Tag Archives: Congress

Imperial, Imperious, Imperiled Presidency

 

As I reflect on the first month of the new President, it appears clear that the arc of the presidency is shifting. The Founding Fathers were deeply concerned about an Imperial President and created checks and balances to help prevent the Presidency from devolving into a Sovereign. However, a combination of the Legislative branch ceding power to the Executive and a desire for decisive quick action has undermined the traditional process of lawmaking and enforcement. Debates have long raged over the creep towards an Imperial President. These debates have become increasingly political, accusing our Presidents of becoming imperious in the use and abuse of power. Now we appear to have arrived at a new tipping point; the Presidency is imperiled.

Erratic behavior, divisive language, pronouncements without an apparent understanding of the complexities of issues have led to a situation where the President risks marginalizing himself and his office. The Congress is potentially poised to fill the void and assume a position of primacy, provided a strong leadership can restore healthy debate and a cohesive vision for the nation. This is no small feat, but Mr. Ryan, the Speaker of the House, and Mr. McConnell, the Majority Leader of the Senate, could reassert the power of the Legislative Branch of Government.

The President must put forth a unified strategic vision that goes beyond provincial nationalism. His design needs to embody our core values including liberty, equality, and the pursuit of happiness, domestic tranquility. The President’s leadership must also protect and include all Americans. These priorities must also reconcile with our place as the leader of the free world. If the President is unable or incapable of fulfilling these responsibilities, legitimate power will shift to those who are capable, lest our system risk irreversible damage and decline. A government of, by and for the people must preserve, protect and defend us from adversaries both foreign and domestic.

It is our obligation to our nation and ourselves to demand no less. Too much hangs in the balance.

 

 

The Real Benjamin Netanyahu

 One of the things that made Benjamin Netanyahu and others like him a powerful and persuasive Israeli voice in the US was that he was like us.

Netanyahu was schooled in the US. He spoke unaccented American English and he knew the idioms. He sounded like us. He looked like us and dressed like us. He was one of us. Benjamin Netanyahu appeared to us as a cultured sophisticated erudite person with western sensitivities. He could have come from Philadelphia as easily as from Tel Aviv.

He seemed one of us, that is until now.

 The breach of protocol in accepting the invitation to speak before Congress, the lecturing of the American people and the chastising of the American President before the Congress have created tears in the fabric of the US-Israeli relationship that at this moment seem difficult to repair. No, Bibi Netanyahu is not one of us, nor does he speak for us. In fact he has helped create a rift in the Jewish community while helping to further politicize US domestic politics.

 At this juncture, the best remedy to this situation seems to be a new Prime Minister who can rebuild what has been damaged. This goes beyond the personal issues between the two men occupy the offices of Prime Minister and President. Any future American President will not forget Mr. Netanyahu affront to the office by inserting himself into the American political system. It is hard to imagine how Mr. Netanyahu would be the best leader representing Israel in this critical alliance either now or in 2016 and beyond.

The Morning After

 At this moment we are awaiting the appearance of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu before the joint session of the United States Congress. Whether you think it is a good idea or not, it is happening. We will listen to the messages, which we can anticipate will be: Israel believes Iran cannot possess the ability to create a nuclear bomb, which would pose an existential threat to Israel and to the world; and therefore must be stopped by any means necessary. The Prime Minister will also appeal to the deep and constant support of its most important ally, the United States, and attempt to minimize the issues that exist between him and the President of the United States.

 I do not know how successful Mr. Netanyahu will be at conveying either message. I do know that we, the American Jewish population, needs to increase its voice of support for the American-Israeli alliance, to strengthen a relationship that finds itself tested harshly and deeply at this point in time. We have much work to do to repair any damage that has been done, and particularly to move past the political partisanship dangerously inserting itself into the conversation.

 We also be aware of the Iran issue and remain vigilant. And we must demand to know the terms of any negotiated deal will be and why. A rising Iran, particularly a nuclear capable Iran, is a global concern. A solid, strong unwavering alliance between the United States and Israel is also very important to the free world and particularly to us. We must work to make sure despite stress to this relationship, the relationship remains sound.

It is all about what we do tomorrow.

The Bibi Blunder

 The Prime Minister’s decision to speak before Congress at the invitation of Speaker Boehner is poorly thought out and ultimately does not serve him, Israel or American Jewry.

 Although Mr. Netanyahu is ostensibly coming to speak to the issue of preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon capability, everything about this visit undercuts this message and works against him. First, is the matter of propriety. Acceptance of Mr. Boehner’s invitation is also effectively a snub of the President of the United States. This is bad. Neither Israel nor American Jewry wants the Prime Minister creating tensions between these two important allies. This is the time for the two countries to be joined ever more closely. Interests align as never before.

 There exists a political power play in this country. Congress and the Executive branch are engaging in a process.   While this is going on, the Israeli Prime Minister should not want himself or his country to become embroiled in the internal politics of the United States, becoming a pawn of one branch of government only to alienate the other. This would run counter to the interests of Israel, as the State needs to maintain and deepen its relationships at every level to the United States.

 The timing of this reflects badly within the Israeli political system as well. This visit is scheduled in close proximity to the Israeli elections. Therefore the appearance before Congress is cynically seen as a ploy to bolster the Prime Minister’s position at home. This does not serve anyone’s interest either.

 Finally, there is a policy and plan that the President has put forth regarding sanctions against Iran and negotiations with that country. Congress and the Prime Minister may both disagree with that policy and have legitimate reason to do so, but publicly displaying such a disagreement is imprudent. It is divisive at a time when divisiveness precisely the opposite of what you need to achieve. It is more than a bad idea, it is a ham-fisted attempt to voice legitimate concerns and circumvent the President that will cause far more damage to an important relationship than it will do to further Israel’s concerns for its security.

 It is in the best interests of Mr. Netanyahu to pass on this opportunity to appear before congress. He should go home, campaign to win the election to become Prime Minister of the new government and then approach the United States to make his case for a different approach to the Iran nuclear problem.

A Bad Mistake

The decision by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and House Speaker John Boehner to cook up an address to Congress by Netanyahu on why the U.S. should get tougher on Iran is churlish, reckless and, for the future of Israeli-American relations, quite dangerous.

If Netanyahu wants some intelligent advice, he should listen to the counsel of his previous ambassador in Washington, the widely respected Michael Oren, who was quoted as saying that the whole gambit was creating the impression of “a cynical political move, and it could hurt our attempts to act against Iran.” He urged Netanyahu to cancel the speech.

And if Netanyahu and his current ambassador in Washington, Ron Dermer, who organized the gambit with Boehner, want to know how offensive the whole thing is to average Americans they should listen to conservative Fox News Sunday talk-show host Chris Wallace, not a usual critic of Israel, who gutsily said of the Bibi invite on Friday, Jan. 23: “To make you get a sense of really how, forgive me, wicked, this whole thing is, the Secretary of State John Kerry met with the Israeli ambassador to the United States for two hours on Tuesday, and Ron Dermer, the Israeli ambassador, according to the State Department, never mentioned the fact that Netanyahu was in negotiations and finally agreed to come to Washington, not to see the president, but to go to Capitol Hill, speak to a joint session of Congress and criticize the president’s policy. I have to say I’m shocked.”

Imagine that Israel’s Labor Party invited President Obama to address its Parliament about why Israel should give negotiations on Iran more time, and it was all worked out with the U.S. ambassador in Tel Aviv behind the back of the Likud Party prime minister. A lot of Israelis would see it as an insult to their democratically elected leader. I’ve polled many of my non-Jewish friends, who follow world politics and are sympathetic to Israel, and they really don’t like this. It doesn’t only disrespect our president, it disrespects our system and certain diplomatic boundaries that every foreign leader should respect and usually has.

You know how this happened: Netanyahu; his ambassador; the pro-Israel lobby Aipac; Sheldon Adelson, the huge donor to Bibi and the G.O.P.; and Boehner all live in their own self-contained bubble. You can tell that nobody was inside there telling them: “Bibi, this speech to Congress two weeks before your election may give you a sugar high for a day with Israeli voters, but it’s in really poor taste for you to use America’s Congress as a backdrop for your campaign. Many of Israel’s friends will be uncomfortable, and the anti-Semites, who claim Israel controls Washington, will have a field day.”

Already, in reaction to this maneuver, 10 Senate Democrats — who had advocated putting more sanctions on Iran now — have instead parted company with the Republicans and granted the White House the two-month reprieve it was seeking to see if negotiations can still work. It was exactly the opposite of what Netanyahu wanted, and it shows how upset are many Democrats.

But this isn’t just churlish. For Israel’s leader to so obviously throw his lot in with the Republicans against a Democratic president is reckless. Israel and its defenders are already under siege on college campuses across America, where many university boards are under pressure to divest from companies doing business with Israel. Making support for Israel more of a Republican cause is not at all in Israel’s interest — or America’s. Israel needs the support of more than just Congress or one party.

Netanyahu’s concerns about Iran are not without merit. But his aggressiveness is also not without critics in Israel. If Congress wants to get Israel’s perspective on how to deal with Iran, then it should also invite the top Israeli intelligence and military officers, current and retired, who have been arguing publicly against Netanyahu’s threatened use of force against Iran. Why are we getting only one Israeli view? How is that in America’s interest?

Personally, I’m still dubious that the U.S. and Iran will reach a deal that will really defuse Iran’s nuclear weapons program. Such a failure would be very serious and could end up, one day, with the U.S. deciding it has to use military force to set back Iran’s program. We surely don’t want Iran to get a bomb that sets off a nuclear arms race in an already unstable Middle East.

But, even if we do use force, success is hardly assured and the blowback unpredictable. That is why it is absolutely not in Israel’s interest to give even the slightest appearance of nudging America toward such a military decision. Israel should stay a million miles away from that decision, making clear that it is entirely a U.S. matter. Because, if we do have to strike Iran, plenty of Americans will not be happy. And if it fails, or has costly consequences for us and our military, you can be sure a lot more Americans will not be happy — and some will ask, “How did we get into this mess?” One of the first things they’ll dig out will be Netanyahu’s speech to Congress.

Why in the world would Israel risk putting itself in that situation? Just lie low, Mr. Netanyahu. Don’t play in our politics. Let America draw its own conclusions.