Netanyahu speach stunt backfires on Boehner

The following editorial appeared in The News & Observer on Feb. 15:

Considering the disrespect the Republican-run Congress has shown the current president of the United States, there’s no creditability to claims that inviting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak to a joint session isn’t a slap at President Obama.

House Speaker John Boehner issued the invitation, and Netanyahu is slated to speak March 3. His cause is to make the case against attempts by the U.S. and some of its allies, fellow permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany, to negotiate with Iran over its nuclear program.

Netanyahu, who regards Iran as a direct threat to his country, takes a harder line and apparently prefers more sanctions instead of talks.

In issuing the invitation, Boehner stepped over a customary diplomatic line that an invitation to a head of state to make such a visit should come from the head of state of the United States, namely the president. Obama has resisted the idea because, for one thing, Israel is slated to have elections March 17.

The president rightly believes it would be improper to give Netanyahu the worldwide forum of an address to Congress so close to that election.

And the speech would come as the U.S., France, China, Russia, Britain and Germany are looking at delicate negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program. Netanyahu sees Iran as a clear threat to Israel’s existence.

Frankly, that he would accept the invitation is disturbing. Israel has no stronger ally than the United States, financial and otherwise, and President Obama, though he disagrees with Netanyahu on this issue, has himself been a strong supporter of Israel.

In his home country, Netanyahu has been making much of his visit to the U.S., saying it’s part of his mission to stop a “bad” deal with Iran. That would seem an attempt to elevate himself with the electorate in his country on the eve of elections.

Obama has properly declined to meet with Netanyahu when he comes for the March 3 speech, and Vice President Joseph Biden will not be on hand to preside as Senate president. Other Democrats have said they will boycott the event, including Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, who called it “a tawdry and high-handed stunt.”

Some Republicans now wish it had not been arranged, and U.S. groups that support Israel are asking that the speech be delayed, canceled or taken to another venue.

Boehner has been on Capitol Hill long enough and dealt with enough foreign policy issues to know the problems with the situation he has created here. His actions represent a complete disrespect for diplomatic custom and for the office of the president.

His behavior is outrageous, and he shouldn’t be surprised that Democratic members of the House are circulating a petition that asks Boehner to delay the appearance by Netanyahu.

Congressional Republicans are in control of both houses. They have ample opportunity, of which they’ve taken full advantage, to air their differences with the president, and certainly Boehner can meet with Obama whenever he wishes. He does not need to pull a stunt to get the president’s attention.

In addition, the president and the secretary of state are charged with directing and conducting American foreign policy, often a delicate balance of duty and diplomacy.

If this kind of political maneuver by Boehner isn’t interference, it’s close to it.

He could easily have run the idea of having Netanyahu address Congress by the White House and forged some sort of compromise wherein the appearance could have come after the Israeli elections.