The Politics of the Day: An Invitation & Judgement Gone Awry

This week Benjamin Netanyahu, the current prime minister of Israel, delivered a speech to a joint session of the United States Congress.  His topic?  A stark warning with respect to Iran’s efforts to develop a nuclear program, and the current American administration’s diplomatic initiatives to come to some agreement with Iran about the same.

How did this come about? After all, there are currently high-level, diplomatic meetings led by the US being held in Geneva with Iranian envoys regarding Iran’s nuclear program.  And at the same time, Mr. Netanyahu, a most outspoken critic of Iran and current U.S. lead efforts at peace therein, was speaking before Congress?

There’s a simple enough answer:   American domestic politics have gotten in the way.  How? Speaker of the House John Boehner and his colleagues in the Republican leadership invited ol’ Bibi in January to address the joint session of Congress.

An ill-timed address, to say the least, from a diplomatic standpoint.  What’s more frustrating however, is the blatant manner in which this event hangs the dirty laundry of America’s current state of domestic politics further out on the line.  The string of dirty clothes practically stretches from sea to shining sea about now.

Giving Bibi that stage is blatant politicking for attempted political gain by the Republican leadership.  The decision also shows no regard for Israeli domestic politics and their democratic process.  Netanyahu’s government is being challenged in elections later this month.

What about the other voices within Israel? What about other leaders who have a vision of Israel that no doubt wants to see it continue to flourish, but with a different approach, both within its borders and beyond?   Isaac Herzog might be part of that equation.  We’ll find out soon enough once the Israeli elections are concluded.

Really though, it’s not a simple calculus of who’s in power in the Knesset, and it’s not about our negotiations with Iran (or any other Israeli adversary, for that matter).  It’s about how our elected officials govern (or don’t), and how the two parties put their politicking above their shared duty to serve the American people.

It’s really nothing new.  If we looked back in not so distant history, I’m sure there were plenty of times when the Democrats controlled both houses of Congress and Ronald Reagan was in the White House, when similar tactics were employed to undermine the other side.  And of course, as is the case now, no one would cop to the underlying motivation.

The bottom line?  Netanyahu’s topic had to do with global affairs, geopolitics in a region 8,000 miles away from American shores. While an important issue no doubt, disagreement on American foreign policy does not trump the need for cooperation, collaboration, and leadership from all of our elected representatives in this country.

Bickering and politicking are part and parcel of a democracy.  I get that. I believe that.  But when it comes to our country’s foreign policies, its doctrine, its approach around the world, we need to have one voice.

Netanyahu’s address to Congress at Boehner’s invitation, which Obama and company boycotted on the basis of both the coming elections in Israel (and current Geneva negotiations) is another sad example of the divide that typifies the current state of American politics.

Will history judge that the United States was steadfast in support for its long-time friend, Israel, or behind the curve vis-a-vis the fast-changing, dynamic, complex set of countries in the region beyond Israel’s borders?  Time will tell.

Here at home, the silent majority in the middle needs to get loud and demand our elected officials do the job they were hired to do.  Enough politicking, it’s time to lead.

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