Forget Bibi: Let’s Hear More from Our NATO Allies
As a framework deal for a comprehensive nuclear accord between the P5+1 and Iran becomes more likely by the end of the month, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin (“Bibi”) Netanyahu and his U.S. allies are stepping up their efforts to sabotage any agreement through the Republican majority in both houses of Congress. A major part of that effort, at least for now, is to try to get as many Democrats as possible to attend Bibi’s address to the Joint Session of Congress next Tuesday. The Christian Zionist Christians United for Israel (CUFI) and the Sheldon Adelson-chaired Republican Jewish Coalition are predictably leading the charge, as noted in Tuesday’s Washington Times.
The pressure is also coming, also predictably, from “independent” Democrats who are, well, simply fanatical about defending Israel come hell, high water, or a messianic, apocalyptic right-wing leader like Netanyahu. Thus, in Tuesday’s edition of the Wall Street Journal, the appalling Alan Dershowitz (“The Appalling Talk of Boycotting Netanyahu”) argues that every member of Congress has “an obligation … to hear the Israeli leader speak about the Iranian threat.” As usual, Dershowitz goes way over the top, insisting, for example, that Bibi “probably knows more about this issue than any world leader” (despite the fact that Netanyahu’s own estimates about Iranian capabilities and intentions have frequently been at odds with those of Israel’s intelligence chiefs).
The former Harvard law professor also depicts Israel as Washington’s “closest ally.” This is a bizarre notion given Netanyahu’s consistent and transparent efforts to undermine a sitting U.S. president (and thus U.S. credibility) for several years now with respect to Iran and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, not to mention the second-class status he implicitly accords Washington’s NATO allies whose soldiers have fought and died alongside U.S. servicemen and women in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere.
Which brings me to another op-ed in the Washington Post Monday by Joe Lieberman, another “independent” Democrat and the erstwhile third amigo of Republican super-hawks John McCain and Lindsay Graham (who could become the Newt Gingrich of the 2016 presidential campaign in terms of the questionable viability of his candidacy and the amount of funding Adelson may be prepared to spend in keeping him in the race). The op-ed’s title, “Hear Out Israel’s Leader,” accurately reflects the tone of biblical injunction that the essay urges on the reader:
Go because –regardless of what you think of the leaders involved or their actions in this case – you are a strong supporter of America’s alliance with Israel, and you don’t want it to become a partisan matter.
Go because you know that the Constitution gives you, as a member of Congress, the power to “regulate commerce with foreign nations,” “define and punish … offenses against the law of nations,” “declare war,” “raise and support armies” and “provide and maintain a Navy,” and Netanyahu might say some things that will inform your exercise of those greater powers.
Go because you know that Israel is one of our closest and most steadfast allies and you feel a responsibility to listen to its leader speak about developments that he believes could threaten the safety, independence and even existence of his country, as well as that of our closest allies in the Arab world.
And then Lieberman goes on to write:
Just as British Prime Minister David Cameron deserved respectful attention when he called individual members of Congress recently to ask them to delay adopting more sanctions on Iran, and the foreign ministers of Germany, France and Britain deserved respectful reading when they made the same appeal to Congress in an op-ed in The Post, so too does the prime minister of Israel deserve to be listened to respectfully by members of Congress when he speaks next week.
This sentence really got to me, not only because of the obvious absurdity of comparing the pomp and circumstance (and multiple standing ovations) of an address to a Joint Session of Congress to an op-ed in The Post or a few telephone calls made by Cameron and then his confirmation of having made them during a press conference with Obama. These were also the views of our three closest NATO allies, countries which, unlike Israel, are bound by treaty to come to the defense of the United States and which, also unlike Israel, are actually parties to the P5+1 negotiations and to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
And yet, all those clamoring for maximum attendance for Netanyahu haven’t suggested that it would perhaps be useful to hear from the leaders of the UK, France, and Germany in the same forum in order to consider the pros and cons of any agreement that is being negotiated. After all, they may offer perspectives that are actually new compared to those offered by Bibi, who denounced the Joint Program of Action of November 2014 as a “historic mistake” even before it was officially unveiled, and whose defense minister, Moshe Ya’alon, said on Monday that “every deal that will be signed between the West and this messianic and apocalyptic regime will strike a severe blow to Western and Israeli interests and will allow Iran to become a nuclear threshold state and continue its terror activities” [emphasis added], thus seemingly ruling out Israeli support for any agreement between Iran and the P5+1. Indeed, the message out of Israel’s government has been consistently and relentlessly negative, and the arguments that it has presented to support its position have been stated over and over and over again.
Netanyahu vs. NATO
Lieberman’s citation of Cameron’s conversations and the foreign ministers’ op-ed (compared to a Netanyahu’s forthcoming address to Congress) inspired me to ask ReThink Media to do a quick survey of quotations by and paraphrasings in the U.S. media of specific world leaders on Iran’s nuclear program. ReThink looked for citations that appeared in top national newspaper and wire outlets, the most important Beltway media (such as Congressional Quarterly, Politico, Roll Call, etc.), and the top cable news shows from January 1, 2014, to February 23, 2015, using its own specialized database and methodology.
There were a total of 764 discrete stories or transcripts. The score was:
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: 568 times
British Prime Minister David Cameron: 54 times
French President Francois Hollande: 48 times
German Chancellor Angela Merkel: 14 times
In other words, even if you combine all the citations of the leaders of our three major NATO allies — and the three West European partners in the P5+1 negotiations — on the question of Iran’s nuclear program and the negotiations to curb it, the media has gone to Bibi Netanyahu nearly five times more often.
I also did my own survey of the frequency with which The Washington Post, which hosted Lieberman’s exhortation for all members of Congress to “hear out” Bibi, cited or quoted the same leaders addressing Iran’s nuclear program between January 1, 2014 and February 23, 2015, using Nexis searches. The searches identified all stories or op-eds published in the newspaper that included the words “nuclear” and “Iran,” “Iranian,” “Tehran’s,” or “Iran’s,” and the last name of the leader within the same paragraph. The results:
Netanyahu was cited in 47 separate Post newspaper articles.
Cameron was cited in 2.
Hollande was cited in 1.
Merkel was cited in 2.
Thus, for every mention of Iran’s nuclear program in relation to one of leaders of our three closest European allies and negotiating partners, Netanyahu was cited or quoted nearly 10 times. For the past nearly 14 months, in other words, Netanyahu’s position on Iran’s nuclear program has gotten almost 10 times more coverage in the Post than those of the leaders of Britain, France, and Germany combined.
I should add that Obama, as one would expect given the fact that he is president of the United States, beat out Bibi in the number of stories that included his name in relation to Iran’s nuclear program in the same paragraph: it came to a total of 148 newspaper stories. However, when I excluded those stories or op-eds in which the reference was to “the Obama administration,” as opposed to “Obama” personally, the total number fell to 70; that is, just 23 more than the number of times Netanyahu appeared.
If I can inject one more variable relevant to Dershowitz’s assertion that Israel is our “closest ally,” the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, which has conducted detailed polling on U.S. attitudes toward foreign policy for more than 40 years, released its 2014 survey in September. As in past surveys, it asked thousands of respondents to rate their feelings toward countries (a total of 23 in 2014) on a scale of 0 to 100, with 0 meaning very cold and unfavorable, 50 meaning neither positive nor negative, and 100 very warm and favorable. Here are the relevant results:
Great Britain – 74 (second behind Canada overall)
Germany – 65
France – 61 (fourth behind Japan)
Israel – 59
So, why not hold at least one Joint Session of Congress so that the leaders of Washington’s three closest military allies and three of the five nations for which the American public holds the warmest feelings could address what they think of Iran’s nuclear program and any agreement that could curb it? Why reserve that opportunity for Netanyahu who appears to have had no problem whatsoever in getting his point of view across via the U.S. media with respect to Iran’s nuclear program and the purported threat it poses to Israel, the U.S., and the West?