The debate over the breakthrough with Iran is striking for several reasons. The deal makes the most sense, it seems to me, from a classic George H W Bush perspective on foreign policy. It’s deeply pragmatic and realist, grasping the importance of Iran as a regional power, and picking the least worst of the options George W Bush frittered fecklessly away while in Iraq. It’s not final – and will only become more expansive if the virtuous cycle of engagement, moderation, and a more empowered, democratically backed, moderating force in Iran continues its momentum. It’s betting on changes within Iran that may not eventually pan out, on the US president being able to restrain Senate hawks from sabotaging the agreement, and on Rouhani being able to out-maneuver the reactionary elements in Iran.
Any sane response would therefore be to wait and see – and indeed, the Israeli government, after having an embarrassing conniption in front of the entire world (and thus paradoxically making the agreement gain more traction within Iran), has now decided to send a security team to the White House as the negotiations for a final deal continue. It feels a little like a spoiled child refusing to eat dinner, being banished to his room and then emerging slowly down the stairs to ask for dessert.
And if you care about Israel, the conduct of the Netanyahu government cannot but be dismaying. Gershon Gorenberg today brilliantly skewered the lose-lose scenarios and dead ends that Netanyahu has repeatedly set up for himself and his country. He notes that Netanyahu not so long ago opposed any deal with the Syrian regime over its WMDs and distributed gas masks for a potential attack from Syria in its wake. Now that the accord has patently made Israel more secure, the sheer incompetence of Netanyahu’s response – his complete misreading of what was actually happening – seems even more pathetic. Netanyahu – rather like Rumsfeld in the new Errol Morris documentary – then actually fumbles a key rhetorical trope, thereby revealing how degenerate his leadership has become:
At a military ceremony, [Netanyahu] proclaimed that Israel could depend only on itself. “If I am not for myself, who is for me?” Netanyahu said, quoting the first half of an ancient Jewish maxim, without the second part, which says that someone who is only for himself is nothing. “We are for ourselves!” he declared.
And here, for good measure, is what someone in the Israeli government leaked to the Jerusalem Post:
“The prime minister made it clear to the most powerful man on earth that if he intends to stay the most powerful man on earth, it’s important to make a change in American policy because the practical result of his current policy is liable to lead him to the same failure that the Americans absorbed in North Korea and Pakistan, and Iran could be next in line,” Likud Beytenu MK Tzachi Hanegbi told the Knesset Channel.
I guess one should be grateful that this time the Israeli prime minister didn’t treat the US president with that kind of contempt in public. But what still manages to shock me is that after Netanyahu has treated the US president this way, and done his best to sabotage an agreement made in America’s core interests, some Americans take the side of a foreign country and not their own. John Bolton actually took directly to the pages of The Weekly Standard to urge Israel to launch a war against Iran – in order to scupper his own country’s core negotiations with Iran. This is not simple and reasoned opposition to the foreign policy of the United States; it is attempted active sabotage of it through a foreign country. Even when the neocons were assailing Reagan, they didn’t urge our allies to actually sabotage negotiations with the Soviets.
And here is Senator Chuck Schumer, vowing to destroy the foreign policy of a president of his own party by urging – along with others – that the Senate do what it can – again – to sabotage the president’s careful negotiations with a foreign power, which are clearly part of his executive responsibilities:
This level of open sabotage against the American president – decried by Democrats when it was the GOP attempting to bring down the global economy, and lamented when it meant gutting the president’s ability to appoint judges to vacant seats, and denigrated when Republican governors refuse to expand Medicaid – is nonetheless subject to no push-back at all when it comes to the Middle East. I still don’t get it. But I guess I never will.
I never fully grasped how the phrase “that sucks” has something to do with cock-sucking. So maybe I’ve been a homophobic bigot lo these many years as well.
Some amazing things happened to me today. I was walking across a pedestrian crossing in London, with no stop lights to guide traffic, and a cab actually voluntarily slowed down and stopped in order to let me cross to the other side of the street. When I was on the tube, people waited for others to leave before entering the train. I saw people lining up in a row for a bus. I’ve been in New York too long, haven’t I?
See you in the morning.
(Photo: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at his office on November 24, 2013 in Jerusalem, Israel. By Abir Sultan – Pool/Getty Images.)