Reading Michael Crowley's piece on Bibi's long-term strategy towards Obama, I'm struck by this absurdity in American politics. As Netanyahu comes waltzing into Washington to place demands on the White House, receiving policy concessions served up like John the Baptist's head on a plate, he must be thinking the transformation is complete. But be careful, Bibi - sea changes can be wild, with the occasional tsunami.
See, as we focus on foreign intervention into domestic politics, it won't be long until someone notices (me?) that we have a codified litmus test in Washington, if not largely accepted across the US, of allegiance to Israel and its needs/wants. For guilt reasons? Fear of the rapture and all things biblical? Sincere belief that these are Israel's and thus our needs? Who knows. For a nation that still largely practices the weird & painful circumcision procedure on all male babies for no actual religious or medical reason, we'll just have to accept we're a bit challenged on certain matters. But back to the story....
Congress regularly is evaluated for support on all matters Israel - AIPAC's "who's been naughty or nice" especially resulting in near lock-step adherence to Israeli predilections. Hillary took to this obligation with a flourish in her time as Senator, clinging almost as close to the Jewish state as she did to Obama during the last campaign. Bernie being Jewish got a little bit of breathing room, but even he mailed in his criticisms from an undisclosed remote location, knowing better than to deliver in person lest he be found in the East River with the fishes (a joke, son, it's a joke...)
It wasn't long ago that the new practice began of Republican presidential contenders showing up in Jerusalem to curry favor and a blessing from Israeli leaders, such as Romney's classic if failed stay at the King David Hotel to raise money & lock in the Jewish vote - candidates whispering sweet nothings in the Israeli newspapers' ears such as a possible shift of the embassy from Tel Aviv, or maybe new hawkish threats against Iran and Syria, etc. etc. For the red right, the hajj has become as obligatory as months in Iowa and New Hampshire.
But that obscene foreign pandering and fundraising wasn't enough for the Party of No - to further instill the image of Obama as traitor to Israel and thus America, they invited Bibi to address Congress - without informing Obama. Bibi accepted in much the same way. He didn't ride into Congress on a donkey with palm fronds awaving, but it was close. The juxtaposition was clear - Obama is bringing on the Apocalypse with his Iranian nuke deal, while those nice Congressional neocons and tea baggers are protecting Paradise. One can think of few more overt, slowly baked insults by a head of state or an opposition party.
So now Putin and the Republicans have done a bit of bait-and-switch. Netanyahu's cemented in folklore as a Dear Leader type for Americans - and now Putin wants much the same. But can he do it? While Republicans are congealing around this newfound Russophile love that perversely goes against almost all previous professions of US policy over the last 90 years, there will likely be a backlash. The Russian-Jewish connection is quite old, and it's not the Russian side that's endearing or invokes sympathy - the pogroms were bloody deeds of the Russian ruling class, much as Putin in post-Tsarist times, and the Syrian bombings and massacres don't invite peaceful analogies to Putin's "diplomatic" and militaristic excursions & intrigues.
But more to point, when do Americans recognize the double-standard, that while we're invoking a 200-year-old law keeping mere citizens from messing with state politics, we coordinate with Israel at formal and informal level for all things Middle East, making it something akin to a 51st state and a special division of government. The creepiness of the relationship has been recognized with the Pollard case among others, but as long as the Palestinian question remains on the table, Israel's back channel to the US levers of power will persist.
Read the following substituting Russian names like Putin, Kislyak, Manafort:
Netanyahu has known both Trump and the family of Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, for over a decade. His ambassador, Ron Dermer, has developed a close bond with Kushner, and was spotted walking near the White House with Trump’s senior adviser, Stephen Bannon, on Tuesday. On Thursday night, one of Netanyahu’s staunchest supporters, the billionaire casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, dined with Trump at the White House.
The irony re: Russia vs. Israel meddling in US affairs is scrumptious. A Bibi/Puti smackdown, grudge match of the apocrypha. Remember Bibi holding up that badly drawn lit bomb waiting to go off? Yes, he tilts towards the Trumpish buffoon strategy. But then Putin had that embarrassing hockey game tied to Sochi where he scored some 13 goals to show him as amazingly proficient in yet another field, something like North Korea's leaders scoring multilple holes-in-1 on a round of golf.
So as Netanyahu arrives to get his dues, the question has to be asked - who's really winning? Or better, will there be enough losers at the table to make the banquet palatable?
In any case, the analogy shouldn't be taken *too* far. Israel is a tiny vulnerable nation, and has limited its interests to its nearby survival, agree with its positions and tactics and justifications or not. Russia is an old Imperial power with still enough bite and cunning to match its bark. (Though I think the Israeli voters share some responsibility for supporting & egging on Netanyahu in messing with *us*).
But both Putin and Netanyahu are circus barkers of the worst order - and tied to the even more outlandish Trump, you just can't help but wish they were all in a little leaky dinghy cast about by a furious sea with not enough life vests.
But maybe they are?