Before the fact I downplayed the likely import of Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech yesterday to Congress. Any inveighing by Israel’s Prime Minister against ongoing discussions between America and Iran won’t have much impact I surmised. For this reason, my sense was that President Obama or his handlers or some higher-up in the Democratic party or all of the above was overdoing the outrage.
So it was with a measure of satisfaction that I regarded the front page of today’s Washington Post. The main headline, “Netanyahu: Deal will empower Iran“, floating above a color photo of an impassioned Bibi pounding the lectern with stern-visaged John Boehner behind him, did indeed suggest that something momentous had occurred. But the sub-headline of Anne Gearan’s piece told the real story: “Audience has little ability to influence the negotiations”.
Nevertheless, a Salon article suggests that I may have been wrong in sensing Netanyahu’s visit would not have ramifications on the peace process. “In Netanyahu blew it: How he misunderstood Congress & inadvertently ruined his own goals,” Jim Newell writes that a number of Congressional Democrats, under the influence of AIPAC, were prepared to buck President Obama and sign off on Republican legislation imposing new sanctions on Iran. Now, however, under the leadership of New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez, Democrats are backing away from what had been a bipartisan effort.
Instead, they are siding with Virginia’s Tim Kaine and his call for deliberate action in light of the ongoing negotiations with Iran. Newell argues persuasively that while centrist Democrats might have joined Republicans to rebuke Iran even over their President’s objections, they will not do so if it means explicitly siding with a foreign leader.
Given these changed circumstances, the President’s display of pique at Bibi and Boehner was smart politics. Obama’s insistence that the Israeli Netanyahu was undermining his administration’s efforts to achieve peace for America may have forestalled a potential Democratic revolt. By the same token, yet another conservative attempt to embarrass President Obama may have backfired.