Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, once slandered by an unnamed White House official as a “chickens***,” does not seem so timid anymore. The White House did not feel that it was especially necessary to even investigate who made those insulting comments in an interview with The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, and they will almost certainly not investigate recent controversial statements made by another unnamed White House official. But they should. Whoever in the administration gave Haaretz their most recent set of quotes has cast this White House in a distinctly unflattering light.
Speaking to the center-left Israeli newspaper, one unnamed source said that congressional Republicans’ decision to invite Netanyahu to speak before an upcoming joint session was an affront to the dignity of the administration. When Netanyahu travels to the United States in March, he will not have the privilege of meeting with either President Barack Obama or Vice President Joe Biden. They will have their revenge against Netanyahu by completely yielding to him control of the national stage. That ought to show him.
According to Haaretz, one official says they have more ammunition to deploy against the leader of one of America’s strongest allies, and they intend to use it.
“We thought we’ve seen everything,” a senior American official said. “But Bibi managed to surprise even us. There are things you simply don’t do. He spat in our face publicly and that’s no way to behave. Netanyahu ought to remember that President Obama has a year and a half left to his presidency, and that there will be a price.” [emphasis added]
Someone in the White House has been watching far too many episodes of House of Cards and thought that the casual casting about of petty and impotent threats makes the issuer seem tough and appear in command. In fact, it just sounds juvenile.
It’s almost like the White House has no interest in reining in supposedly rogue elements within their ranks who are more than happy to provide the press with inflammatory quotes designed to sour the president’s bilateral relationship with Netanyahu’s government.
Who benefits from this quarrelsomeness? Surely, the administration, which has taken to governing for the left from the left, seems to think that it benefits from alienating America’s Israeli allies. But if Obama really wanted to hurt Netanyahu’s electoral prospects, he would embrace the Israeli leader. As of last year, 70 percent of Israelis said they had no confidence in Obama to safeguard their national interests. For most of the president’s first term, his approval rating in Israel was persistently stuck in the single digits. Netanyahu could only benefit domestically from being seen as a figure nobly standing opposed to the hostile administration temporarily occupying a historically friendly American government.
What’s more, Obama’s decision to sideline himself during an Israeli Prime Minister’s visit to Congress does not seem to be particularly well-considered. For the day, ascendant Republicans will take hold of the reins of American statecraft and foreign policy. Optically, congressional Republicans will be elevated to global statesmen and will assume equal footing with the President of the United States. Meanwhile, Obama and his aides will nurse their wounds behind closed doors in the West Wing. The contrast between the petulant White House and bold Republican majorities in Congress will be stark.
The administration does have a point when it protests this proposed visit to Congress by an Israeli leader facing an upcoming election. Republicans abandoned protocol when they invited Netanyahu to speak without consulting the administration first, and the claim that Republicans may be interfering in Israeli politics has merit. The White House’s decision to take this affront out on the Israeli prime minister is an odd one, though, and it underscores just how little control Obama now has over the affairs of state. Contrary to all the pageantry and bluster of a supposedly emboldened and uncompromising Obama, the president is still very much a lame duck. Actions speak far louder than State of the Union addresses.