The Netanyahu speech is fostering backlash, as such a shocking event ought to. The good news is that it might even solidify U.S. support for the deal with Iran.
Chris Matthews was excellent last night, expressing outrage at the congressional effort to “displace” Obama with Benjamin Netanyahu as the maker of U.S. foreign policy. He said that Netanyahu was “behind” the U.S. war in Iraq and that he is now “treating us like rubes” on Iran and wants a U.S. war against Iran. Some of his comments on the Iraq war:
Here’s Bibi Netanyahu, he was running us into Iraq. And it turns out Iraq becomes the conquest of Iran. Then he goes on the TV yesterday, goes into the House of Representatives and say, ‘Look at the big hell that broke loose, Iran got control of Baghdad.’ Well he pushed that! He pushed the Shia overthrow of the government there. He was behind it all and saying it was going to help bring down Iran, cause an explosion there. An implosion. Totally utterly wrong as a visionary. Now he’s giving us advice.
[Guest says, that was the decision of the U.S. government]
He was pushing it!
Then Matthews said Netanyahu is pushing war with Iran:
I’m afraid the issue here is war and peace… I didn’t hear him once offer a sound proposal besides war. Because all he said was you can’t cut a deal, any deal is bad. He basically said that. You can’t get a better deal! He treats us like rubes. You don’t think we’re not trying to get the best possible deal, come on!…
Why would they [Republicans] salute Iron Dome and vote down Homeland Security. Help me out here…
Why would they vote against US security and vote for the Iron Dome? Their point of view is very strange here. Security is OK for other countries but not ours…
I think it was a terrible precedent. I tell you, This is going to be remembered. This is going to be remembered as a very dark day for American democracy when you bring a foreign leader in to try and displace the American leader. Obama sets our foreign policy, not Netanyahu.
Stunning poll results on Iran: 65% willing to use force to stop Iran from nukes, 84% call Obama-type deal bad idea.”
Peter Beinart has a very good realist column about the speech, describing it as hysterical.
For Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel always faces the same enemy. Call it Amalek, call it Haman, call it Nazi Germany – it seeks the same thing: The destruction of the Jewish people.
Beinart says it’s all about the power balance: Israel faces a competitor in the region that wants to break “Israel’s nuclear monopoly.”
“Iran’s nuclear program seeks to create a nuclear duopoly in the Mideast that would reduce Israel’s power,” writes [Aluf] Benn. “This is why we’re fighting it.”But Iran is doesn’t seek Israel’s destruction.
Here he quotes Trita Parsi on the shifting dynamics of the two regional powers’ relations:
In the 1980s, Iran was even more rhetorically bloodthirsty than it is now. And yet Israel sold Iran weapons to fight Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, whose greater proximity to the Jewish state made it – in Israeli eyes – the greater danger.
In his book, “A Single Role of the Dice,” Trita Parsi quotes David Menashri, who runs the Center for Iranian Studies at the University of Tel Aviv, as saying, “Throughout the 1980s, no one in Israel said anything about an Iranian threat – the word wasn’t even uttered.”
As Parsi notes, Israeli leaders began focusing on the Iranian threat in the 1990s, not because of a change in Iranian rhetoric or behavior, but the Soviet Union’s collapse and Iraq’s Gulf War defeat left Saddam far weaker. Iran, and its nuclear program, now represented the primary danger on Israel’s eastern front.
That danger is real. But it is the danger posed by a nasty regional competitor, not by what Bibi has called a “messianic apocalyptic cult.”
Gary Sick makes similar realist argument urging the U.S. to stay the course, and ignore Netanyahu’s “unicorn” arguments:
All the major countries of the world are co-negotiators with the United States, so a U.S. congressional intervention that killed the deal will not only affect us but all of our major allies. If we stiff them, there is no reason to believe the international sanctions will hold for long. No mention…
Netanyahu … also claims that this all-conquering regional power [Iran] is also such a vulnerable state that it will quickly concede if we impose more sanctions. He carefully avoids mentioning that we refused a deal with Iran in 2003 that would have capped its centrifuges at about 3000 and started imposing more and more sanctions. Ten years later Iran had 20,000 centrifuges and a highly developed nuclear power program. Don’t mention that, and don’t mention that Netanyahu predicted in 1992 — more than 20 years ago — that Iran would have a nuclear weapon in 3-5 years.
He emphasized that Iran cannot be trusted. Agreed. But when you make an agreement with an enemy (think SALT agreements with the USSR) you do not trust, you verify. And that’s what the current negotiations are intended to produce.
His only alternative is the unicorn option: walk away from the table and Iran will cave in and agree to eliminate its entire nuclear capability. Our 36 years of dealing with Iran suggest that this is truly fantasy land. It may appeal to politicians trying to look tough, but there is no way that it will actually get Iran to modify or reduce its nuclear program.
Reality: We walk, Iran resumes all of its previous enrichment policies, we have to intervene militarily, Iran builds a bomb. But don’t say that. It detracts from the message.
This was great political theater. But it insulted the intelligence of anyone who has been paying attention to the issues.
Here’s a funny mashup video of the speech that Ynet posted from the Israeli journo Noy Alooshe.
And it looks like Ari Shavit is praising Netanyahu speech but saying the prime minister failed because he used Jewish terms like the Purim story rather than stories that would appeal to “Joe the Plumber” in the U.S. to get Joe to want to fight Iran. “When it came to Iran, Netanyahu told the truth and failed.”
(Shavit’s support for Netanyahu’s view of Iran is no surprise if you actually read his book, My Promised Land, and read Nathan Thrall and Jerome Slater on the book, rather than listen to the host of liberal Zionists falling over one another to praise it a year back.)
Back to Matthews’s dark day comments. David Bromwich made the same point ahead of time in a great piece at Huffpo describing the speech as Netanyahu’s “takeover bid” and saying he and his supporters represent an “existential threat” to American independence in foreign policy. I have to believe this awareness is sinking in with many Americans:
Brute loyalty often plays reckless games with morality, and an unsuspecting confidence between separate nations is ill-advised for exactly the reasons George Washington gave in his Farewell Address of 1796. We ought, said Washington, to avoid “permanent, inveterate antipathies against particular nations, and passionate attachments for others,” because “the nation which indulges towards another a habitual hatred or a habitual fondness is in some degree a slave. It is a slave to its animosity or to its affection, either of which is sufficient to lead it astray from its duty and its interest.”
As if he anticipated the strange moment in which we find ourselves — when a foreign leader who asked us to fight one disastrous war now commands us to fight another on his behalf — Washington said:
“A passionate attachment of one nation for another produces a variety of evils. Sympathy for the favorite nation, facilitating the illusion of an imaginary common interest in cases where no real common interest exists, and infusing into one the enmities of the other, betrays the former into a participation in the quarrels and wars of the latter without adequate inducement or justification.”
When Netanyahu addressed Congress on May 24, 2011, to embarrass President Obama and cut down American criticism of the most recent illegal Israeli settlements, Congress gave him 29 standing ovations. That was a gesture of thoughtless servility, and a mistake that should not be repeated. The difference between George Washington and Benjamin Netanyahu marks a real choice. In the matter of the proper judgment of American interests, Washington and Netanyahu stand at opposite poles. They cannot both be right. On March 3, before awarding Netanyahu another 29 standing ovations, or 19 or even one, let the members of Congress ask themselves whose advice they will heed on the danger of “passionate attachments” and “inveterate antipathies.” Netanyahu and his backers in Congress are an existential threat to the independence of American foreign policy.
On that note, I’d shift to the very heart of the Israel lobby, Bill Kristol. He wrote a very sincere piece about watching the speech in the congressional gallery “as a Jew.” You will see how the demonstration of Jewish power and sovereignty thrilled him and moved him to an openness I have rarely seen in his writing:
At the end, as I joined in the sustained standing ovation, I thought of one sentence in the 1956 letter by the political philosopher Leo Strauss, in which he tried to convince the editors of the recently launched National Review that conservatives should be pro-Israel: “Political Zionism was the attempt to restore that inner freedom, that simple dignity, of which only people who remember their heritage and are loyal to their fate, are capable.” One felt, watching the prime minister of Israel speak, whatever other challenges await, that in this task political Zionism has been successful.
I think Kristol is wrong as to political outcomes. Zionism created a polity that has never stopped ethnic cleansing and that relies on the dual loyalty of American Jews to corrupt US foreign policy so that the Jewish state is never held to account. But notice how emotional Kristol is. For him, cheering for Netanyahu is about Jews’ recovering their dignity after the helplessness of the Holocaust. Any compassionate person must acknowledge the profound injury to the collective psyche even 70 years later — and yet abjure Jews not to become so monstrously self-involved.