has a year and a half left to his presidency. The people of Israel, on the other hand, will have to live with the consequences long after Obama is gone.
Netanyahu understands this — which is why it is good that he is coming to Washington, and why House Republicans deserve credit for inviting him.