By BOAZ BISMUTH, Israel Hayom—
Washington — or to be more precise, the White House — is U.S. President Barack Obama’s home court. Congress, however, has become a hostile arena for Obama since the midterm elections in November. The Republican majority in both chambers there holds a different outlook from the president on a whole range of issues, both foreign and domestic.
Obama’s biggest problem is that on the most important issue — a nuclear agreement with Iran that he hoped to make his legacy — the Democrats (for example, Senator Robert Menendez, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee) are aligning themselves with the Republicans, not him.
Given the distrust of Iran that reigns in Congress and the American public, what is Obama to do? Is he wising up regarding his Iran policy? According to his State of the Union address on Tuesday (the sixth of his presidency), the answer to that second question is no. In his speech, Obama flexed his muscles, but not toward the Iranians, God forbid! Why endanger a potential deal? Instead, Obama flexed his muscles toward Congress.
Obama declared he opposed the imposition of any new sanctions on Iran at this time, saying that such a move would “all but guarantee that diplomacy fails.” The Iranian nuclear issue is becoming a battleground between an oppositional Congress and a president who wields veto power. Such a veto would surely play into the hands of the Iranians.
In the midst of this debate over one of the key issues facing the world today, John Boehner, the speaker of the House of Representatives, invited Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress. Netanyahu is considered to be an authority on the Iranian nuclear issue and Congress wants to hear his opinion. In case you have forgotten, even before he was elected prime minister for the first time in 1996, Netanyahu viewed Iran as the greatest threat facing Israel. And Netanyahu deserves credit for weaving together an international diplomatic coalition against the Iranian nuclear program.
It is not surprising that Netanyahu’s upcoming address to Congress has sparked a political firestorm in Israel and the U.S. In Washington, this is because of Obama’s known views and his opposition to new sanctions. In Israel, it is because elections are fast approaching and political motives are immediately attributed to anything Netanyahu does, as if terrorism has stopped and Iran’s centrifuges have ceased spinning just because the upcoming elections. Come on, let’s be serious.
Netanyahu will likely receive a very warm reception from Congress. In the Obama era, the White House might not be friendly terrain for Netanyahu. But in Congress, Republicans and Democrats alike have great respect for the prime minister.
Netanyahu’s visit to Washington will take place a few weeks before the elections in Israel. The U.S. has already said it would not interfere in these elections. But Obama’s decision on whether to welcome or shun Netanyahu during his visit will carry some weight.
What will Obama do? Logic says he probably will find time to meet with Netanyahu. If Obama shuns Netanyahu, this would send a very bad message. Let’s remember that Iran’s nuclear program is a threat to the whole world, not just Israel.
Perhaps we should put cynicism aside and view the invitation to Netanyahu to address Congress in a positive light. Let’s ignore the internal politics, ego battles and electoral intrigues for a moment and consider the fact that only one other leader has been invited to address Congress three times. His name was Winston Churchill.