Sunday, March 22, 2015

Obama ignites a backlash

On Thursday, the White House, despite clarification about election comments from the reelected Israeli prime minister, kept up its war of words on the Jewish state. In a read-out of the president’s belated call with the prime minister the White House said Benjamin Netanyahu had won only a “plurality,” which might suggest there is ever a majority winner in Israel’s parliamentary system. There is not; this was another dig at Netanyahu, one more sign the president has essentially lost it, allowing his personal animus to govern his actions. Even after Netanyahu clarified in an interview that he had never retracted his embrace of a two-state solution, although current circumstances did not allow it (would any reasonable observer differ?), the administration refused to be mollified.
The president’s behavior seems to have induced a backlash.
I spoke by phone with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who seemed incredulous that the president would behave this way. But he suggested the president is alienating Democrats and convincing Congress he is irrational and untrustworthy when it comes to Israel and Iran. “It’s been unnerving seeing the president show his open hostility,” Graham said. “It’s immature and over the top and has made people suspicious.” He observed, “He makes it hard for Democrats to trust him.” The timing could not be more inopportune for the president who faces votes in Congress to require an up-or-down vote on the Iran deal and potentially to impose more sanctions. The Corker-Graham-Menendez bill will be marked up in April (with new Democratic co-sponsors, according to a Senate source) and Graham says, partly due to the president, Congress will have enough votes to override a veto. With the White House now suggesting it might not make the deal public, Graham says, the entire endeavor has become “absurd.”
Moreover, Graham hinted at another avenue to stop the president from going to the United Nations in lieu of the Senate. In deliberate fashion he added, “As for using the U.N. to avoid coming to the Congress, well that will create a real crisis between Congress and the U.N.” He notes that the United States pays for 22 percent of the U.N. budget and that the subcommittee he controls oversees State Department funding. Without directly threatening to cut off U.N. funding he says, “I am not going to ask American taxpayers to spend money on the U.N. that would [confirm a deal and undercut the Congress].” He added, “If the U.N. is used to going around Congress it would create a tremendous backlash.”
In addition, in a highly unusual statement AIPAC (whose members are overwhelmingly Democratic) chastised the president:
Today, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu strongly and clearly reaffirmed his commitment to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In addition, he sought to reassure that his government will be dedicated to serving and representing all the people of Israel – both Jewish and non-Jewish citizens. Unfortunately, administration spokespersons rebuffed the prime minister’s efforts to improve the understandings between Israel and the U.S. In contrast to their comments, we urge the administration to further strengthen ties with America’s most reliable and only truly democratic ally in the Middle East. A solid and unwavering relationship between the U.S. and Israel is in the national security interests of both countries and reflects the values that we both cherish.
Former AIPAC spokesman Josh Block told Right Turn, “It is quite rare for AIPAC to directly and publicly criticize the White House, and clearly there is a feeling that the president’s staff is acting in an irresponsible way that undermines America’s interests and vital relationship with our only reliable democratic ally in the region.” He explained, “That would be bad White House policy at any time, but especially as the president has so badly alienated our Arab allies as well, and is, despite repeated promises to the contrary, in the midst of giving Iran a nuclear deal that provides the Islamic Republic with the capabilities to develop nuclear weapons at any time of its choosing.”
By the afternoon in eloquent fashion from the Senate floor, Sens. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) blasted Obama’s hostile reaction to our closest Middle East ally. Rubio declared, “This is a historic and tragic mistake. Israel is not a Republican or Democratic issue. If this was a Republican president doing these things, I would give the exact same speech. In fact, I would be even angrier. This is outrageous. It is irresponsible. It is dangerous, and it betrays the commitment this nation has made to the right of a Jewish state to exist in peace.”
Obama was expert in inspiring Israelis to rally around their prime minister. Now he is helping to consolidate bipartisan opposition to his policies, his unilateralism and his approach to Iran and Israel – and potentially to precipitate a bipartisan attack on the U.N. There really is no community organizer on the right who could have produced such results.
In addition, 363 House members, a huge bipartisan show of solidarity, are reportedly signed onto a letter to be sent to the president demanding Congress have a role and that any deal “foreclose any pathway to a bomb.” If nothing else, the president’s behavior has caused Democrats to lose faith in his “trust me” approach to negotiations. And to make matters worse for the president, his new year’s greeting to Iran in fawning tones drew a comparison between “hardliners” in both countries who seek to nix a deal. This gross moral equivalence and the assumption that the Iranian people have a say in their affairs should be enough for even the most loyal Democrats to question whether the president can be trusted to make a deal, and frankly whether he is totally out to lunch.

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