One of my knee-jerk progressive Facebook friends is addicted to terrible analogies. Here is his recent attempt to frame the controversial appearance by Benjamin Netanyahu before Congress today:
“At the invitation of Speaker Yuli Edelstein, President Barak Obama will appear before the Israeli Knesset on Thursday to give a major speech on the Netanyahu adminstration’s bungling of the Palestinian conflict, territorial abuse to build settlements, and allocation of US foreign aide…”
What’s wrong with that? You have three seconds.
Time’s up. That is a lousy analogy, because the positions of the U.S. and Israel are not accurately reversed as a good analogy would demand. If Netanyahu was appearing before Congress to lecture it on U.S. policies regarding illegal immigration over the Mexican border, that would justify my friend’s hypothetical. What Netanyahu is here to talk about, however, is the future of his people and his nation, not ours.
As I wrote here about a month ago, there is no question that this is a breach of diplomatic protocol, nor is there any doubt that Congress is defying tradition, separation of powers and probably the Constitution to invite the Israel Prime Minister to, in essence, lobby the public regarding the President’s conduct of foreign policy. Congress’s actions are objectively unethical, a calculated tit for the President’s equally unethical tat of using executive orders to circumvent the lawmaking process. This episode is ethically more complicated than that, however, and when the criticism is doled out, other ethical considerations and principles are relevant.
Here is the chief one: Netanyahu does not trust the judgment, motives, negotiating skill and competence of the Obama Administration. Since his nation’s very existence may depend on our President’s ability to keep Iran from developing nuclear weapons, this is a very important matter, indeed one of life and death for Israel. If Netanyahu believes, as I think he does and I think he should, that there is no reason to trust President Obama, John Kerry and the rest of the State Department’s advisors and diplomats with this crucial task, then Netanyahu is ethically obligated to do something about it, to act. Israel’s security, the lives of its citizens and very existence is imperiled if Obama’s word and judgement fails in this instance…as it has failed so many times in foreign affairs. In that case. such things as tradition, protocol, and respect have to be relegated to lower priority. As the leader of Israel, responsible for its life and welfare, if Netanyahu sincerely believes that appearing before Congress in defiance of Obama and the State Department’s wishes is the best option available to him to try to preserve that life and welfare, then it would be unethical, indeed, a grievous breach of his duty as a leader, not to make the speech today.
What is happening in Washington, D.C. is the inevitable consequence of shattered trust. That is not Netanyahu’s fault or responsibility, but he must respond to it. I laughed out loud when Kerry said on Sunday that “We have said again and again, no deal is better than a bad deal. We’re not going to make a bad deal.” Do we have to catalogue all the times that what John Kerry has said and promised has not come to pass? What does this administration consider a “good deal”? It apparently thought the recent climate change agreement with China was a “good deal,” though it commits the U.S. to taking significant and expensive steps while China takes none. That was called a good deal by climate change activists only because they would have applauded the same U.S. commitment had it been made unilaterally. Kerry also said that the U.S. “deserves the benefit of the doubt on getting a deal that would prevent any need for military action to curb Tehran’s atomic ambitions.” It does? Ask the Ukraine if the U.S.’s ability and will to use its influence and power to prevent catastrophes to other nations has earned “the benefit of the doubt.” Ask Libya; ask the Syrian rebels. Ask Iraq. Ask Nigeria.
President Obama’s credibility, and his ability to make believable threats that keep despots, terrorists and rogue states from breaking their agreements were permanently destroyed the day he made his “red line” pledge and then refused to deliver on it when the line was crossed. Iran, as Netanhahu will doubtless point out today, has already broken its word regarding its nuclear research repeatedly. Since its stated goal, from the mouths of high-placed officials, is to wipe Israel off the face of the map, it is deluded for Kerry to claim that the U.S. deserves “the benefit of the doubt,” but suicidal for Israel to accept it.
But have no fear, Israel–no less reliable a source than National Security Adviser Susan Rice said yesterday that the international community will only enter into a pact that will stop Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. “Now I want to be very clear: a bad deal is worse than no deal. And if that is the choice then there will be no deal,” Rice said. “We are not taking anything on trust. What matters are Iran’s actions, not its words.”
Why would anyone not trust Susan Rice, who told the American public that the Libyan compound attack was due to a YouTube video and not organized terrorism when the Administration had been told otherwise, and pronounced deserter Bowe Bergdahl a hero? By all means, I’d want my leader to bet the lives of my family on the word of Susan Rice.
The undeniable incompetence, deceit and fecklessness of President Obama and his appointees—let’s restrict the discussion to foreign policy to keep it manageable–has consequences. People don’t trust leaders who don’t enforce red lines, who make rationalizations for terrorists, who let despots run amuck…who make it clear that nothing will move them to get militarily involved (except when something does); who claim that dropping bombs isn’t warfare, that allow their spokespersons to lie to the public, in short, people don’t, can’t and should not trust such leaders with their nation’s existence. Netanyahu’s speech is unethical for our Congress to allow, but since Congress is allowing it, it would be unethical for Netanyahu not to speak no matter how much it infuriates Obama.