No Johnny, Netanyahu should not have been invited to address Congress.
Let me make sure I got this right — the US president is engaged in sensitive negotiations with another sovereign nation, Iran, about matters deeply rooted in the perceived security interests of each country. The president takes time during his State of the Union speech to specifically ask Congress to allow these talks to continue without further Congressional interference, until the negotiations succeed or fail in the months ahead.
This request from the president, who is responsible for the negotiations on behalf of the United States, seemed reasonable, prudent and worthy of support from all sides, given already strained relations with Iran and since nuclear non-proliferation is at stake.
But hell-bent on ensuring President Barack Obama’s failure — no matter the wisdom of his actions — up popped Speaker of the US House of Representatives John Boehner, who invited Binyamin “Bibi” Netanyahu, the leader of a third sovereign nation, Israel, to address Congress of the United States in public session to present his well-known negative views about these very same sensitive talks.
There are only two intended results from Boehner’s invitation: to embarrass President Obama, and undermine the sensitive talks. So surely the leader of Israel said, Thanks Johnny, but I’ll pass.
Guess what? That didn’t happen. Israel’s intrepid leader said, Sure, I will come, apparently happy to embarrass Obama and hopeful that US negotiations with Iran will fail. It bears noting that the same intrepid Israeli prime minister cannot actually wait for the negotiations to fail, so he can weigh in with his Republican buddies in Congress to pressure the US administration into military action against Iran — a sovereign nation with real people who will die, and a country with a real military. (Netanyahu, as prime minister of one of the few nuclear countries in the world that has not ratified the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, is seeking to tell the US government, which has ratified the treaty, how to proceed on non-proliferation with Iran, which has also ratified the treaty. Perhaps while Netanyahu is in the US, those so worried about Iran’s nuclear proliferation might suggest to their guest that Israel get on board with the rest of the responsible nuclear world, a move that might give the Israelis a little international credibility on the issue.)
There is some good news in all of this. The newly-minted Obama, who finally seems to understand the depth to which his opponents will sink to ensure his failure, told Bibi to butt out. Some are ringing their hands over this — I am using mine to applaud.
But I want the US president to go further, to seek to embarrass those who would embarrass him. Remember, it is the American exceptionalism crowd that has apparently decided America isn’t exceptional enough to get the Iranian situation right without being told how to do so by an unexceptional Israeli. So, I say, bring on Netanyahu and then let’s get out a few presidential invitations in response.
I would start with Fidel Castro before he dies. Obama could invite the Fidel to a state dinner, preceded by a big press conference from the Oval Office:
My Dear Amigo Fidel,
I am writing to invite you to Washington for dinner and an opportunity to address the American people on issues of mutual interest and about which Cuban insight might be helpful in shaping US policy. Please consider universal health care and education reform as high interest items for your visit. The Cuban view of conditions at GITMO and human rights abuses in US prisons would be of considerable interest to the American people, as well.
Your Amigo Barack O.
A lecture of this sort from another world leader could open the eyes of the American exceptionalism crowd, among whom Boehner is a charter member. Those folks never seem able to see that the land of the free and the home of the brave is really short on universal health care and universal access to quality education, or that our prison system is a festering human rights sore. Just as Netanyahu apparently has a lot to teach us about nuclear non-proliferation, I am sure Boehner and his right-wing buddies will want to hear from Fidel about some of the ways in which the Cuban experience could inform US policy decisions.
If that works out, maybe Boehner could respond by arranging to provide Congress and a grateful nation with a whole series of international visitors from countries that have succeeded where Obama has failed:
1) The Egyptian president on military integrity in a civil society
2) The Pakistani prime minister on religious tolerance
3) The North Korean leader on filmmaking in a free society
4) The Honduran president on reducing drug-related violence
The take-away should be that the most exceptional aspect of all of this is the extraordinary level of contempt that Boehner and a majority of Republicans seem to have for a man twice elected by the people of America to lead them. This vile contempt is undermining governance in our country and is laying waste to a constitutional framework that has served the United States very well.
*[A version of this article was originally published on Larry Beck’s blog, Hard Left Turn.]
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