President Obama’s South Lawn strolls have become famous — or infamous — he made the decision to not bomb Syria during one of them. It’s time for him to add some more steps to his FitBit counter and stroll the thousand or so feet to the Willard Hotel and have some coffee with Prime Minister Netanyahu. 15th Street is already conveniently blocked off!
This isn’t because the president has done something wrong to apologize for or that he needs to grovel at Bibi’s feet. It’s because it’s the only thing left to do. The US-Israel relationship can be viewed in a way that America is the big brother and sometimes the big brother has to actually be bigger and make the first move. This time it starts with a short walk.
Yes, Netanyahu was wrong to accept the invitation to speak to Congress without having consulted with the White House (or his own diplomatic corps, advisers…etc.). Yes, Boehner was wrong to extend the invitation breaking long established protocol. Protocol that has existed specifically to prevent Congress from using a foreign ally to work against a president of the opposing party. And yes, the administration has gone a little too far in how vociferously they have opposed Netanyahu’s speech (or in rooting for Herzog to win). It’s all gone too far. The zeitgeist that the U.S.-Israel relationship is in tatters helps no one – except the Iranians.
Bibi has rejected each lifeline handed to him. He said no to meeting privately with each caucus or with the relevant Congressional committees behind closed doors. He dug in and refused to not give the speech. So here we are. Someone needs to do something and Obama can do just that.
The White House’s public rationale for not meeting with Netanyahu is because it is too close to the Israeli elections. But having a meeting behind closed doors away from the West Wing, with no cameras eliminates some (not all) of that thinking. More importantly, when Bibi gets up in the House tomorrow, he can say “I had a meeting with President Obama yesterday and had to rewrite some of my remarks.”
It can be a five minute meeting where they just sit and seethe. Anything is better than nothing and the stakes are too high to sit idly by.
National Journal’s Ron Fournier wrote a piece very worth reading running down who is at fault but pointing fingers is no longer useful. The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg is almost live blogging his thought process over the last four days and while it is absolutely worth reading, he raises far more questions than he (or anyone not directly involved in the negotiations) can answer.
This speech and the Iran deal boil down to these questions:
1. Can Israel (or America) ever be satisfied with an Iran that has nuclear capability? Even if it is monitored properly? This is vital because as former negotiator Robert Einhorn, and others, has pointed out, it is next to impossible to negotiate the complete dismantling of Iran’s existing nuclear infrastructure.
2. Will the Iranians accept any deal that leaves sanctions in place for an extended period of time?
3. Is there any way to keep the P5+1 united in enforcing the sanctions if no framework is reached by the end of the month? If not, all the good that has come from the sanctions, the Interim Agreement and IAEA inspections will be lost.
4. If no framework is reached this month how quickly will Iran ramp up production towards a bomb.
Here at the AIPAC conference (where I’m typing this on my phone, so please excuse spelling and grammatical mistakes) those are questions no one has been able to answer. One additional question that has repeatedly been raised is what can be done to “heal the current rift”? No one has a great answer for that either but Barry taking a stroll to visit Bibi would do a lot of good.