Preston Clive
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Netanyahu In Congress: Much Ado About ZILCH

Obama cabinet member Ingo the Dragon to Bibi (IMAGE livluvcreate)

Jibber jabber jibber jabber. Syrupy words, the obligatory importuning of the American audience, then a bunch of tough talk. END.

Bibi Netanyahu opened up his history-making speech before a joint session of Congress (minus a large cross section of Democrats who took a pass on what they saw as a worthless exercise in theater) a bit over an hour ago. The Israeli leader began his speech today at approximately 11am DC time, and it was the hottest ticket in town. Everyone but a few disgruntled Democrats wanted to be there to take part in the great orgy of this high art spectacle in international relations.    

Since the speech has now wrapped up, I can say there were very few surprises in it that I could hear. Lots of plays on sentiment, lots of plays on fear. I found it amusing that he opened the speech with the statement (paraphrasing) "There are some who said my motives in coming here are purely political; nothing could be further from the truth."

Sure--we all stand before joint sessions of Congress, with a partisan divide splitting the room, to speak about turning the direction of US diplomacy on a subject that we perceive will affect the future of our country .  .  .  and it is not partisan politics whatsoever.

What he is attempting to do is absolutely dicey--undermine the president on his own home turf .  .  .  rarely has such a thing been attempted. At the same time, rarely has a speech by a foreign leader to a joint congressional session garnered so much attention and brouhaha.

The problem with Bibi's speech is the problem I had with the extreme leftist Syriza politicians who beat the living hell out of their leaders when they returned from Brussels with an extension of the bailout program, having failed to get anything that they wanted: these armchair quarterbacks have been long on critique but very short on suggestions regarding what precisely Tsipiras and his finance minister were supposed to do as an alternative.

Same here, with Netanyahu. What exactly Netanyahu would specifically propose to the Iranians was something the speech was short on--what it was long on were criticisms of the process of negotiation, fear mongering and rhetoric about territory gobbling (West Bank settlements, anyone?) and Iran's bad behavior in the world.

Of course Israel has a clear stake in the future of the region and has an absolute right to be concerned about the direction of talks regarding the progress of a nuclear-determined Iran. That's clear. And for all who are on the western side of the Muslim vs. West Schism, an Iran devoid of access to all items which have the vaguest connection to centrifuges, enrichment processes, heavy water, uranium mining, reactor technology and energy methodologies, this is the most desirable scenario.

The problem is that this is the world, and the world is broad, wide, and imperfect and doesn't belong to us and us alone. And, to top it all off, Iran has a decision-making capacity which will of course see them rejecting anything vaguely resembling the all-or-nothing scenario Israel would like to see imposed on them.

In the end, when two sovereign countries are engaged in a negotiation, a negotiation is the result. It is only in a postwar situation where a prostrate, defeated nation has no rights, or a virtually bankrupt country with an ongoing run on the banks and thus no leverage in a financial negotiation a la Greece last week, that grim diktats of Bibi's fantasy life can be successfully imposed. 

Otherwise, in an imperfect world, negotiations require a give and take. And Netanyahu is forgetting one key maxim that don Vito Corleone fully understood: Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer. Netanyahu would impose something so disagreeable to the Iranians that they would instantly reject .  .  .  that would keep them at a great distance beyond the bounds of monitoring to any effect with real utility. Via the carrot and stick method, Mr. Obama can maintain a closer watch on the Iranians, have a greater engagement and thus a wider target for espionage purposes which can render effective countermeasures.

I seriously doubt that Mr. Obama and Mr. Kerry will be moved at all from their current path of diplomacy simply because of this cheeky move on Netanyahu's part. Despite the attention to the speech, the practical effect will be negligible. 

That's my take.

Preston Clive