The Bibi fiasco. No, I’m not talking about the working title of A Christmas Story, nor am I talking about Lupe’s less talented cousin. I’m talking about the oncoming and senseless self-created disaster that is Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to congress.
It appears Republicans in congress have once again shot themselves in the foot. It’s not unlike Ted Cruz’s immigration resolution in that it’s bad for Republicans, but it’s more like the DHS funding disaster in that it’s bad for the country. They’re shooting off toes left and right. Body parts are disappearing. This is turning into a game of reverse Republican hang man, where each time you guess incorrectly , a limb gets subtracted until all you have is a head on a rope shouting ‘freedom’ and ‘liberty’ angrily.
The Speaker of the House and Republicans in congress have invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak to congress. This is not the first time congress has invited a foreign leader to speak. The unusual thing is that this was all organized without most of the rest of the government knowing about it. The president, aka the commander-in-chief, aka the person in charge of foreign policy, aka the person in the country who would most need to know about this, was not made aware. Neither were any Democrats presumably, many of whom aren’t going to attend. After all, why would anyone come to a gigantic display of disrespect to them?
This invitation has essentially caused a situation where we have two foreign policies. This is a bad thing. One foreign policy might be good, or it might be bad. Two is always bad. So why are we guaranteeing bad foreign policy? What’s the logic here?
Why risk damaging a relationship with an important ally? Why risk throwing a wrench into American foreign policy? Why risk making a joke of our country? Surely the prize must be worthwhile. It’s not. It doesn’t even exist. It’s not conceivable or possible. No good thing could possibly come of this for either country involved.
Republicans are essentially using an important ally as a tool to disrespect the president. The reason given is that his speech will somehow push the people in congress against more sanctions to vote for more sanctions. Consider why not to sanction. We’ve previously levied sanctions on Iran and they’ve abandoned they’re nuclear program for now. The President therefore says no sanctions for now. To drastically oversimplify things, when your dog is on the couch and you hit it, if it gets off the couch you should stop hitting it. If you continue to hit your dog every time you see it then the lesson learned is not stay off the couch, but that you’re a jerk and there’s no point in listening to you.
That however is beside the point because there is literally zero chance of congress passing Iran sanctions. None at all. Particularly with the veto in play. Republicans are risking one of the nation’s most important alliances in order to push for something that has no chance of occurring. No chance is perhaps generous.
As senseless and dangerous as this is for Republicans it’s even worse for Netanyahu. Of course he always wants sanctions on Iran. That goes without saying. But again, no chance. His potential reward is equal to Republicans’ at nothing. His potential risk is much, much higher however. The reason is because the American Israeli partnership is far more important for Israel than the US. The US would be inconvenienced by losing Israel as an ally. Israel, in the worst case, risks its very existence. It’s very unlikely that our alliance will be severed because of this, but it is without any doubt damaged.
So why? Why? This is where realist analysis fails. If states are unitary actors pursuing self-interest, then why would they possibly do something with great risk and no possibility of even the smallest reward? It’s because Netanyahu and Republicans are not pursuing their nations’ best interest but their own. They are hurting their countries diplomatically in order to help themselves politically.
Both Republicans and Netanyahu are doing it in order to appease a base of supporters and perhaps reach new ones. Netanyahu believes this makes him look like he’s vigorously protecting Israel (by risking their most important alliance). Republicans, sadly enough, get points among their base just by disrespecting the President. But America itself is in the line of fire here. They’re letting a foreign leader walk into the capital building to spit on the President. If America is a family, and this is a sibling rivalry, it’s as though Republicans are inviting some guy down the street to come wipe his shoes on his brother’s pillow. I think most would say no matter what the reason, you handle squabbles in house; you don’t invite some person down the street to fight your own brother. They also think Jewish voters (largely Democrats) will be swept up in the pandering and not what’s actually occurring. They’re standing up for Israel (by putting its greatest alliance at risk). They’re betting Jewish American voters don’t read what’s in parenthesis.
There’s always a risk of this type of thing in a democracy, of varying interests clashing on foreign policy. However this situation is unique because prior to the tea party, congress was able to act like adults and not pursue things that hurt our country, particularly intentionally. Yes it’s a risk, but we never took that risk because we deferred to the president on matters of foreign policy throughout the 20th century. And if there was a clash it was congress essentially vetoing something the president wanted to do, not actively pursuing its own separate foreign policy. This is a case of bashing your head against the wall because President Obama said don’t bash your head against the wall. This is a case of both Republicans in congress and Netanyahu betting their voters will cheer while they get thrown under a bus.
Polls however seem to indicate that voters might not be as petty and foolish as the people they vote for. A recent CNN poll revealed most Americans do not want Netanyahu to speak to congress. Netanyahu himself is embroiled in scandal at home for now and the tea party continues to turn everything it touches into mindless childish bickering, that America ultimately has to pay for.
Unfortunately however, get your popcorn because this train wreck appears to be underway, a head to head collision, and it seems for no other reason than the people driving the trains think hitting the breaks is admitting defeat. But defeat can come without you admitting it. And if defeat avoids a train wreck, perhaps you should reconsider what it is you’re fighting for.
by Zack Goncz
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