Last week, as President Barack Obama was delivering his State of the Union message, Shakespeare’s unrepentant Iago sat behind him, determined to sabotage his Commander-in-Chief. In a maneuver without precedent, without any White House consultation, Congress invited Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin (Bibi) Netanyahu, who’s running for re-election in a tightly contested race, to address a joint meeting of Congress to express his thoughts about Iran and “radical Islam.”
After six years of primarily GOP machinations that have slowly ground American affairs into of state to paralysis, Iago twisted his blade — again — this time on behalf of a foreign leader, not on behalf of a nation, whose interests don’t always align with ours.
This attempt by House Speaker John Boehner to neuter his Moor is but the latest installment of an over six-year long campaign to disenfranchise Obama — raising Republican disrespect of President Obama to an unprecedented level.
Was there no one to advise Boehner to “weigh’st thy words before thou givest them breath.”
Boehner didn’t act alone. He was joined by Republican members of Congress, by Israel’s Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer, a native of Miami now an Israeli citizen and a Netanyahu loyalist, and others — all done in secret behind the Administration’s back!
Could no one imagine the import of what they were doing?
This story isn’t about Bibi, though he’s a main character, or Iran or about “radical Islam” — the two “dangers” Netanyahu is expected to expound upon.
No, this is uniquely American theatre; a macabre comedy designed to “diss” our President while simultaneously enabling Israel’s US supporters to flex their collective influence at the expense of American global security.
Since 2009 Republican alarmists have rallied their faithful against he whom they define as the Other, the Muslim, the anti-Christ, the foreigner, the devil.
This moment is unprecedented. Although some Democrats may ally themselves with this nearly-treasonous initiative it is primarily a manifestation of the GOP’s neoconservative, bomb, bomb, bomb, wing of American politics that thinks that only force will bring The Other into submission; that thinks negotiations are signs of weakness.
The GOP’s most recent foray into international relations was when they, once the party of Freedom Fries and Freedom Toast, tried calling out the President for not marching in solidarity with world leaders after the heinous attacks on Charlie Hebdo and the Hyper-Cachet kosher market in Paris.
No one in France cared whether President Obama went to Paris because the crisis was seen as a uniquely European moment — Obama’s absence made barely a ripple across the Atlantic.
No Republican mentioned that the French asked PM Netanyahu and President Abbas not to come to Paris, fearful that Middle East issues would distract from a European show of unity. French President François Hollande worried that Bibi would try to exploit France’s tragedy for political profit.
European concerns were not GOP concerns. The GOP is Obama-phobic, and to further that phobia they’ve invited Bibi to address a joint meeting of Congress for the third time — a record previously held by Winston Churchill.
Historically, Americans have aligned themselves behind Administration policy beyond the water’s edge. For example, as opposed as many politicians were to the Iraq war no one moved to bring the French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin to Washington to challenge President Bush.
Yet today, in the midst of sensitive ongoing negotiations with Iran over their nuclear program, negotiations that’ve already yielded results, Congress wants to scuttle the talks by adding punitive sanctions on Iran should the talks fail, a position supported by AIPAC and Netanyahu — and internationally opposed by almost everyone else.
Indeed, Bibi’s position is more extreme than that of many in Congress — and many in Israel. He insists Iran abandon entirely its nuclear program even though Iran is entitled, as a nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT) signatory, to a peaceful nuclear program — the limits of which are currently under negotiation.
Consequences of scuttling could prove costly. America could be alone. It took a lot of negotiating to get the world behind the program that brought Iran to the negotiating table; now, many countries currently supporting sanctions may withdraw support if talks are scuttled — the costs of which are not inconsequential.
Iran, which is currently a de facto partner of the United States against ISIS in Iraq, could withdraw its support and Iraq would fall deeper into dysfunction. Iran could step up support of groups like Hamas, Hizbollah and the Shiite factions in Yemen and further destabilize the region by empowering Shiite factions in Saudi Arabia and North Africa.
To get at Obama, Congress is willing to risk further Middle East destabilization in order to support a man who refuses to endorse a two-state solution, who devastated Gaza in Operation Protective Edge, whose understanding of Islam is limited, political and prejudiced, who conflates the evil of ISIS and Boko Haram with even legal Palestinian resistance against occupation, who supports continued colonization of Palestinian land and the suppression of legitimate Palestinian rights and who, importantly, wants to attack Iran against the advice of nearly all of his own intelligence analysts, including the Mossad.
Perhaps it’s payback: Boehner, McConnell and other GOP leaders haven’t forgotten that Netanyahu supported their candidate, Mitt Romney, in 2012 against Obama and now they are willing to be Likud surrogates and endorse Bibi for re-election in Israel.
In the dystopian world inhabited by Republican trolls and lobbyists it’s somehow offensive for Obama not to attend a march in Paris but it’s not offensive for the GOP leadership, Republicans, some Democrats, and some American pro-Netanyahu supporters to sabotage their own President.
Barack Obama, contrary to Republican prejudices, is no “malignant and a turbaned Turk” who beat a Venetian and traduced a state; He is our President who has guided this country through an arduous and difficult journey, both domestically and internationally, and most are better off for it.
Not all may agree with Obama’s philosophy and direction but to impugn his integrity, intelligence and origins — and to go behind his back to negotiate with a foreign power in order to attack the Oval Office for political advantage is worthy more of Iago than of an American Speaker of the House who stands behind the Vice President in succession to the Presidency.
This column appeared originally in the Portsmouth Herald.