Imagine a hypothetical scenario. A Republican president and his team, believing they have an opportunity for a foreign-policy breakthrough, partner with U.S. allies to launch sensitive, international talks.
As the negotiations slowly continue, congressional Democrats announce that they’ve decided to try to sabotage the Republican president’s efforts. In fact, Democrats in this scenario go so far as to circumvent the executive branch and partner with a foreign government to derail the American-led diplomacy, even while the talks continue.
Try to imagine what the response to this hypothetical would be. Think about the kind of words Republicans and the Beltway media would use. Consider just how serious a scandal this would be.
And then realize that this isn’t really a hypothetical at all – it’s effectively unfolding right now, except it’s a Democratic administration in the midst of international nuclear negotiations with Iran, and it’s primarily Republicans, led by House Speaker John Boehner, who intend to undermine American foreign policy by partnering with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Max Fisher had a good overview of the story overnight:
Netanyahu is playing a game with US domestic politics to try to undermine and pressure Obama – and thus steer US foreign policy. Boehner wants to help him out. By reaching out to Netanyahu directly and setting up a visit without the knowledge of the White House, he is undermining not just Obama’s policies but his very leadership of US foreign policy. The fact that Netanyahu is once again meddling in American politics, and that a US political party is siding with a foreign country over their own president, is extremely unusual, and a major break with the way that foreign relations usually work.
Yes, and it’s arguably a major break with the way that U.S. foreign relations are supposed to work. We’ve talked before about the ways in which congressional Republicans have actively sought to undermine American foreign policy in the Obama era, but yesterday’s gambit seems to push the envelope in ways that were hard to even imagine.
That said, the new formality of the GOP/Netanyahu partnership seems to have changed the game quite a bit over the last 24 hours.
For example, last night, France’s minister of foreign affairs, Britain’s foreign secretary, Germany’s federal minister for foreign affairs, and the European Union’s high representative for foreign affairs wrote a joint piece for the Washington Post, urging Congress to allow the talks to continue. This was no small development – the piece was written by the chief diplomatic officer (the equivalent of the U.S. Secretary of State) of some of America’s closest allies on the planet.
If there are Republicans who argue that these allies aren’t as important as Israel, they should remember that even some top Israeli officials themselves believe that Netanyahu and GOP officials are pursuing the wrong course.
The Israeli intelligence agency Mossad has broken ranks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, telling U.S. officials and lawmakers that a new Iran sanctions bill in the U.S. Congress would tank the Iran nuclear negotiations.
It’s going to be tough for anyone to argue that the international negotiations are anti-Israel when the Mossad is arguing otherwise.
What’s more, note that the Anti-Defamation League’s Abe Foxman also believes the Republican gambit is a mistake. Foxman urged Boehner to rescind the invitation and urged Netanyahu not to accept it.
So what happens now? At Netanyahu’s request, the prime minister’s speech was moved this morning to March 3, which means he’ll enjoy the congressional spotlight literally just two weeks before his own re-election bid in Israel. President Obama announced this morning that he will not meet with Netanyahu during this trip – the president, following long-standing U.S. practices, “does not meet with heads of state or candidates in close proximity to their elections.”
It would appear Congress is unconcerned with this custom.
As for the specific legislative plan, opponents of the international diplomatic effort intend to move forward on a bill to impose new sanctions on Iran, which would force Iran from the negotiating table and scuttle the talks. President Obama would, of course, veto those sanctions, in order to allow the process to continue, and it’s unclear if there would be enough votes to override that veto.
Politico had an interesting piece today noting that some congressional Democrats are inclined to vote for the new sanctions, but they’re far more hesitant about overriding a presidential veto.
It’s also worth emphasizing that while much of this dispute is partisan – Republicans and Netanyahu on one side, the White House and Democrats on the other – there are notable exceptions. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), for example, has practically adopted a Republican posture, using genuinely outrageous rhetoric while condemning the Obama administration’s diplomatic efforts. Sens. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.), on the other hand, have expressed public skepticism about the value of sabotaging the international talks with Iran.
That said, those are more the exceptions rather than the rule. Max Fisher’s report concluded that it’s Republicans who are “siding with a foreign country over their own president,” which is “bad for America’s ability to conduct foreign policy.”
This is also arguably the biggest and most direct threat Republicans have posed to American foreign policy in many years. As a rule, GOP efforts are rhetorical, and largely consist of complaining about the administration on Sunday shows and in press conferences. This time, however, there’s a possibility that their drive to undermine the sitting U.S. president will have real-world, adverse consequences.