House Speaker John Boehner is not satisfied with the newfound power that comes from the GOP takeover of both houses of Congress. Now he wants to insert his influence on another important election — the one that’s brewing in Israel.
Boehner’s invitation to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak before a joint session of Congress is not only a badly timed political sucker punch in this country. It also has Israeli political observers concerned over the damage it is doing to U.S.-Israeli relations.
Neither Netanyahu nor Boehner felt the need to let the White House know of their planned get-together — take that, Obama —though Netanyahu, whose Likud party is facing strong challenges from left and right in races for Israel’s parliament, has been trying to manage the fallout. The elections are scheduled two weeks after Netanyahu’s planned Capitol appearance in early March.
The prime issue underlying this farce is Iran. Most reasonable people are taking the position that the drawn-out negotiations — yes, they are past deadline and likely to stretch past another one in June — over Iran’s nuclear intentions and U.S. sanctions are so delicate (think china shop) that the bull-headed moves by Boehner and GOP hawks will undermine them.
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The fragile nature of this business has been compounded by the demonic rise of the Islamic State, the extremist force in Syria and Iraq that has brought the U.S., Iran and others in alarmed opposition.
Add to that the plunge in world oil prices, this week’s upheaval in Yemen and a transition of power in Saudi Arabia — Iran’s arch-rival and eternal enemy in the Middle East — and you begin to understand the often mind-boggling calculus.
Throw in a possible assassination in Argentina for good measure, and the picture gets even cloudier. Blame it all on the entrenched, centuries-old hatred of each other by Sunni Muslims (Saudi Arabia and its extremist spawn) and Shi’ite Muslims (Iran and its terror puppets), plus their shared hatred of Israel and the Jews and resentments of the West.
For Bibi, as he’s known, and Boehner, the issue is one-dimensional and unyielding: We don’t trust Iran, whose main intention is to build a weapon that will wipe out Israel first.
“This is very shortsighted,” Jim Slattery, the former Democratic congressman from Kansas, says of the Boehner-Bibi affair. “This is not good for Israel or the U.S.”
Slattery, for the last 10 years, has been involved in a faith-based effort to bridge the chasms dividing Christians, Muslims and Jews in the Middle East. In December, Slattery spoke at a conference in Tehran, delivering a message of hope that religion can be a force for peace in the region.
Some people look at such efforts as naive evangelizing, but Slattery is convincing that sidebar meetings with open-minded Iranians and others show the potential for rapprochement is real.
“The reality is you cannot go through that region without dealing directly with the religious component,” Slattery told me in a recent interview.
Of course internal politics creates anxieties and conflicts in all nations, and the U.S., Iran and Israel are not immune from such battles.
Slattery believes Boehner’s reachout to Netanyahu was all about politics and not about national security or the essence of these world-changing dynamics.
“It is unfortunate U.S. domestic politics is intruding into critical negotiations that hold the promise of preventing a nuclear Iran and another disastrous war in the Middle East,” he said in a follow-up email this week. “The Congress should not be officially intruding in the internal politics of an important ally like Israel.”
He added that he was “deeply confident” that an agreement would be reached with Iran.
Then again, keep watch for more blunders by Boehner, Bibi and other blindered, short-term thinkers.