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A No-Confidence Vote In Obama And The Water’s Edge Ideal

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A No-Confidence Vote In Obama And The Water’s Edge Ideal

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Theodore Roosevelt used to say, “Our party lines stop at the water’s edge.” He was referring to the importance of America speaking with one voice to the world. What would he have made of a Republican House speaker offering up a joint session of Congress to the leader of another nation, for the express purpose of lecturing a Democratic U.S. president on the error of his ways?

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s celebratory walk to the front of the historic House chamber, just two weeks before he faces a much tougher crowd in Israeli elections, said more than words ever could about Washington today. It amounted to a no-confidence vote in both President Obama and the water’s edge ideal of foreign policy.

I’ll let the experts argue about Netanyahu’s assessments of Iran’s capabilities, the level of threat to Israel, and the hypothetical effectiveness of whatever deal might or might not emerge to control the Iranian nuclear program. His speech was a classic Rorschach test anyway, with people hearing whatever they wanted. Me, I’m still reeling at the visuals and the rhetoric. It looked and sounded like a blatant hijacking of U.S. politics and policymaking. And House Speaker John Boehner, who issued the invitation without consulting or even notifying Obama, played the role of enabler-in-chief.

It’s been a long time since Republicans or Democrats felt much obligation to respect an administration’s approach to foreign policy. But as incumbent and aspiring presidents like to say, we only have one president at a time. And it’s not like Americans didn’t know what to expect from Obama.

One of the most contentious moments in the 2007 primary campaign came in a CNN debate when Obama was asked if he would be willing to meet “without precondition” with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea. Obama replied that he would, in the same spirit that John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan spoke to the Soviet Union while it was considered an “evil empire,” in Reagan’s phrasing. “They understood that we may not trust them and they may pose an extraordinary danger to this country, but we had the obligation to find areas where we can potentially move forward,” Obama said of the two former presidents. He added that if elected, he’d promptly “send a signal that we need to talk to Iran and Syria” about their responsibilities in their region.

Obama not only survived Hillary Clinton’s claim that he was naive, he won the nomination, he won the election, and he enlisted Clinton as chief diplomat for his first term. Then he won a second term and promptly reopened relations with Cuba after a fruitless half-century cold war. Polls since then show most Americans welcome the thaw.

Public opinion is less settled on Iran. Some 70 percent said in a Fox News poll in January that Obama isn’t tough enough on Iran, and more than 6 in 10 said military force would be necessary to prevent a nuclear weapons program there. At the same time, a poll released this week by the Program for Public Consultation at the University of Maryland found a strong majority across party lines in favor of the type of deal the United States and its allies are trying to negotiate with Iran. Many disapprove, moreover, of the Obama snub; 48 percent in a new NBC-Wall Street Journal poll said Boehner should not have invited Netanyahu on his own, while only 30 percent said the invitation was fine.

The discomfiting nature of the Netanyahu event comes into sharp focus if you start imagining comparable scenarios at divisive moments in the past. Heather Hurlburt, an international policy expert at the New America Foundation, squeezed two into one tweet, summarized here: What if a West European leader had gone before a joint session of Congress to condemn Reagan’s support of the Contras against the Cuban-backed Sandinistas in 1980s Nicaragua? Or German chancellor Angela Merkel had been offered the platform to protest the Obama administration’s 2011 intervention in Libya?

Obama himself used the example of the 2003 Iraq war “initiated” by George W. Bush and opposed by many Democrats, including him. Would Boehner and his allies have approved if Democrats “had invited, let’s say, the president of France to appear before Congress to criticize or to air those disagreements?” he said in an interview with Reuters. “I guarantee you that some of the same commentators who are cheerleading now would have suggested that it was the wrong thing to do.”

Democratic House Leader Nancy Pelosi said she was “near tears” throughout Netanyahu’s “insulting” and “condescending” speech. But the adulation for Bibi and his eloquent doomsday plea were a triumph for Boehner. Republicans don’t like it when their own president throws his weight around, but they were enthusiastic about a foreign leader doing the same — and in someone else’s country, no less.

Follow Jill Lawrence on Twitter @JillDLawrence. To find out more about Jill Lawrence and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

Photo: Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses a joint session of the U.S. Congress at the Capitol on March 3, 2015 in Washington, D.C. (Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS)

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Jill Lawrence

Award-winning journalist Jill Lawrence is a nationally syndicated columnist and a contributing editor to U.S. News & World Report. She also contributed to The Surge: 2014's Big GOP Win and What It Means for the Next Presidential Race (2015). Lawrence has discussed political and policy developments on television, radio, and many other media outlets. She was an adjunct professorial lecturer at American University in 2014, teaching on the relationship between politics and the media.

Lawrence has covered every presidential campaign since 1988, as well as historic events such as the Three Mile Island nuclear accident, the 1994 Republican takeover of Congress, the Clinton impeachment, the Florida recount, and the 1993 and 2009 battles over health reform.

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40 Comments

  1. Daniel Jones March 5, 2015

    Of course the Repugnantcans were overjoyed at Bibi’s gall. This was bullshit and bluster against President Obama that they feel wasn’t their doing.
    ~~
    *Such* a shame that anyone with a gnat’s attention span knows the real results–they will be tarred with Bibi’s brush because they decided Obama wasn’t their President.
    ~~
    To be brief–screw them.

    Reply
    1. angelsinca March 5, 2015

      After four years of failed sanctions against Iran, when does one finally accept that Iran will arm itself with nuclear weapons to threaten the region and ‘annihilate Israel’ as promised with or without another round of sanctions? It seems Netanyahu is one of very few who actually understand the nature of enemy. And the enemy isn’t the GOP or Obama.

      Reply
      1. Daniel Jones March 6, 2015

        His enemy, yeah. I assure you, if Netanyahu was all for and friendly about Obama, if his coming in was not insulting to President Obama in the least, they would not have invited him.

        Reply
        1. angelsinca March 6, 2015

          It’s a sad commenary that the looming threat within Netanyahu’s dire speech is overshadowed by the partisan protection of Obama’s ego.

          Reply
          1. Frank KIng March 6, 2015

            The President remained aloof, calm and deliberate in his comments relating to Netanyahoo’s diatribe. He is always in control of his words and his demeanor- The entire episode in the right wing congress was one of pomposity, arrogance, egotism and puffery that characterizes most republicans when they are on the attack. If you are going to introduce partisanship to protect the President’s ego into the discussion then hypocrisy is your only outlet. Partisanship works both ways. How’s your ego?

            Reply
      2. Frank KIng March 6, 2015

        If he understood the nature of the “enemy” he would be raising his voice against the horde of barbarians, savages such as ISIS, boko Haram and al qaida. The Iranians seem to have realized the threat. The threat of nuclear escalation is constant ever since the atom was split. The nations of the world have been exploiting “matter” in many ways since. Some good some dangerous. We have them and so do our adversaries and allies, the number growing. Controlling prolifertion has become an art form for the US and may never achieve total control of anyone nation’s progress in nuclear development. So let Bibi be Bibi and the US and other partners will seek to continue what has worked for so long to avoid Condoleeza Rice’s “Mushroom Cloud”.

        Reply
        1. angelsinca March 6, 2015

          Oppenheimer realized the threat posed by nuclear weapons at the first successful test in the New Mexico desert. I agree with your assessment of nuclear exploitation and the multi national diligence to control the proliferation, except that Iran is the only nation striving to achieve nuclear weaponry (after having repeatedly denied its pursuit) that has threatened to eliminate a neighboring country.

          Reply
  2. Dominick Vila March 5, 2015

    What is clearly evident is that the hatred that most Republicans feel towards President Obama is so intense that they are willing to undermine the Office of the Presidency by ridiculing and trashing a U.S. President in public to derail the President’s agenda and destroy his legacy. Unfortunately for them, most Americans and the overwhelming majority of the people of the world do not share their sentiments or inclination to betray their own country. Most people understand the value of a verifiable accord with Iran on the issue of nuclear weapons development. Most people understand that peaceful coexistence and global stability is preferable to the continuous state of war that has prevailed during, at least, the last century. The dire warnings we have heard from PM Netanyahu and his Likud party during the last several decades have not materialized and are, clearly, designed to preserve indefinite U.S. military and foreign aid under the pretense that Israel is a helpless little country surrounded by evil Muslim countries determined to annihilate them. The truth is that Muslims and Jews have coexisted in relative peace during the last two millennia, that the worst atrocities perpetrated against the Jews were carried out by Christians, not Muslims, that Israel has the largest nuclear arsenals and the best trained, equipped and discipline military forces in the region, that Iran has not demonstrated a desire to attack anyone, and that the entire pseudo crisis we have been hearing has a lot more to do with geo-politics – that go beyond the Israeli interests I mentioned above – than reality.

    Reply
    1. bobnstuff March 5, 2015

      It’s not republicans but the Right Wing Republicans and the Voice of the Right that hates the president. They are doing everything they can to destroy the president and not caring that they are in fact destroying the office and the country in doing
      so.

      Reply
      1. beulahmo March 5, 2015

        Are you distinguishing voters from elected officials and high-profile commentators? Because we don’t hear many so-called “moderate” high-profile Republicans speaking out to distance themselves from the statements made by the people you refer to as “Right Wing Republicans and the Voice of the Right”. Do you think there are a lot of Republicans out there who aren’t hate-addled? This is a genuine question.

        Reply
        1. bobnstuff March 5, 2015

          I don’t believe that most Republican hate the President. I’m a moderate republican as is most of my family. If you look at congress you will see that most of the republican are more moderate then far right, the Tea Party call them RINO’s. You have 50 or so true right wing in congress and the rest are just trying not to make them mad. To many elected republicans
          live in fear of the voice of the right Fox News and try not to get in
          their sights. Most polls put the tea party at around 27% of the
          party. If you want proof just look at the party elected leaders, all
          moderates.

          Reply
    2. angelsinca March 5, 2015

      Iran has not demonstrated a desire to attack anyone

      Right as always, Dominic. Maybe Iran is just ‘misunderstood’…

      Iranian Cleric Threatens US, Israel With ‘Missile Attack’
      http://www.newsmax.com/Newsfront/Iran-nuclear-weapons-sanctions-uranium/2014/11/17/id/607839/

      Iran threatens widespread retaliation against US and allies
      http://dailycaller.com/2013/09/10/iran-threatens-widespread-retaliation-against-u-s-and-allies/

      Iranian Revolutionary Guards threaten US after Kerry says military option is ‘ready’
      http://www.jpost.com/International/Iranian-Revolutionary-Guards-threaten-US-after-Kerry-says-military-option-is-ready-339450

      Iran Threatens ‘Harm And Pain’ To U.S.
      http://www.cbsnews.com/news/iran-threatens-harm-and-pain-to-us/

      Reply
      1. Dominick Vila March 6, 2015

        Don’t confuse bravado, often influenced by impotence and desperation, with demonstrations of plans to attack and invade other countries.

        Reply
        1. angelsinca March 6, 2015

          Good note for yourself. No confusion here. Iran’s one-million man army doesn’t appear like an impotent act of desperation.

          Reply
          1. TZToronto March 6, 2015

            What do you think would happen to Iran if they tried to use a nuclear weapon on Israel–or the United States? Hey, if they’re smart enough to build a nuclear weapon, they’re smart enough to realize that their prospects for surviving any such act would be nil.

            Reply
          2. angelsinca March 8, 2015

            Considering so many Iranian scientists were educated in the US during the Shah’s regime, before the radical Islamists took over the government in the 80’s, that educational hurdle was no big deal in the pursuit of a weapon. The real challenge has been producing the weapons grade material while insisting it wasn’t. That didn’t make them ‘smart’. It proved their capacity to deceive the world, just as Netanyahu has explained.

            Reply
  3. Grannysmovin March 5, 2015

    When the GOP says the world sees Obama as weak – no they see our Country as weak because we no longer believe in ‘Our party lines stop at the water’s edge.” What does the GOP say about the warheads that Israel is reported to have an estimated 80. http://edition.cnn.com/interactive/2013/03/world/nuclear-weapon-states/

    Youtube video from 2010: Netanyahu: Especially today, with America. I know what America is. America is something that can easily be moved. Moved to the right direction.
    Child: They say they’re for us, but, it’s like…
    Netanyahu: They won’t get in our way. They won’t get in our way.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l9dLTOd3V-Y

    Such respect he has for this country – and who made this countrry so manipluated by Netanyahu, the GOP.

    1992:Israeli member of parliament Binyamin Netanyahu predicts that Iran was “3 to 5 years” from having a nuclear weapon. 1995:

    The New York Times quotes US and Israeli officials saying that Iran would have
    the bomb by 2000.
    http://www.veteranstoday.com/2012/09/20/1992-breaking-news-netanyahu-says-iran-close-to-nuclear-weapon/

    2001 Netanyahu Speech: This is why the US must do everything in its power to prevent regimes like Iran and Iraq from developing nuclear weapons, and disarm them of their weapons of mass destruction. This is why the US must do everything in its power to prevent regimes like Iran and Iraq from developing nuclear weapons, and disarm them of their weapons of mass destruction. http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/531335/posts

    Testifying before the House Government Reform Committee Sept. 2002
    Netanyahu said: “If you take out Saddam, Saddam’s regime, I guarantee you that it will have enormous positive reverberations on the region.” http://www.cnn.com/2013/07/18/opinion/sick-netanyahu-on-iran/index.html
    http://www.c-span.org/video/?172612-1/israeli-perspective-conflict-iraq @1:11:44

    What is the alternative if negotiations stop? We put back sanctions and that will stop them? If they are so close to building a nuclear weapon even with the sanctions we had on them before, than sanctions does not stop them. What stops them, oh let me guess Israel drops a bomb and that is it? No repercussion from Iran’s allies?

    Why can’t we try a peaceful solution before getting into yet another war?

    Reply
  4. Frank KIng March 5, 2015

    A neurotic believes that 2+2=5. a psychotic knows that 2+2=4 but he’s damn mad about it. Whether Bibi has any of these traits in his psyche remains uncertain but he does suffer from an overwhelming condition of paranoia. He has been babbling about Iran for the last twenty years and with the benefit of the religious right, fundamentalist evangelicals in congress he was given a “bully pulpit” to continue his warmongering ballyhoo to the galactic rapture of his audience who were “raised” at least forty(40)times with rapturous applause. Jesus himself would not have gotten such a display of love. It is difficult to accept that this right wing congress would stoop so low as to undermine and undercut on going negotiations that could bring about a change in the atmosphere relating to a possible agreement to curb nuclear proliferation in the region that could be in the best interests of all nations in the region. “You bet your sweet Bibi”.

    Reply
  5. Frank KIng March 5, 2015

    A neurotic believes that 2+2=5. a psychotic knows that 2+2=4 but he’s damn mad about it. Whether Bibi has any of these traits in his psyche remains uncertain but he does suffer from an overwhelming condition of paranoia. He has been babbling about Iran for the last twenty years and with the benefit of the religious right, fundamentalist evangelicals in congress he was given a “bully pulpit” to continue his warmongering ballyhoo to the galactic rapture of his audience who were “raised” at least forty(40)times with rapturous applause. Jesus himself would not have gotten such a display of love. It is difficult to accept that this right wing congress would stoop so low as to undermine and undercut on going negotiations that could bring about a change in the atmosphere relating to a possible agreement to curb nuclear proliferation in the region that could be in the best interests of all nations in the region. “You bet your sweet Bibi”.

    Reply
  6. weary_jane March 5, 2015

    48% Americans against Boehner’s invite to Netenyahu. Where were these Americans when the last Congress was elected? Shows the need to vote in every election.

    Reply
    1. mah101 March 5, 2015

      Yes, that’s where my attention turns. So we have treasonous idiots in Congress; all of you who didn’t vote allowed them to go there.

      Reply
  7. mah101 March 5, 2015

    Treasonous. If I weren’t already numb to the blatant hypocrisy and idiocy of republicans in Congress, I would be furious. As it is, just sad watching them destroy our nation, office of the President, and all the great achievements we made in the 20th century all in the name of political power.

    Reply
    1. kenndeb March 5, 2015

      I think you mean communist liberals destroying America.

      Reply
      1. mah101 March 5, 2015

        Ah, kenndeb, wrong again but always nice to see you.

        Reply
        1. jmprint March 5, 2015

          This He/She is always wrong.

          Reply
        2. kenndeb March 5, 2015

          Thank you.

          Reply
      2. ralphkr March 5, 2015

        My goodness, kenndeb, I would expect even someone as confused about the real world as you would recognize the error of calling the Republicans (USA name of the Fascist party), who have been doing all they could for a few decades to destroy the US, communist liberals.

        Reply
        1. kenndeb March 5, 2015

          All career politicians should be removed from office. Those that support the tyrant should be hung right along side.

          Reply
          1. Frank KIng March 7, 2015

            You are advocaing dispatching mllions of Americans. You claim they should be “bung”, hanged, whatever. Hanging is a messy business–a lot of dead weight to deal with. Here’s a plan you’ll like and fits in wih your right wing sensibilties–Concentration Camps,gas chambers,Cremation. Your problem solved. A mind is a terrible thing to waste, but in your case no problem.

            Reply
      3. Insinnergy March 5, 2015

        Begone pointless troll.

        Reply
      4. Insinnergy March 5, 2015

        Begone pointless troll.

        Reply
      5. Frank KIng March 6, 2015

        You are confused and dazed by your own lack of knowledge of recent history. Destroying America has been the goal of you right wing Fascists. The last right wing bunch that had contorl of the government and our lives created such chaos at home and abroad that may never be resolved in your lifetime.

        Reply
  8. TZToronto March 5, 2015

    “Public opinion is less settled on Iran. Some 70 percent said in a Fox News poll in January that Obama isn’t tough enough on Iran, and more than 6 in 10 said military force would be necessary to prevent a nuclear weapons program there.” . . . Have these 60% not been paying attention? What makes them think U.S. military action in Iran would be without major costs (in lives and dollars)? What makes them think that what happened in Iraq won’t happen in Iran should the U.S. invade (illegally) and destabilize that country they way the U.S. destabilized Iraq?

    Reply
    1. Wedge Shot March 5, 2015

      And so now the public decides with the almost zero knowledge they have on the subject what he President should do with Iran.
      A war with Iran would be a lot more different than the one we had with Iraq.
      Iran is a much tougher country to fight a war and the Iranians would fight a lot harder for their country.

      Reply
  9. Wedge Shot March 5, 2015

    Boehner is a traitor to his own country. Obama should tell him to go straight to a very hot place and that if he ever wants one darn legislative bill signed by the President he should go to Israel and ask Netanyahu to sign it since he thinks he is President of the United States.

    Furthermore, when Israel asks for some kind of help tell him them to go have fun with themselves and that the knife he stuck in Obama’s back prevents him from doing anything.

    Reply
  10. Insinnergy March 5, 2015

    It amuses me to imagine the apoplexy in the GOP had the Democrats done this to one of their presidents. The howls of indignation. The screaming about “The Water’s Edge”. The calls for indictment for treason. The hurtful tears about us “All being Americans”.

    It puts the hypocrisy of the GOP’s tubthumping and jingoism on display for all to see.
    Except themselves, apparently.

    Which is really really funny.

    Reply
  11. Insinnergy March 5, 2015

    It amuses me to imagine the apoplexy in the GOP had the Democrats done this to one of their presidents. The howls of indignation. The screaming about “The Water’s Edge”. The calls for indictment for treason. The hurtful tears about us “All being Americans”.

    It puts the hypocrisy of the GOP’s tubthumping and jingoism on display for all to see.
    Except themselves, apparently.

    Which is really really funny.

    Reply
  12. charleo1 March 5, 2015

    I’ve pretty much said my peace on this. But I would add, what would these tougher sanctions the Wingers keep calling for mean, if the other Countries involve in these negotiations do not support them? And good word has it they do not support added sanctions at this juncture. Perhaps these fools have forgotten the failures of the Bush team? And how difficult it was for the Obama team to get Russia, and China on board? Frankly, they’ve lost their grip on reality. Or perhaps the Bircher Brothers have managed to take the Party back to the days we ran the World. Or, even those days before Iraq. When we had good, believable military bluff to make. How stupid, and full of themselves are they anyway? Has a recent reading been taken then?

    Reply
  13. Osaka Williams March 6, 2015

    In related video, Obama claims that he will magically stop the oceans from rising: http://bit.ly/ObamaIsDelusional

    Reply
  14. Steven W March 6, 2015

    How many liars do take counsel from. And we still have not gotten to bottom of Fast and furious.

    Reply

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