It’s official: President Obama has run out of what little patience he had left for Benjamin Netanyahu.
With the Israeli prime minister and infuriatingly obvious liar scheduled to give an angry speech to a (mostly Republican) at 11:00 a.m. ET on Tuesday, Obama has gone on the offensive defending his much smarter policy of negotiation with Iran. Here’s the money quote from a recent Reuters interview, in which the president finally just calls out Bibi for being as full of shit as a Porta-Potty outside Wrestlemania:
Netanyahu on Monday told a pro-Israel conference that a deal with Iran would “threaten the survival of Israel.”
Obama said that sentiment is wrongheaded, noting Netanyahu’s previous opposition to an interim Iran deal as evidence Israel should back the talks.
“Netanyahu made all sorts of claims. This was going to be a terrible deal. This was going to result in Iran getting $50 billion worth of relief. Iran would not abide by the agreement. None of that has come true.
“It has turned out that in fact, during this period we’ve seen Iran not advance its program. In many ways, it’s rolled back elements of its program.”
In other words, “Fuck you.” But the president wasn’t done poking needles into this particular hot air balloon. He added that:
“[Netanyahu] thinks that the best way to do that is either through doubling down on more sanctions or through military action, ensuring that Iran has absolutely no enrichment capabilities whatsoever. And there’s no expert on Iran or nuclear proliferation around the world that seriously thinks that Iran is going to respond to additional sanctions by eliminating its nuclear program.”
Presidents have made grievances of all kinds about Israel and its leaders for decades, though almost always in private or with the kind of mild exasperation that one would normally reserve for a spoiled five-year-old. Obama’s new stance — suggesting that Netanyahu is basically a perpetual idiot who is always wrong and is opposed by virtually every expert on the Iranian issue — is something new. You could probably even read that last quote as suggesting that the prime minister is deliberately attempting to set Iran and the U.S. on a military collision course the president is doing everything he can to prevent.
Don’t be fooled by Netanyahu’s insistence that none of the disrespect of his looming visit was intended. Months ago, Jeffrey Goldberg reported that multiple Israeli officials informed him that Netanyahu had unofficially “written off” Obama, while the White House had a similarly “red-hot anger” over Israeli settlements that undermined Secretary of State John Kerry’s peace initiative. Now with this ill-advised speech the frosty relationship between Barack and Bibi has degenerated into barely concealed contempt for one another.
It kind of makes sense that the National Review Online is busy arguing that “Netanyahu, not Obama, speaks for us” since the former Netanyahu has staked a position quite like the Republican Party’s own disregard for Obama’s status as a head of state. He’s also joining the GOP in its near-unanimous dismissal of the president’s legitimacy, those hordes of simple-minded idiots that would prefer to pretend that they can simply will the POTUS into submission by being loud, brash and angry. The radical right of both countries have rarely been in such perfect alignment. So why wouldn’t right-wingersdeclare their loyalty to Netanyahu over Obama?
Of course, Republicans don’t actually hold as much power in Washington as Netanyahu thinks they do. They’ve given him a set of Icarus-style wax wings. By injecting himself into America’s amazingly dysfunctional political system and explicitly siding with the president’s enemies and their scorn for his office, Bibi has ruined relations with the U.S. for as long as Democrats continue to control the White House and he holds political office in Israel. Despite his receptive Republican audience, Netanyahu now looks incredibly alone at his pulpit. About 56 lawmakers have found the spine to boycott Netanyahu’s speech, and Obama’s veto is practically override-proof.
An alternate explanation pitched by Slate’s Ruth Margalit theorizes that Netanyahu’s speech is designed to save his skin in the upcoming Israeli elections, but it could just as well hurt him if it backfires as badly as it now seems destined to. The March 17 elections are unsettlingly close. Two hundred Israeli intelligence and military officials begged him to call off the speech. Now that Bibi’s completely alienated the president, a few acid words from Obama could damage his credibility at a most unfortunate time.
Twenty-five years ago, U.S. diplomat George Ball wrote a piece called, “The Coming Crisis in Israeli-American Relations.” He argued,
“Over the last 30 years these relations have evolved to the point where Israel is more dependent on the United States than ever, and yet feels itself free to take hard-line positions at variance with American views without fear of anything worse than verbal admonition from Washington. The result is to encourage Israeli positions and actions that cannot be in the long-term interest of Israel itself, and to deprive the United States in practice of freedom of diplomatic action on issues that deeply affect its national interest.”
I doubt he imagined anything quite as bad as this, though. If Netanyahu manages to win re-election with this reckless gamble, he’ll both seriously jeopardize regional security and damage U.S.-Israeli relations for a decade to come. But if he goes down in flames, I bet we’ll finally see a brief sparkle in Obama’s eyes. Or maybe even that famous “not bad” face.
For SERIOUS WHITE HOUSE REPORTING on Netanyahu’s looming visit, check out Tommy Christopher’s exchange with White House press secretary Josh Earnest.