After a State of the Union Address, we're used to a rebuttal from the other party. This year, two of them turned out to be on the schedule. There was the one you probably missed -- "You see, growing up, I had only one good pair of shoes. So on rainy school days, my mom would slip plastic bread bags over them to keep them dry..." -- because who doesn't switch to a little actual entertainment after an hour listening to any president? That Republican "response" was delivered by new Iowa Senator Joni Ernst (she of the pig castration ads). The second one, not to be given until March 3rd, will be by the latest Republican senator and congressman, a fellow named Bibi Netanyahu. He will appear before a joint session of Congress, highlights from which will be all over the news undoubtedly showing both chambers rising repeatedly for standing ovations -- some 29 times on the last such occasion -- while the Israeli prime minister eviscerates President Obama's negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program. Previews indicate that Netanyahu will also encourage Congress to pass further sanctions against Iran to ensure that those talks will be deep-sixed and the way paved for just what we all need: one more war in the Middle East. A second audience will also be listening: Israeli voters, just two weeks before they go to the polls to decide whether Bibi is to remain in office.
All in all, call it an illuminating State of the Union moment, starting with the president's fantasy address. It was, after all, filled with proposals that might have been meaningful in year two of his first term but that now have as much chance of being enacted into law as the National Zoo in Washington does of housing a unicorn. There was, however, one arena in which Obama might have assumed that something he said wouldn't just be his own version of a Netanyahu-style election speech, laying the groundwork for the next Democratic candidate in 2016. That, of course, was foreign policy.
Perhaps even the 36.4% of American voters -- the lowest turnout since the Neolithic age -- who ushered in the present war-hawk Republican Congress imagined they were sending their representatives to Washington to deal with the usual set of issues (and non-issues). So call House Speaker John Boehner an original. Without bothering to notify the White House and evidently encouraged by Israeli ambassador Ron Dermer, he promptly invited Netanyahu to respond to the president on a major foreign policy issue, while himself preparing to pass those new sanctions the Israeli prime minister is so eager for. (On that score, the move has already backfired, rallying Democrats to the president and so making a successful veto a certainty for the coming months.)
As an anonymous "senior American official" told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Netanyahu's act was the equivalent of spitting in the president's face. By the way, whatever that is on John Kerry's face after years working to develop a special relationship with Netanyahu -- who didn't even bother to tell him he was coming -- I leave you to figure out. All in all, think of it as the perfect cherry on the misbaked cake of an Obama foreign policy that, as TomDispatch regular Andrew Bacevich points out, has been outstanding mainly for its remarkable mediocrity.
As the president shuttles from India to Saudi Arabia on an increasingly incoherent planet, that classic philosophical thought experiment comes to mind: What is the sound of a politician falling in the forest if no one hears him go down? Tom
Save Us From Washington's Visionaries
In (Modest) Praise of a Comforting Mediocrity
By Andrew J. Bacevich