Since the early days of the Republic, foreign countries have sought to entangle the United States in their wars with some Americans collaborating in those efforts. Today, that country is Israel as it works with Republicans to expand hostilities toward Iran, writes Lawrence Davidson.
By Lawrence Davidson
In the spring of 1793, France, then at war with Great Britain, sent a new ambassador to the United States. His name was Edmond Charles Genet (aka Citizen Genet). His instructions were to undermine the neutral position President George Washington had taken in the conflict.
To this end Genet, who had the backing of anti-British elements within the American population, went about subverting peace by commissioning American ships to act as privateers against British commercial vessels. He also tried to provoke hostilities between Americans living along the western borders and the Spaniards (then allies of Great Britain) in Florida and Louisiana.
This meddling in the internal affairs of the United States was quickly recognized as dangerous, and Washington demanded that France recall Genet.
That was 222 years ago. Today we are faced with a similar situation, though the offending country is no longer France, but now Israel. Israel’s present ambassador to the U.S. is Ron Dermer, a former aide to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (and before that a protÃ©gÃ© of Republican operative Frank Luntz).
Like Genet, Dermer has instructions to promote discord, hopefully leading to war between the United States and the country of Iran, which Israel sees as an “existential” threat. Also like Genet, Dermer has support from some Americans.
Thus, Israeli Ambassador Dermer has meddled in the internal affairs of the United States by seeking to undermine ongoing diplomatic talks with Iran. But he cannot successfully do so without allies – American citizens who are willing to conspire with a foreign official against the diplomatic policies of President Barack Obama.
It turns out that Dermer’s co-conspirators are highly placed Republican members of the U.S. Congress: first and foremost the Speaker of the House of Representatives, John Boehner of Ohio.
Just prior to President Obama’s Jan. 28 State of the Union address, in which he reasserted the importance of taking a diplomatic approach with Iran, Dermer approached Boehner, as well as Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. He asked them if they would invite Prime Minister Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress on the subject of Iran.
There could not be another purpose for such a request than to sabotage a foreign policy deemed by the President to be in the best interests of the United States. Boehner, taking the lead, agreed to extend the invitation. As Robert Parry observes, the whole scheme shows a shared “contempt for this President’s authority to conduct American foreign policy as prescribed by the U.S. Constitution.”
This contempt is not new, nor is this the first time Republican leaders have expressed it by conspiring with Israel to foil President Obama’s Middle East foreign policy. Back in the fall of 2010, then-House Minority Whip, Republican Eric Cantor of Virginia, met privately with Netanyahu just a day before the Israeli leader was to meet then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Cantor told Netanyahu that he could count on the GOP to “serve as a check” on President Obama’s foreign policy when it went against Israeli positions in the Middle East. That act came close to making Rep. Cantor a criminal. It can be argued that his exchange with Netanyahu was a violation of the Logan Act, which forbids unauthorized U.S. citizens from negotiating with foreign countries. Cantor was probably (and inexcusably) ignorant of the Logan Act, and the Obama administration (again inexcusably) let him off the hook.
Ideology and Money
Both Boehner and Netanyahu are dangerous co-conspirators, and they both share the same Machiavellian low ethical standards. However, in my opinion, it is the former who is the more dangerous to the United States. Boehner, holding an important position of power in Congress, seems obsessively focused on destroying President Obama and is glibly willing to ally with a foreign power to help do so.
This means he has little or no regard for the facts on the ground in the Middle East. Again, as Parry has pointed out, Boehner ignores the machinations of the Netanyahu government that have aligned Israel with fundamentalist extremists in Syria, a brutal military government in Egypt, and the extremist policies of Saudi Arabia, all of which are arguably inimical to U.S. interests.
Why are Boehner and other conservative Republican leaders acting in ways so harmful to their own country’s national interests? There are two probable reasons.
First is their radical ideological stance. At some deep, non-rational level they seem to despise liberals, and that feeling prevents them from admitting any possibility of cooperation toward shared goals.
They play a zero-sum game with President Obama and thus see anything that hurts him as a victory for them. Boehner seems to have no sense of limits when it comes to this contest. It has led him and his fellows to favor, de facto, turning over U.S. policy in the Middle East to the Israeli government.
The second reason also reflects this zero-sum game. Boehner and his fellow Republicans aim to deprive the Democrats of something allegedly important while capturing it for the Republicans. Boehner knows that pro-Israeli lobbies are key political donors, so his aim is to increase their contributions to Republicans and decrease them to Democrats.
If this requires selling out an American president, Boehner is ready to do so. If it means embroiling the American people in yet another Middle East war, he appears ready to do that as well.
In all of this, the wishes of the American people count least of all. Despite years of negative media propaganda about Iran, polls indicate that most Americans support President Obama’s diplomatic efforts. Boehner appears not to care.
Nonetheless, as with Eric Cantor, no one in the Democratic ranks is willing to respect that popular judgment by openly challenging Boehner on his unconstitutional behavior. That is because the Democratic Party is as enamored of Zionist money as are the Republicans.
Democratic Rep. Nancy Pelosi, now the House minority leader, should be jumping up and down and screaming her head off about John Boehner’s invitation to Netanyahu. Yet all she has said is that it breaks protocol and might harm talks with Iran. But, she has refused to say that the invitation should be withdrawn.
There was once a Speaker of the House of Representatives named Tip O’Neill, who served as the House Speaker. O’Neill used to carry a pocket-sized copy of the U.S. Constitution along with him whenever he was on the job. He knew it thoroughly and respected its assigned powers and limits, particularly the division of powers.
While Congress has a constitutional role in foreign policy through its right to approve ambassadorial nominations and all treaties, it is the President’s role to negotiate with foreign powers and make policy. O’Neill didn’t always approve of the resulting policies, but he knew that his position required him to act within the law.
Boehner must also know that this is the case. However, he is much more of a Machiavellian character. Apparently, the Constitution matters to him only to the extent that it suits his purposes.
He and his fellow Republicans have refused to cooperate with President Obama since his election back in 2008. And, when the President has sought to work around their obstructionism through the use of constitutionally allowed executive orders, Boehner has complained bitterly, sued Obama and threatened him with impeachment.
The fact that a man like John Boehner is in a position of power reflects the fact that the United States is a deeply divided land where, at least on the Republican right, ideology matters more than finding a basis for cooperative government. That is why a leader who distorts both facts and law to work within a worldview devoid of flexibility fits the times so well.
There are probably millions of Republicans who mistake Boehner’s behavior for strength of character and an unwillingness to compromise conservative principles. Such naivetÃ© always signals a country in trouble.
Lawrence Davidson is a history professor at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. He is the author of Foreign Policy Inc.: Privatizing America’s National Interest;ã€€America’s Palestine: Popular and Official Perceptions from Balfour to Israeli Statehood; and Islamic Fundamentalism.