On March 3, 2015, Prime Minister Benjamin (“Bibi”) Netenyahu addressed a joint session of the United States Congress to deliver his diktat: Pass a law to prevent President Obama from negotiating with Iran because any U.S. agreement with Iran is not worth the paper it is written on. “We’re better off without it,” exhorted Netenyahu.
It was an astonishing act of chutzpah!
It takes guts for a leader of a small country to walk into the “legislature of the most powerful country in the world”, as Netenyahu described it, and demand the President of the United States stop conducting foreign relations because he disapproves.
Nearly 80 years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the “exclusive power of the President as the sole organ of the federal government in the field of international relations—a power which does not require as a basis for its exercise an act of Congress…” Perhaps Netenyahu and the Republican leadership are oblivious of that landmark case.
For President Barack Obama, the Bibi show in Congress was just drama. “I am not focused in the politics of this. I am not focused on the theatre. As far as I can tell, there was nothing new. On the core issue, which is how to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon which would make it far more dangerous, the prime minister did not offer any viable alternatives”, expounded Obama with an air of professorial finesse.
Netenyahu wants the U.S. to chuck the current negotiations with Iran because if successful it will spell doomsday. “If the deal now being negotiated is accepted by Iran, that deal will not prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons – it will all but guarantee that Iran will get those nuclear weapons – lots of them.”
The Republican leadership in Congress was fully behind Netenyahu. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) promised debate on a bill to shackle President Obama from finalizing a nuclear deal with Iran without approval by Congress.
Some 50 Democratic members turned their backs on Netenyahu; others attended but chafed. Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) issued a statement expressing her deep disappointment. “I was near tears throughout the Prime Minister’s speech — saddened by the insult to the intelligence of the United States as part of the P5 +1 nations, and saddened by the condescension toward our knowledge of the threat posed by Iran and our broader commitment to preventing nuclear proliferation.”
Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) commended President Obama for his efforts and opined, “Netenyahu did not offer any serious alternatives to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.” Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) declared, “Speaker Boehner has poisoned a critical foreign policy discussion with partisan gamesmanship.” Senator Al Franken (D-MN) described Netenyahu’s speech as “partisan spectacle” for the “impending Israeli election”.
Netenyahu articulated some serious concerns shared widely among U.S. policy makers about a nuclear-armed Iran. The Iranian government cannot be trusted to abide by any deal. If the Iranian government obtains nuclear weapons, it will trigger a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. The Iranian government supports terrorism and responds only to force or strict sanctions.
President Obama says the choice in Iran is either war or negotiations. He believes it is possible to negotiate a deal that would prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons and avoid catastrophic regional war.
There are no easy answers to the age old problems of the Middle East. There is, however, a tough question about the partisan process used by Speaker Boehner to invite Netenyahu, without consulting the President or the State Department. Would Boehner have invited Netenyahu to speak and embarrass the President if Obama had not black? That is the one question that weighs heavily on the minds of many people, including large segments of the African American community. (Actually, there is a second big question that weighs heavily on the minds of African Americans: Why is the Congressional Republican leadership boycotting the 50th Anniversary of the Selma March in Selma, Alabama on March 6, 2015?)
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