Bibi Netanyahu has come and gone, having duly delivered his hawkish re-election speech from the House of Representatives podium, and the only thing missing was a celebratory cascade of Likud Party balloons from the balcony seats.
The right-wing Israeli prime minister has already won three elections with his be-very-afraid message, racking up votes by ginning up fears of Iran – circa ’93, he said that Iran would have The Bomb by ’99 – so naturally he wants to stay in the groove. With the next election just 12 days away, how splendid it was to rail at President Obama’s nuclear negotiations (“this is a bad deal – a very bad deal”), with congressional Republicans springing from their seats on rhetorical cue, behaving like compliant props in a Bibi campaign ad.
Before I bring in an expert to demolish Bibi’s speech, let’s quickly parse his hilarious opening line: “I deeply regret that some perceive my being here as political.” This was the first insult to our intelligence.
When the party that doesn’t speak for the president’s foreign policy invites a foreign leader without first consulting or informing the president; and when the foreign leader’s speech is crafted by an ex-Republican operative and aide to Newt Gingrich (that would be Ron Dermer); and when the speech itself is cheered in the House chamber by honored guest Sheldon Adelson (the casino mogul who bankrolls right-wing Republicans)…well…it’s not a stretch to “perceive” that Bibi’s gig was nakedly partisan, to the point of breaching the bi-partisan American-Israeli tradition.
As for the content of his speech, which urged America and its allies to shelve a nuclear deal with Iran, I’m going to yield the floor to a guy named Gary Sick. I guarantee he knows more about Iran than you do. A retired Navy captain who served on the National Security Council under Presidents Ford, Carter, and Reagan, Sick played a key role in Iran’s release of the 52 American hostages at the dawn of the Reagan era. Now based at Columbia University, where he’s executive director of the Gulf/2000 Project (which specializes in Middle East policy), he has written several books on U.S.-Iran relations.
He also sat with me for several hours back in 1985 – it was a wide-ranging interview – and I still have the notes. One thing he said still resonates today.
He was talking about the hostage crisis, about the emtions that roiled inside him: “I had the same impulses as anyone else. I was so angry at Iranians that I wanted to strangle them with my own hands. Nobody wanted to hit at them more than I did. Nothing, in my mind, would’ve been bad enough for them. But you have to be grown up about these things….We have to think of ways to treat them not as strange creatures from outer space, but as people who have political and economic interests (that we can address). We just shouldn’t have this sense that our manhood is always on the line.”
Thirty years later, not surprisingly, Sick didn’t think much of Bibi’s manhood riff. Here are some succinctly eviscerating excerpts from Sick’s blog:
First, this was a barn burner of a campaign speech….In any campaign speech, or political theater, it is of course important what you say. But it is even more important what you do not say…
His repeated assertion that Iran is actively seeking nuclear weapons ignores the judgment ‘with high confidence’ of both American and Israeli intelligence that Iran has taken no decision to build nuclear weapons. It also contradicts the repeated findings of the IAEA (Interational Atomic Energy Agency) that no materials have been diverted for military purposes.
All the major countries of the world are co-negotiators with the United States, so a U.S. congressional intervention that killed the deal will not only affect us but all of our major allies. If we stiff them, there is no reason to believe the international sanctions will hold for long. No mention (from Bibi)…
Netanyahu claims that Iran is this powerful aggressive state that has recently taken over four countries: Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen. I’m sorry, but as someone who follows the region somewhat closely, this is simply silly. Iraq is especially peculiar. The reason there is a Shia government in Baghdad is because George W. Bush invaded (with the very strong recommendation of Netanyahu), and installed a pro-Iranian Shia government. If this is a case of conquest, he has the wrong culprit…
His only alternative is the unicorn option: walk away from the table and Iran will cave in and agree to eliminate its entire nuclear capability. Our 36 years of dealing with Iran suggest that this is truly fantasy land. It may appeal to politicians trying to look tough, but there is no way that it will actually get Iran to modify or reduce its nuclear program.
Reality: We walk, Iran resumes all of its previous enrichment policies, we have to intervene militarily, Iran builds a bomb. But don’t say that. It detracts from the message.
This was great political theater. But it insulted the intelligence of anyone who has been paying attention to the issues.
I couldn’t have said it better.
On another topic, here’s something else Sick told me 30 years ago. He was talking about the Washington news cycle: “One day, there’s an issue that is all you hear about, and a week later, it’s like it never happened. Gone, vanished, poof!”
Exhibit A: The Homeland Security Department shutdown crisis. Whatever happened to that?
It ended on Tuesday, when the Republicans abjectly surrendered. After months of tough talk about how they were going to crash DHS unless Congress agreed to gut Obama’s pro-immigration orders, they finally awoke to reality and re-funded the department – no strings attached. Crisis gone, vanished, poof. In the ginned-up game of brinksmanship, chalk up another Republican loss.
Netflix should do a series on these people and call it House of Clowns.