US-Israel Relations

Op-Ed: A Speech and a Wake-Up Call

Originally posted in The Jerusalem Post

As were many who care one way or another about US-Israel relations, I was apprehensive in the runup to the Iran speech Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivered to Congress this past week. Yet what initially looked like it would be either a diplomatic blunder or even a cynical pre-election move turned out to be anything but. Alongside what was an impassioned plea from a besieged ally not to be thrown under the bus of a questionable regional détente with an unrepentant bully, there was a deeper and far more important message to the president and the American people that shouldn’t be ignored.


For weeks, doomsday scenarios were floated and bitter arguments ensued. In America, the administration and its supporters argued that a foreign leader cannot so brazenly interfere in a domestic political debate and were quick to lambaste the Israeli leader with accusations that this was no more than a cynical domestic ploy just two weeks ahead of Israeli elections.


In Israel, while the vast majority agreed with Netanyahu’s message, the country was divided on the lines of how the message should be delivered. Numerous respected former defense and foreign policy officials cried at the top of their lungs that this would tear the fabric of US-Israel relations which has been noticeably strained under the current administrations.


Other critics warned that Netanyahu was turning support for Israel into a partisan issue in America – which would be disastrous – and called for a pre-emptive deflation of tensions, perhaps an off-the-record briefing for congressional leaders instead of an appearance at Capitol Hill.


In addition, the American Jewish community, who perhaps was placed in the most uncomfortable of situations, was made to choose between their genuine concern for Israel but more importantly their equally genuine support and allegiance to the American president.

With all of this as background, I fear that the main underlying point of the speech was missed by some in America. The Iranian threat, Netanyahu pointed out, is not just Israel’s problem, just as the Nazis were not just the problem of the Jews.


Since his rise to power in 2008, President Barack Obama made clear two crucial points: he is not a foreign policy president, and he is convinced that America cannot and should not be the global superpower, tasked with maintaining a higher morality and acting as global policeman.


Thus, from both directions, Obama sought to take America in a more isolationist foreign policy direction and encourage regional powers to “step up” and take responsibility for their respective regions. In this hybrid of postmodernism and realpolitik, Obama sees Iran as one of these potential regional powers. Maybe not now, but eventually.


However, as Iran, Russia, Syria, Sudan, Islamic State (IS) and other crises of international importance show us, the world is not ready for “regional policemen” and the American superpower is desperately in demand.


For the majority of Obama’s two administrations, a bloodied American people were happy to be a little more isolationist. A just Afghanistan campaign went sour and a more questionable Iraq adventure teetered. Thousands of American men and women were killed, many more wounded and the American coffers were strained. Thus occurred a marriage of convenience between a war-weary public and a president who may not be certain of America’s exceptional role in preserving freedom around the world.


Obama’s conciliatory rhetoric and multiple mea-culpas to the Muslim world throughout his tenure may just belie this deeper worldview.


Sure, a nuclear Iran is uncomfortable for the Obama administration, even a nuisance. But what is clear in Obama’s willingness to take a deal that is clearly capitulating to Tehran is that this president does not see the Iranian regime for the radical and extreme entity that it is. Nor is Obama comfortable with the exceptional nature of America and its role in the world. His willingness to cooperate with Iran against IS further accentuates this very point.


And yet, the post-modern, liberal worldview espoused by Obama and his inner circle doesn’t really reflect America at large. America is the birthplace of liberty, equality and democracy; it is the only country in the world based on ideas and values, and not around a language, ethnic group or religion. That foundation, coupled with the strongest military in the world, gives the US an imperative to protect those very values abroad, both for the sake of America’s allies and also to defend the American homeland to prevent another 9/11.


Netanyahu chose to wrap up his speech with odes to Frost and the fateful crossroads at which America stands.


Whether by intention or not, the American public needs to see this speech for what it was: an ally, perhaps representing other allies, calling America to take back the driver’s seat in the world order. Netanyahu closed with an impassioned reminder of the Holocaust and Nobel Laureate Eli Wiesel, who was sitting in the audience. The “never again” lesson for the Jewish people should never be overlooked by foreign audiences as a cry for attention. Israel takes this lesson very seriously and will stand alone if needed.


But perhaps, as Jews and now Israel are often the canaries in the mineshaft of history, the Netanyahu speech should serve as a wake-up call for the American people.


Whether he intended to say it or not, the underlying and important message of Netanyahu’s speech is that America needs to recall its exceptional role as the strongest and most moral country in the world. America and the free world deserve a better Iran deal, and it is completely achievable.