What would it look like if politics stopped at the water’s edge? It wouldn’t look like the mess that John Boehner created by inviting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address a session of Congress on March 3. By allowing Netanyahu to stage what is effectively a campaign event in the U.S. Capitol, congressional Republicans have not only damaged our relations with Israel but threatened our diplomatic negotiations with Iran.
Even for Boehner, who gets a gold star when he doesn’t let the government shut down, this is a big screw up.
It’s one thing to turn an attack on the U.S. into a partisan drinking word-BENGHAZI!!-but we can all agree that Israel is an important ally, and Iran should never have a nuclear bomb. By trying to one-up Obama, Boehner exposed how much he’s willing to put political gamesmanship ahead of adult statesmanship.
With about two weeks before Netanyahu’s speech, it’s getting tense:
Joe Biden made up an excuse about a prearranged trip to a country to be named later so it doesn’t look like he’s taking sides in Israel’s upcoming elections.
Haaretz, the leading English-language source for news about Israel, wrote that the Boehner-Netanyahu power play is “sabotaging Israel’s most precious asset,” that is, close relations with the United States. The U.S. Ambassador has warned Israeli officials that, “Ultimately, this will have a price” if Netanyahu uses the U.S. Capitol as a stage to criticize ongoing U.S.-led diplomatic negotiations. And though everyone would like this to be about a big partisan slap fight in D.C., the real threat isn’t to our relationship with Israel. This is election-year posturing by Netanyahu. He needs votes, and then he’ll need foreign aid. He’ll get over it. The real problem is that by allowing himself to be used as a pawn by Obama’s political enemies, Netanyahu is helping Iran.
“Unknowingly, Netanyahu has become the Iranians’ secret weapon. If he didn’t exist, the Iranians would have to invent him. Destroying the strategic alliance with America would be a real existential threat to Israel, but so far, he’s much closer to leaving scorched earth in Washington than he is to stopping Iran’s centrifuges. In this situation, Iranian leaders don’t have to do a thing but sit in front of the television, eat popcorn and laugh,” wrote Barak Ravid in Haaretz recently.
Oh yeah. Iran.
March is not just when Israelis go to the polls but the next deadline in the diplomatic efforts to keep Iran from building a nuclear bomb. Right now, the U.S. is leading six countries in seeking a negotiated settlement with Iran that would prevent them from becoming a member of the nuclear club. This effort, which began under George W. Bush, has kept Iran’s nuclear program frozen in place for years.
These countries-Russia, China, the United Kingdom, France, German, and the U.S.-are using a combination of sanctions, inspections, monitoring, and the ever-present threat of having drones move into the neighborhood to pressure Iran into giving up their capacity to enrich uranium. There are signs that we could be getting close to a deal.
But that’s not good enough for those who would oppose breathing if Obama called for clean air. To be fair, conservatives think the only way to make their way in the world is first threatening and then using force. It’s the whole “peace through strength” thing they go on about. Or they just want to forget the whole peace thing and go ahead and bomb Iran.
What they haven’t said is how this ends if we do it their way. We can’t bomb them into forgetting how to build a nuclear bomb. Should we disengage from diplomacy and just glare at them? Do we go to war and then, what, endlessly prop up a moderate government? The only way to keep Iran from getting the bomb is to negotiate it away.
That’s a goal we should all be able to get behind, but by infecting diplomacy with partisanship, congressional Republicans are giving Iranians an excuse to walk away from the table which is exactly why politics should stop at the water’s edge. United we stand, divided we grandstand.
Jason Stanford is a regular contributor to the Austin American-Statesman, a Democratic consultant and a Truman National Security Project partner. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @JasStanford