Secretary of State John Kerry testified on Capitol Hill yesterday, and going into the hearing, it was widely expected that he’d tout the importance of international nuclear talks with Iran. He did exactly that, though he also went a little further in challenging a critic of those talks.
Secretary of State John Kerry reminded Americans on Wednesday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, who is expected to denounce a potential nuclear deal with Iran during an address to Congress next week, also visited Washington in late 2002 to lobby for the invasion of Iraq.Apparently referring to testimony on the Middle East that Mr. Netanyahu delivered to Congress on Sept. 12, 2002, when he was a private citizen, Mr. Kerry told the House Foreign Affairs Committee, “The prime minister, as you will recall, was profoundly forward-leaning and outspoken about the importance of invading Iraq under George W. Bush, and we all know what happened with that decision.”
In 2002, Netanyahu assured lawmakers that invading Iraq was a great idea. “If you take out Saddam, Saddam’s regime, I guarantee you that it will have enormous positive reverberations on the region,” he said at the time.
We now know, of course, that Netanyahu’s guarantee was spectacularly wrong, which matters insofar as credibility still counts – the same Israeli leader is now telling lawmakers an international agreement with Iran would be a disaster for the United States and its allies. Kerry’s point wasn’t subtle: those who were this wrong before probably shouldn’t be trusted to be right now.
There’s something almost refreshing about this. Note, there’s nothing personal or even electoral about the administration’s message – Kerry didn’t offer some prolonged complaint about Netanyahu and the Israeli elections, or the unprecedented nature of the prime minister’s partnership with congressional Republicans.
It’s far more straightforward. Netanyahu has positioned himself as a participant in a policy debate and, at the same time, he’s claiming great credibility on the subject matter. The White House is responding in kind, treating Netanyahu as a policy rival.
What’s wrong with this? Actually, nothing.
We’re accustomed to foreign heads of state, at least publicly, approaching these kinds of disagreements with great care and delicacy, but the Israeli leader has forgone the usual route and is engaging in a fight as if he were just another political pugilist.
Netanyahu effectively told Obama and his team, “I’m going to try to derail American foreign policy,” to which administration officials have replied, “And we’re going to try to stop you.”
In yesterday’s case, that meant doing a little research and presenting lawmakers with a reminder about Netanyahu’s track record.
Kerry’s comments came soon after Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) announced he will not attend the Israeli prime minister’s speech next week, calling the event “highly inappropriate.” Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), who is Jewish and represents a district with a large Jewish population, also said yesterday she’ll skip the joint-session address, criticizing “the ham-handed politics” surrounding the Netanyahu/Republican partnership.
Barring an unexpected change, the Israeli leader will be on the House floor for his speech on Tuesday, March 3. As of yesterday, 25 House Democrats and four members of the Senate Democratic caucus have said they will not be there.