Opinion Columns & Blogs

Albany Herald: Fractures hurt, but they mend

So, what came out of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's appearance before Congress on Tuesday?

At first glance, not much other than to deepen cracks that are already pretty deep.

First comes the question of whether his appearance before the joint session of Congress was appropriate at all, given that House Republicans who have blasted President Obama for overstepping his authority through executive orders bypassed the administration altogether in inviting a foreign head of state to speak to lawmakers. It's hard to see how the invitation was meant to be anything but a slap at the White House. The 50-60 Democrats who boycotted the appearance aside, the conspicuous absence of Vice President Joe Biden, president of the Senate, Tuesday was evidence of how the broach of protocol was seen by Obama, who also refused to meet with Netanyahu, citing his desire not to influence the March 17 Israeli election.

That Netanyahu and Obama don't see eye-to-eye on issues, in particular the Iranian nuclear program, is widely known. In the administration's efforts to negotiate a diplomatic solution, the Israeli prime minister's assessment of how those negotiations are going is that Iran will end up with what it wants -- an ability to arm itself with nuclear weapons. It doesn't help that Obama and Netanyahu have what may be charitably described as a personality conflict. From disagreements over freezing Israeli settlements on the West Bank to which boundary should be used as the basis for peace talk with Israel and Palestine to Obama's open mic faux pas with French President Nicolas Sarkozy in which the leaders expressed their dislike for Netanyahu to Netanyahu's welcome of GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney a few months before the 2012 presidential election, it's clear they just don't get along.

Worse, there is mistrust. Obama doesn't trust Netanyahu to not say or do something that will blow U.S. negotiations with Iran out of the water, and Netanyahu doesn't trust the Obama administration to negotiate a nuclear agreement with Iran that won't eventually blow Israel off the planet. Netanyahu was successful in getting that message out in his speech Tuesday.

It's the same mistrust that continually reaches another new level between Republicans in Congress on one side and the White House and congressional Democrats on the other. It's a mistrust that is evolving to a genuine dislike of one side for the other that is spreading as ringwingers and leftwingers harden their stances.

It's easy to look at the circus that is the dysfunction we have in Washington and blame the performers. One-upmanship and showmanship have supplanted statesmanship and, as a result, you have a major U.S. ally snubbed by a significant number of lawmakers and a White House that itself was snubbed in the extending of the invitation. And you have a world watching and wondering whether a U.S. government in this shape can successfully deal with a delicate issue like Iran and nukes. And make no mistake about it. Many of those eyes are those of Iranian leaders, calculating whether they can work an advantage out of all this.

We hope, for the world's sake, that the Obama administration will be successful in negotiating an agreement with Iran that will, as the administration says is its goal, create a situation in which Iran's compliance is verifiable and one in which it would take Iran at least a year to get to a point of making weapons-grade nuclear material if it were to break the agreement.

In the long run, we believe the Republic will survive its internal bickering, as will strong U.S.-Israeli relations. Fractures may be painful and ugly, but they do mend.

-- Albany Herald