Mark Shields: Boehner’s dangerous gamble
Bipartisanship, that widely admired virtue so sadly rare in our nation’s politics, has been — since 1948, when President Harry Truman, rejecting the counsel of his own Cabinet secretaries, recognized the newborn nation — the hallmark of United States support for the state of Israel.
But that era is now over. It ended officially when, without so much as consulting with either the White House or the State Department, the Republican speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, John Boehner, unilaterally invited the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to address a joint session of Congress on March 3, just two weeks before the Israeli national elections, in which the embattled Netanyahu is fighting for his political life.
For Netanyahu, Boehner’s invitation, guaranteeing him global coverage and enhanced stature, is both the ideal campaign media event and a political gift. For the majority of Israeli voters who, according to polls, are not supporters of Netanyahu’s, the invitation from the House speaker can be reasonably seen as unwelcome American meddling in their country’s election.
More importantly, Netanyahu has publicly and fiercely opposed President Barack Obama’s sustained efforts to negotiate with Iran while maintaining tough sanctions on that country, an agreement ensuring that Iran will not develop nuclear weapons. For many years, Netanyahu’s pitch to American visitors remained consistent: “This is 1938. Iran is Germany, and it is about to go nuclear.” Possibly angered by the Obama administration’s public pressure on Israel to stop the increasing surge of Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank, Netanyahu made no effort to hide his support for Republican Mitt Romney over Obama in the 2012 presidential election. Earlier, he had been quoted in the Israeli papers indicting then-top Obama advisers Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod for being “self-hating Jews.”
Let us review the situation. The speaker of the House, a Republican, has deliberately provided a head of state who is manifestly unfriendly to the president of the United States, a Democrat, a unique forum to oppose and to criticize the foreign policy of the United States’ administration, probably to urge Congress to resist any nuclear agreement the United States might reach with Iran and, for good measure, to stiffen current sanctions against that country even more.
Boehner is not a naive man. Yet by this reckless political stunt, which embarrasses the Democratic president, he is undermining the very spirit and record of bipartisanship that, for nearly seven decades, has characterized United States friendship toward Israel. Boehner’s embrace and endorsement of Netanyahu risks turning U.S.-Israeli policy into just another partisan divide like same-sex marriage or global warming.
For interfering in the national elections of a close ally, for undermining the admittedly vulnerable prospects of a peaceful resolution of tension with Iran, for possibly alienating the coalition opposing Netanyahu, which could organize the next Israeli government, and for irresponsibly practicing easy politics over difficult statesmanship, John Boehner may score a few cheap points. But by what he alone has chosen to do, the speaker is, sadly, a diminished and less admirable public man.
Copyright 2015 The Associated Press.