Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is scheduled to address a Joint Session of Congress on March 3, an invitation he received from the Republican Speaker of the House, who had not coordinated the invitation with the White House. Initial reports were that Mr. Netanyahu accepted the invitation before the White House was notified, but this has been proven untrue. The Speaker's Office informed the White House of the invitation, and only after that had occurred, Prime Minister Netanyahu accepted.
Let's get the important stuff out of the way first. I am a huge fan of the State of Israel, of Bibi Netanyahu, of Speaker Boehner, and of a close relationship between the US and Israel. I believe Mr. Obama entered office with an agenda to marginalize Israel and tilt the US from its previous position as unambiguously behind it. I believe that Mr. Obama has irresponsibly managed this relationship, and it is among his most critical foreign policy failures. His manic desire for a deal with Iran on nuclear weapons--it seems even a bad deal is better than no deal for him--has led to his even further distancing of himself and his administration from this key ally. Relations with Israel are at a low point, and the fault is largely Mr. Obama's.
Which brings me to the matter of his invitation to speak before Congress. As I am reliably informed, such things are generally the result of discussions on these shores in which the White House and Congressional leadership agree to the invitation, after which it is then extended. Congress is under no requirement to seek White House approval, none whatsoever.
Yet our system vests the hard work of foreign policy largely within the Executive Branch, and while I am thoroughly disappointed with the consistent incompetence and ideologically weak approach to the subject that this administration has pursued, I find the prospect of publicly fractured diplomacy to be even worse. Mr. Netanyahu could come to this country and speak at a million different places, and get plenty of Press coverage while doing it. The invitation to speak before a Joint session of Congress was a schoolyard trick, designed to make the President look bad. Tactically, it is a lot of fun. Strategically, I don't know what the payoff is. If Boehner thinks the prospect of Democrats not attending the speech is somehow going to backfire on them, he clearly thinks foreign policy matters more than it really does. If this is some kind of gambit to "peel the Jews from the Democratic Party", it makes a little more sense, but not much. Jews are generally speaking more liberal because Jews are generally speaking more urban. It really is that simple. If Republicans talked more about policies that appealed to the URBAN nature of Jews, they'd attract more Jews. This sense of a monolithic attachment to Israel just simply doesn't wash.
Now--Mr. Obama is not without blame here. His public statements that a nuclear deal with Iran might not necessarily have to come before the Senate as a treaty matter (or before the Congress in any legislative form) ignores the real role in foreign policy that the legislative branch DOES exercise. Add to this his obvious influencing of British Prime Minster David Cameron in calling US Senators to lobby against maintaining tough sanctions on Iran, and we find once again, the amateur hour nature of Mr. Obama's foreign policy and the team that implements it.
We're probably too far along for Mr. Netanyahu to cancel the speech or for Mr. Boehner to revoke the invitation. But a lesson should be learned here, and this is not something that should be repeated in the future.