The dynamics of Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit next week is much more complicated than the U.S. and Israeli media try and make it out to be. It is more than one more breach in the Obama-Netanyahu relationship: It’s a reaction to the president’s attempt to go around the constitutionally mandated rules for Senate approval of treaties, his use of British Prime Minister David Cameron to lobby for Congress, and a fear that he will agree to a deal that will naively give Iran a treaty that will put the United States and Israel in grave danger.
After the Netanyahu visit to a joint session of Congress was announced, Israeli faily newspaper Ha’aretz quoted a senior U.S. official as saying of the Israeli Prime Minister:
There are things you simply don’t do. He spat in our face publicly and that’s no way to behave. Netanyahu ought to remember that President Obama has a year and a half left to his presidency, and that there will be a price.”
Just the week before the announcement, Obama called Netanyahu and delivered a “warning not to meddle in the battle he is waging against Congress over the sanctions legislation.” This call was made just days after a joint press conference with the British Prime Minister and the American President where David Cameron admitted he was lobbying Congress to drop any bid for new sanctions on Iran.
On Sunday’s “Meet The Press” White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough tried to distance the president from that anonymous statement:
I can guarantee that it’s not me, not the president, and not what we believe. I’m not going to get hyperbolic or emotional about this. Our relationship with Israel is many-faceted, deep and abiding. It’s focused on a shared series of threats, but also, on a shared series of values that one particular instance is not going to inform overwhelmingly.
Despite McDonough’s protestations, Obama is seething, and that is the real reason the administration made a point to say the president would not be meeting with Netanyahu without Bibi’s even broaching the topic. And if you look at it from the president’s perspective, the anger is justified. After all. the Israeli Prime Minister kept the possible visit secret for weeks while he negotiated the details with the speaker.
But from the perspective of the Israeli Prime Minister, there is no wiggle room: The Iranian nuclear program must be stopped at all costs. Netanyahu is not a worry-about-Iran-come lately. Whether you agree with him or not, he made the Iranian nuclear program a priority issue when he became Likud party leader the first time, in 1992.
Neither Netanyahu nor either party in Congress trusts this administration to negotiate a treaty with Iran. Indeed much of the pushback against this administration on Iran comes from New Jersey Democratic Senator Bob Menendez. It was Menendez who at last week’s Foreign Relations Committee hearing cornered Deputy Secretary of State Anthony Blinken into admitting the White House is no longer negotiating to stop Iran from breaking out to nuclear weapons. Instead, the administration is content to get a better “alarm” in case the rogue nation tries to make the leap.
In the end, why should it matter? The Constitution requires the Senate to approve each treaty with a two-thirds vote. However, if the agreement does not bind a future presidency, it isn’t considered a treaty and thus does not need Senate approval. And that is exactly what this administration is trying to accomplish.
It is fighting two different Congressional bills. One will require the president to seek Senate approval for any agreement with Iran, closing the loophole the administration is trying to use. As Menendez described it to Blinken:
The Iranians have made it very clear that their parliament has to vote on this issue. Why is it possible that Tehran will treat its parliament better than the administration in the greatest democracy is willing to its Congress?
The very fact that Obama does not want Senate input into this treaty alone is cause for concern that he will make a bad deal.
The second bill is the one generating the most buzz. This bill would increase sanctions on Iran in July 2015 if a framework agreement is not reached by the March 2015 deadline. Additionally, Obama (or any president) has the right to waive or delay the sanctions. According to the president. the possibility of new sanctions will scuttle discussion, even if it’s scheduled for four months after the agreed-to deadline.
Menendez and others in Congress are fearful that if a deal is not made by the March deadline, the time for Iran to break out into nuclear weapons is shorter than the time it will take to create new sanctions. Thus the reason to have sanctions in place.
And what is Iran doing during this debate? Increasing its nuclear capacity. Iran is building two new nuclear plants “for peaceful purposes.” This is the nation’s constant refrain, but in actuality it is a thinly disguised pretext for expanding uts nuclear stockpile. Indeed, The Xinhuanet News Agency (China) reported:
Iran’s atomic chief said on Sunday that Iran must increase its uranium enrichment capacity to 30 tons per year to meet the fuel needs of its Bushehr nuclear power plant, according to Tasnim news agency.
So in the end, Netanyahu’s trip to Congress is a necessary risk. Start off with the fact that this president does not like Netanyahu and that his administration has enacted anti-Israel policies since he took office. Now add to that the fact that we know now the Obama administration cannot be trusted to make a deal that protects the United States or Israel from a nuclear Iran. Why else would he try to skirt congressional approval?
Iran is increasing its nuclear capacity without objection from the United States. And the only way to prevent this possible disaster is to convince Congress and the American people to put their foot down. Under those conditions, Benjamin Netanyahu had no other choice.
Cross-posted at The Lid