Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) addresses a joint meeting of Congress in the House Chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on March 3, 2015.
Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters

Mastering the fine art of losing well

Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) announced his support for the international nuclear agreement with Iran overnight, as did Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.). Both members were considered “on the fence” and their endorsements reinforce broad perceptions that the diplomatic solution is likely to prevail.
 
It’s against this backdrop that Slate’s Fred Kaplan argues persuasively that some of the deal’s high-profile opponents have made a serious strategic blunder.
If current trends hold, [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu] and his stateside lobbyists – mainly AIPAC – are set to lose this fight. It’s politically risky for Israel’s head of state to go up against the president of his only big ally and benefactor; it’s catastrophic to do so and come away with nothing. Similarly, it’s a huge defeat for AIPAC, whose power derives from an image of invincibility. American politicians and donors might get the idea that the group isn’t so invincible after all, that they can defy its wishes, now and then, without great risk.
 
It would have been better for Netanyahu – and for Israel – had he maybe grumbled about the Iran deal but not opposed it outright, let alone so brazenly. He could have pried many more favors from Obama in exchange for his scowl-faced neutrality.
That’s undoubtedly true. It’s easy to imagine a scenario in which Netanyahu and his team looked ahead, counted heads, and applied some basic game theory. “Look,” the prime minister could have told President Obama privately, “I’ll obviously never endorse the deal, but in exchange for some new benefits, I’ll scale back the opposition campaign.” West Wing officials likely would have been amenable to working something out.
 
For that matter, if Netanyahu hadn’t adopted such an obstinate, unconstructive posture, he could have also worked with the White House during the negotiations, possibly even having some influence over the shape of the outcome.
 
But the prime minister and his allies chose a different course: first try to kill the talks, then try to kill the deal. For his trouble, Netanyahu is likely to end up with … nothing.
 
The policy will apparently move forward anyway, while Netanyahu has undercut Israel’s relationship with his country’s closest ally.
 
There is an art to losing well. The prime minister has conducted a clinic on what not to do.
 
If it seems like this dynamic comes up from time to time, it’s not your imagination. Congressional Republicans have routinely had opportunities to advance their own goals – on immigration, health care, and even the environment – shaping public policy in ways that benefit their own agenda, even while losing the larger fight, but they’ve been too short-sighted to take advantage.
 
Their first instinct – attack, reject, and oppose anything and everything President Obama suggests, regardless of merit – has done GOP lawmakers no favors. Indeed, it’s ultimately self-defeating, since Republicans could have produced a more favorable outcome, from their own perspective, if they’d tried to compromise a little with the White House and congressional Democrats.
 
They, like Netanyahu, instead end up with nothing except a policy they like even less.
 
Maybe it’s an unfortunate hallmark of contemporary conservative thought?
 
 

Benjamin Netanyahu, Foreign Policy, Iran and Israel

Mastering the fine art of losing well