When House speaker John Boehner invited Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address Congress in the coming weeks, the reaction from the White House was swift. In background interviews with reporters, top Obama administration officials made clear that they considered the invitation itself an affront and the acceptance of it a breach of protocol.
This is the same White House that last week had British prime minister David Cameron making calls to Capitol Hill to lobby lawmakers against more sanctions on Iran. It’s the same administration that had to apologize to Senator Marco Rubio and others for violating its pledge to “consult Congress” before making any unilateral changes to U.S. policy on Cuba. This is the same president who has boasted repeatedly of his ability and willingness to ignore the legislative branch and use his “pen and phone” to do what he wants. And this is the same administration that used the cover of anonymity to call Netanyahu “chickenshit” in a recent interview.
So spare us the whining about prerogatives and propriety and protocol. In a functioning capital—with a White House that understands the enemy is Iran and not the Republican Congress—it’d be better for Congress and the White House to coordinate efforts. But that’s not Washington today. Consider the section on Iran in President Obama’s State of the Union. It took up just 172 words of his 6,500-word address. It reads, in its entirety:
Our diplomacy is at work with respect to Iran, where, for the first time in a decade, we’ve halted the progress of its nuclear program and reduced its stockpile of nuclear material. Between now and this spring, we have a chance to negotiate a comprehensive agreement that prevents a nuclear-armed Iran, secures America and our allies, including Israel, while avoiding yet another Middle East conflict. There are no guarantees that negotiations will succeed, and I keep all options on the table to prevent a nuclear Iran.
But new sanctions passed by this Congress, at this moment in time, will all but guarantee that diplomacy fails—alienating America from its allies; making it harder to maintain sanctions; and ensuring that Iran starts up its nuclear program again. It doesn’t make sense. And that’s why I will veto any new sanctions bill that threatens to undo this progress. [Applause] The American people expect us only to go to war as a last resort, and I intend to stay true to that wisdom.
This is delusional. The United States hasn’t “halted” Iran’s nuclear program. A week before that claim, Iran announced it would build two more reactors. During this diplomacy, it has made progress on its plutonium program and continued enriching. It was supposed to freeze centrifuge activities at the Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant at Natanz, but the IAEA reported last fall it was feeding uranium hexafluoride gas into the IR-5 centrifuge there.
The fact that the Obama administration still insists Iran hasn’t violated the terms of its interim agreement with the United States and its allies says more about the administration’s eagerness to continue diplomacy than it does about Iran’s behavior.
Even as the Obama administration has demonstrated its determination to give the Iranian regime every benefit of the doubt, the president reflexively questions the motives of anyone who has a different view. In comments at a press briefing with Cameron, Obama implied that Congress—not Iran—would be at fault if military conflict erupted. And at a recent meeting with congressional Democrats, Obama accused Senator Bob Menendez of bowing to the interests of campaign contributors when the New Jersey Democrat expressed concern about never-ending negotiations without consequence.
When Boehner announced his Netanyahu invitation, he accused Obama of downplaying the Iranian threat in the State of the Union. “There is a serious threat that exists in the world,” he said, “and the president last night kind of papered over it.”
Boehner is correct, of course. And he was right to invite Netanyahu to address Congress and the American people.
The State Department lists Iran as the foremost state sponsor of terror in the world. According to a former top U.S. military official, the Iranian regime is responsible for more than a third of American troop deaths in Iraq. The regime talks openly about eliminating Israel.
It’s long past time for a serious discussion of the threat posed by Iran. Let’s have one.