(The idea for this piece comes from a reader)
The Boston Globe has an opinion-piece about Israel’s Prime Minister (“Benjamin Netanyahu goes too far”, January 23, 2015). The essay doesn’t criticize him. It attacks him personally.
It blames him for ‘blind-siding’ the US President by accepting an invitation to speak to Congress. It describes him as a man who has repeatedly gone out of his way to stick ‘his finger in the President’s eye’. It claims his behaviour reveals an “ingratitude and hubris rarely seen before in the annals of the US-Israel bilateral relationship.”
For this Boston Globe essay, Netanyahu’s ungratefulness seems to know no limit. For example, Netanyahu had the gall to refuse to obey America’s demand for ‘a settlement freeze’. He had the effrontery to deliver “an infamous ‘history lesson’ to Obama in the Oval Office in 2011 on the security challenges facing Israel.” He didn’t just criticize a 2013 US-Iran nuclear agreement. He “disparaged” it. He rejected a wonderful agreement the US had completed for Israel’s benefit.
In this essay, Netanyahu looks like a man who bites the hand that helps him.
The essay makes Netanyahu look unprincipled for ‘disparaging’ that agreement. That’s strange because last year, the Boston Globe itself had sung a different song. It wrote that many in the US Congress feared this Iran deal was more a ‘bad deal’ than a good one (“Nuclear deal could reset US-Iran relations”, November 19, 2014).
So why do we now see this attack on Netanyahu? More to our point, why is that attack so personal?
This Boston Globe attack sees Netanyahu’s rejection of the Iran agreement as a kind of personal betrayal aimed specifically at President Obama. It’s a strange accusation. At the time that deal was made—when Netanyahu expressed such distaste for it--some at the prestigious Brookings Institute in the US essentially agreed with him (“Brookings Scholars Weigh In On The Nuclear Deal With Iran”, Brookings, November 28, 2013): the deal quite literally scared the Saudis, would intensify violence in the Middle East and left the players in the Middle East feeling bewildered and likely angered (ibid).
Netanyahu’s response to the deal wasn’t ‘ingratitude’. It wasn’t betrayal. It was realistic, especially when one considered Middle East geopolitical realities. The Saudis were potentially just as upset as Netanyahu. Why was the Boston Globe suddenly attacking only Netanyahu over Iran?
Well, on January 20, 2015, the US President drew an Iran line in the sand. He announced during his State of the Union address that he would veto any legislative attempt to impose new sanctions against Iran.
The very next day, January 21, 2015, House of Representatives (Republican) Speaker John Boehner gave two responses to that threat. First, he said of the President, “He expects us [Congress] to stand idly by and do nothing while he cuts a bad deal with Iran. Two words: 'Hell no!' …We're going to do no such thing" (“Boehner, White House Clash Over Netanyahu Invite”, National Journal, January 21, 2015).
Boehner’s second response was to send an invitation to Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak before a joint session of Congress about the ‘grave threat of radical Islam and Iran’ (“White House: Boehner’s Invitation To Netanyahu Was A “Breach Of Protocol,” BuzzfeedNews, January 21, 2015).
In Washington, everyone knows that Netanyahu believes that Iran’s nuclear program is extremely dangerous to world peace. Everyone knows that Obama disagrees with Netanyahu. Everyone also knows that Obama wants to stamp out any effort to become harsh with Iran.
John Boehner believes Iran is dangerous. Does he have no right to seek help to make that case?
Pro-President advocates believe that Boehner has no such right. What he did, they say, is “unprecedented. It's hitting below the belt. It's taking partisanship to a whole new level…It is a way for [Republicans] to embarrass and humiliate the Obama administration" just as they, the Republicans, prepare to dig in against the President (“Boehner's Netanyahu Invite Is An 'Unprecedented' Diss Of Obama”, TPM DC, January 21, 2015).
Democrats were furious at Boehner. But then, it was Netanyahu who was savaged: a news story broke immediately that Netanyahu’s own Mossad (intelligence Agency) disagreed with him over sanctions.
This story was an attack against Netanyahu. It made him look like he couldn’t control his own Intelligence Agency. It claimed that a Mossad leader had told US officials that, in fact, more sanctions would “tank the Iran nuclear negotiations”, (“Israeli Mossad Goes Rogue, Warns U.S. on Iran Sanctions”, Bloomberg News, January 21, 2015).
The next day Israel got angry. It said the story was completely false (“Fury in Israel Over Obama's Mossad 'Lies'”, Arutz Sheva).
Israeli officials were furious. They had reviewed the minutes of the meeting the Mossad head had attended. There was nothing in those minutes to substantiate the leaked story.
Then, there was the matter of secrecy. "Leaking the Mossad Head's statements, even if they had not been falsified, is a serious breach of all the rules,” [a senior Israeli said]. “Friends do not behave like this. Information from a secret meeting must not leak out” (ibid).
The next day, January 23, 2015, we saw where all of this was going: Netanyahu (not Boehner) was going to be ‘punished’ for ‘disrespect’ (“The White House Makes It Clear That Netanyahu Will Pay For Disrespecting President Obama”, PoliticusUSA, January 23, 2015). It seems that some ‘unnamed US officials’ saw Netanyahu’s accepting the Boehner invitation as ‘spitting’ in the President’s face—and for that, he would pay a price (“US Says Netanyahu Will Pay ‘Price’ for Upcoming Visit; Obama and Kerry Refuse to Meet Israeli PM”, United with Israel, January 23, 2015).
That’s strange. Several months ago, an ‘unnamed Administration official’ was reported to have called Netanyahu ‘a chickens**t’ (“Senior Obama official: Israeli PM Netanyahu is 'chicken[s-ip]'”, freerepublic, October 28, 2014). Now, an ‘unnamed official’ claims that Netanyahu shows disrespect for Obama?
One of the first manifestations of the ‘price’ for that ‘disrespect’ was the Boston Globe attack (above): Netanyahu isn’t a real ally. Instead, he’s a selfish ingrate who betrays all the good things President Obama has done for him. He spits in the President’s face. He sticks his finger in the President’s eye. He accepts invitations he shouldn’t accept.
This story isn’t about diplomacy. It isn’t about foreign policy. For the US, it’s about respect.
Is this what the debate over Iran is about--respect for the US President?
This invitation incident has provoked some very disrespectful behaviour indeed. The US Administration seems so intent to stifle opposition to the President’s Iran policy, it will turn ugly to get its way: it will falsify secret conversations. It will make public a secret interview. It will have friends call an ally ‘an ingrate’. It will convert legitimate diplomatic differences into a question of ‘respect’ for the US President.
The US sends a message. If you disagree with me in public, I will smear you.
The US makes the word, ‘’Superpower’ look ugly. It makes a great office look venal.
No wonder the US loses its prestige.