The Head of State of a foreign nation made an unprecedented address to the U.S. Congress - bypassing the President of the United States, entirely. That's massive.
The state of Israel has long (since 1949) been a close ally of the United States of America - a nation that we have defended in the UN, provided weapons & technology to, during the Cold War years, and publicly defended as a beacon of democracy in the midst of the chaos of the Middle East. While Presidents & Israeli PMs have certainly had their share of differences over the years, our two nations have enjoyed a mutual respect and kindness toward each other, for decades.
Now, in light of talks between the United States and Iranian diplomats, over Iran's nuclear program, Congressional Republicans - and many throughout the nation, on both sides of the isle, fear that the United States is willing to make far too many concessions to the Islamic Republic of Iran in the name of compromise. For this reason, House Majority Leader, late in January 2015, John Boehner (R) invited Prime Minister Netanyahu to Washington to share his concerns --------------- without consulting the President. In Boehner's words,
"In this time of challenge, I am asking the Prime Minister to address Congress on the grave threats radical Islam and Iran pose to our security and way of life. Americans and Israelis have always stood together in shared cause and common ideals, and now we must rise to the moment again."
To clarify, Israel has a serious concern with the potential for a nuclear-armed Iran, as Iranian leaders have vocally condemned the existence of the Jewish state for years. Many fear that if Iran possesses nuclear weapons, they will almost certainly use them to attack the state of Israel - which could have dire consequences not only for these two nations, but for the entire world. Preventing such an outcome, is clearly a desirable objective.
The White House was less than enthusiastic about this revelation, when Press Secretary Josh Earnest said, "The typical protocol would suggest that the leader of a country would contact the leader of another country when he's traveling there." From the initial announcement it was clear that the President felt personally insulted by this breach of protocol, and for months there has been speculation over the impact of this speech.
President Obama spoke briefly on the speech, in an interview, calling it a "distraction" from the larger concerns with Iran, and deflecting to queries about how destructive this breach of policy would be to the U.S.-Israeli relationship in the future. His tone - as is frequently the case with President Obama - seemed calm and unconcerned - which is even more concerning in light of the seriousness of the issue.
Bibi's speech was fantastic, in my opinion. He steered a careful course - remaining respectful and supportive of the United States and even President Obama, while condemning the Iranian nuclear talsk as "a bad deal." He was careful to condemn Iranian leaders as "zealots" pursuing "jihad" and referring to the nation at large as the world's "foremost sponsor of terror" - breaking from the recent rhetoric of President Obama, who has painfully sought to disassociate the acts of Islamic terrorists from the religion of Islam. Netanyahu's speech was a polite slap in the face to the President and his administration - reminding the American people that just because Obama says something is true, it doesn't mean the rest of the world agrees.
The most stunning part of this entire situation, however, is the tone of President Obama, in light of everything. While he may be trying to come across as "above the fray" and even presidential - it simply isn't working. The entire nation - both nations in fact - recognize that this speech was no distraction - it was a serious address by a foreign head of state to the American people, on U.S. soil - in direct opposition to the policies of the American President. James Oliphant wrote today, in the National Journal, that
"Obama, in an interview with Reuters, had dismissed the speech as a "distraction," and aides made sure everyone knew he would be too busy to watch it. But if the president didn't cast an eye at a TV, he might have been the only person in Washington not to. And that's the problem.
For weeks, the White House has worked steadily to write the speech off as a thinly veiled Republican ploy to undermine the delicate negotiations with Iran. But network coverage treated it for what it was: the head of state of a critical ally delivering a controversial address on American soil. That served the interests of both House Speaker John Boehner, who was the impetus behind the speech, and Netanyahu, elevating both of them while key Democrats such as Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren stayed offstage."
I couldn't have said it better myself (ya, I know - don't even say it). While Barack Obama wants to write this off as a small blip on the radar - the American people aren't buying it! And frankly, Obama's coolness in light of this insult is hurting, rather than helping him.
So yes - something big happened in Washington this morning. Bibi threw down the gauntlet to Barack, in his own town, and I am excited, frightened, and generally fascinated to see what the coming weeks will bring us.