There are many more pressing issues surrounding the Iran nuclear talks, than diplomatic formality, precedence and etiquette. The very survival of the only democracy in the Middle East, as well as threats to America and its allies, are really the primary issues about which the White House should be concerned. Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, views Iran’s nuclear program as a direct threat to millions of Israelis and the continued existence of the Jewish State — and for good reason. Iran has made exquisitely clear that Israel is to be wiped off the face of the earth. Iran has bragged that while it could sustain multiple nuclear attacks, Israel would be destroyed with one well-placed bomb.
Which brings us to the current brouhaha over Speaker Boehner’s invitation to Benjamin Netanyahu to address a joint meeting of Congress (as distinguished from a join session of Congress) to discuss the dangers Israel and the rest of the world faces from a nuclear-armed Iran.
Horrors! screamed the White House. The Speaker of the House did not clear the invitation with us first. Actually, the speaker did inform the White House of the invitation almost simultaneously with it being formally proffered to Netanyahu but, it seems, not before. The White House was informed of the invitation, however, before Netanyahu formally accepted it.
One Democrat after another, bowing to party discipline, has begun announcing that they will not attend the historic address. The Vice President says he can’t attend, because he is scheduled to be traveling abroad, but no one in the Administration seemed to know to where he would be traveling. Their stock response is that the unspecified trip had been in the works before the prime minister’s speech was announced. In the works, but apparently not actually arranged.
The press is largely buying the White House spin that Speaker Boehner and Prime Minister Netanyahu have engineered an enormous breech of protocol. Some pundits are wringing their hands that this will give comfort to those who claim that Israel has too much influence over American foreign policy. What nonsense.
President Obama stuck it to both the Senate and the House by announcing in his State of the Union address that he would veto any legislation that reached his desk that imposed sanctions should Iran fail to live up to whatever agreements are reached. He said, in effect, bug off, foreign policy is my exclusive domain.
Except that it isn’t — not according to that quaint, nettlesome document we know as the Constitution of the United States. The President acts in this arena with the advice and consent of the Senate, and while that language has been viewed as a pain in the derriere by various Presidents (especially this one) the language is there for a reason.
Once the President announced to the world that any legislative initiatives that penalize Iran for failing to keep its word would be dead on arrival at his desk, Boehner’s decision to invite Netanyahu to address before the legislature, the dangers of a poor agreement did not, in our judgment, warrant the apoplectic display of petulance we have been treated to from the White House.
The excuse the White House has provided for not seeing the Prime Minister when he is in Washington is also, in our judgment, disingenuous. We don’t receive heads of state that are facing election, the White House sanctimoniously announced. Meanwhile, the absolute Islamic carnage endemic to so much of the Middle East, all of which is described by the perpetrators as a prelude to what Israel can expect, would seem to trump the trumped up tradition of not seeing a head of state facing election. What better way to say to the Islamic extremists who are savaging the Middle East and Africa, the hell with tradition and protocol, we meet with our strategic allies when they are threatened?
Many journalists who repeat the absurdity that Congress has no role in foreign affairs have bemused us. The Constitution provides that the president “shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two-thirds of the Senators present concur.” Alexander Hamilton explained in Federalist no. 75, “the operation of treaties as laws, plead strongly for the participation of the whole or a portion of the legislative body in the office of making them.”
Now, there are exceptions. There are international agreements concluded by the executive branch and not submitted to the Senate. These are classified in the United States as executive agreements, not as treaties. We suspect President Obama will treat any agreement that evolves from the on-going negotiations with Iran as just such an executive agreement. Such agreements usually involve implementation provisions of treaties that have been approved, or international agreements, which are more perfunctory. The growth in executive agreements is also attributable to the sheer volume of business conducted between the United States and other countries, coupled with the routine business of the Senate.
In our view the impending Iran nuclear agreement certainly does not qualify as such an executive agreement. The agreement, should it be reached, will involve the removal of remaining sanctions imposed by the Congress and should only be lifted by the Congress. The Iran Sanctions Act (ISA) was overwhelmingly passed by Congress and signed into law by then President George W. Bush. It is the basis of the current sanctions against Iran (already eased by President Obama) and should only be terminated by Congress.
The invitation for Netanyahu to address Congress is viewed as a blunder by almost everyone – accept a substantial plurality of the American people. According to a just-released poll by the Rasmussen opinion research organization 42% of American support the invitation to Netanyahu to address Congress with 35% opposed and 23 % not sure.
Speaker Boehner believed, we think quite correctly, that the American people and their representatives in Congress should hear from our ally whose existence will be most threatened by a lousy deal with Iran. The President has already let it be known, quite publically, that the negotiations with Iran are none of Congress’s business. It goes without saying that there is great tension between the new leadership in the Congress and the President. However, no fewer Americans will tune into the Netanyahu address because Biden and other Democratic members of Congress choose to boycott the Israeli Prime Minister’s address.
The contrived brouhaha over a protocol contretemps simply denigrates the legitimate fear that many serious thinkers have regarding the potentially disastrous deal with Iran that may soon unfold.