Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

The Case for Members of Congress Skipping the Netanyahu Speech

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Really, what Netanyahu is doing is outrageous, and John Boehner is to be condemned—but John Boehner is well known to be a weak link. James Fallows has an excellent post on the incident:

For the record, and as explained in posts collected here, I am not a fan of:

(a) the idea of a foreign leader being invited to criticize existing U.S. foreign policy before a joint meeting of Congress, something that has never happened before; or

(b) the specific critique Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is likely to advance in this setting, which, based on his statements over the past decade, is likely to involve such impossible conditions and strictures for an “acceptable” deal with Iran as to torpedo the negotiations. Not to mention …

(c) the idea that a military strike on Iran’s nuclear installations merits serious consideration for either the U.S. or Israel.

So, factor that in as you will. A recent crop of developments:

1) A Congressional statement you really should read. Vice President Biden showed one way of distancing himself from this spectacle, through the super-important though not-yet-specified “foreign trip” he’ll need to make just when Netanyahu is here.

Representative John Yarmuth of Kentucky, a Democrat from Louisville (and one of 19 Jewish members of the House) demonstrated the other approach. Yesterday he put out a remarkable statement with the heading “Why I Will Not Be Attending PM Netanyahu’s Speech to Congress.”

Seriously, this is worth reading, for what it says both about the specifics of U.S.-Israeli relations and about larger institutional dangers in the conduct of foreign policy as a whole. Here are a few samples.

On the conversion of a “policy” speech into a political and lobbying stunt, with emphasis added:

It is both sad and ridiculous that attending this speech will be used as a litmus test for support of Israel. In short, roll will be taken, and some outside organizations have even threatened potential absentees with electoral repercussions …

It will become a matter of score-keeping as to who stands up and applauds and who doesn’t. Having visited Israel only months after Netanyahu addressed Congress in 2011, I know how much political impact these scenes have in that country. There is pressure to join the applause even if a member does not agree with statements made.

On the “informational” value of the appearance:

We know what he is going to say. Netanyahu’s position on the ongoing negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program is not a secret. Like many other members, I have been visited by the Israeli ambassador and understand what they want and how that differs from what U.S. negotiators are attempting to accomplish.

The Prime Minister has plenty of other places to express his opinions. In fact he has done so many times.

On interference in U.S. policy-making by a foreign leader:

Speaker Boehner invited the Prime Minister to address Congress specifically to refute President Obama’s position. I will not contribute to the impression that this body does not support the President of the United States in foreign affairs.

Congress has a broader responsibility than the security interests of Israel. While it certainly is important that we understand the Israeli perspective, the American people will hear only Netanyahu’s perspective, creating a public perception that could undermine a broadly supported resolution to the Iranian nuclear situation.

This is as gutsy and non-boilerplate a statement as you’re going to see from any congressional office. The way to encourage more such behavior by elected officials is to recognize it when it occurs.

2) Why the obligatory applause lines can be the most damaging parts of the speech. From a reader who makes a point parallel to Yarmuth’s: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

13 February 2015 at 5:10 pm

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