Wednesday, January 21, 2015

When International Politics Become Domestic

Sadly, our natural and strong alliance between the United States and Israel was coopted today by both Prime Minister Netanyahu and Speaker of the House of Representatives, John Boehner.  Our alliance with Israel must be larger than this, and broader than this.

According to multiple news reports, the morning after President Barak Obama's "state of the union" address, which aggressively warned Republicans against trying to undue his past policies, the Republican leadership of the House will announce today that it is unilaterally inviting Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress on February 11 [As of Jan. 22, the date is moved to March 3 - even closer to the Israeli election]. Many pundits are seeing this as "tit-for-tat" politics.

I love America and Israel, so why does this bother me? Don't I want free invitations back and forth, and a common dedication to prevent Iran from achieving nuclear arms?  I believe, without supporting or attacking anyone's own political views, that this is a horrible move at this precise time.

First, it is contrary to the U.S. Constitutional system of the division of powers.  There is a very serious matter of diplomatic protocol involved in inviting foreign heads of state to come to Washington in a formal capacity, and to address our government in particular.  This is the role of the Department of State, as led by the White House. Congress is the legislative body, not our foreign policy arm.  And while spending bills and foreign aid packages do constitutionally originate in the House of Representatives, unilateral invitations to foreign dignitaries are not the constitutional role for congress in our system.  The Speaker and the Prime Minister are ostensibly working to stop a Nuclear Iran with sanctions, against the President's diplomatic negotiations to achieve the same goal.  By the U.S. Constitution, it is the President's constitutional right to negotiate treaties and the Senate's role to approve or reject them.  It is a tremendous breach of protocol to deliberately side-step the White House in order to advance foreign policy initiatives with the actual leaders of foreign states, and it is contrary to the division of powers in the constitution.  Speaker Boehner's role is to pass or not pass economic aid packages and sanctions, and to encourage the Senate to reject treaties that he dislikes.

Second, inviting Prime Minister Netanyahu to undercut the president in this manner is inviting him to become involved in the internal politics of the American system, and sets a dangerous precedent for other nations to get involved in the domestic politics of the American system. Driving a wedge between the President and our chief Ally in the Middle East is a very short sighted political maneuver by speaker Boehner, and far beneath the dignity or the real relationship between our peoples.

Third, inviting Prime Minister Netanyahu to address a joint session of congress in the final weeks of an Israeli election is also meddling in the internal politics of Israel, offering a platform which other Israeli parties do not have access to.  We have been careful in all previous governments to avoid the air of favoritism or endorsement of particular candidates in the Israeli electoral system.  This is the correct stance to demonstrate that the nature of our alliance transcends particular parties. Pandering to a particular candidate's primary point of conflict with his rivals with such an opportunity is inappropriate and beneath the dignity of our alliance.

This invitation narrows, and thereby degrades, the relationship for the future, and sets dangerous precedents for the world. It is tremendously short sighted.