We hope Prime Minister Netanyahu will weather the full court press orchestrated by the White House and deliver his scheduled talk to Congress next month. The reported elements of the emerging deal in the negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program would, if true, constitute a major threat to Israel and a significant challenge to world order. Mr. Netanyahu feels it’s vital to present his country’s concerns to American lawmakers while there still might be time to avert a dangerously bad deal with the Iranians.
There is a lot more in play here than petty party politics or mere ego, as the White House would have us believe. But the administration has deftly repackaged House Speaker Boehner’s invitation to Mr. Netanyahu, and the prime minister’s acceptance of it, as a personal affront to President Obama and a partisan gesture that risks weakening the longstanding bipartisan support in Washington for Israel.
Indeed, some Jewish organizational types (most prominently the ADL’s Abe Foxman and the Reform movement’s Rabbi Rick Jacobs) have gone public with requests that Mr. Netanyahu cancel his speech for just those reasons.
But the executive and the legislative are co-equal branches of government, each with constitutionally prescribed roles in the conduct of American foreign policy. Ironically, liberals historically have been the most vocal critics of foreign policy by presidential diktat, and yet in this instance the president and his party seem intent on relegating Congress to a less than auxiliary role.
The answer to why Mr. Obama is so touchy about the Netanyahu speech might be found in the recent but little noted congressional testimony given by former secretary of state Henry Kissinger on the Iran negotiations:
Nuclear talks with Iran began as an international effort, buttressed by six UN resolutions, to deny Iran the capability to develop a military nuclear option. They are now an essentially bilateral negotiation over the scope of that capability through an agreement that sets a hypothetical limit of one year on an assumed breakout. The impact of this approach will be to move from preventing proliferation to managing it.
But I would also emphasize the issue of proliferation….[T]he question then is what do the other countries in the region do? And if the other countries in the region conclude that America has approved the development of an enrichment capability within one year of a nuclear weapon, and if they insist on building the same capability, we will live in a proliferated world in which everybody – even if that agreement is maintained – will be very close to the trigger point.
So the task facing the world community, should President Obama’s plan to allow the Iranians some weapons-production capability, is to maximize the time it would take for Iran to produce nuclear weapons. This is a breathtaking change from the original goal of the negotiations and the reason why Mr. Netanyahu is so concerned: any regulatory regime, after all, is only as good as its inspectors and ultimately would be dependent on the level of cooperation extended by the Iranians.
As Mr. Obama apparently sees it, however, it would provide a convenient mechanism to permit the Iranians to make a deal that would burnish his image as the president who brought Iran back into the world community while removing a substantial threat to world peace.
The way we see it, the significance of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech to Congress looms very large, as does the ability and willingness of Congress to check the power of the president.