John Boehner, Speaker of the House of Representatives and second in line after Vice President Biden to be president, responded to Barack Obama's boastful State-of-the-Union address by frontally challenging the president's "failed" foreign policy. In this he is supported by Republican senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham and a leading senate Democrats, Robert Menendez and Chuck Shumer.
But Boehner chose a controversial spokesman for this job, Israel's hard-line Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He will address a session of Congress in early March and is expected to urge Washington to use force if necessary to stop Iran from building nuclear weapons. He also faults the president for failing to confront Syria's brutal Assad regime or stopping the dangerous expansion of Islamic State (ISIL) forces in Syria and Iraq
The White House quickly announced that Obama would not meet with Netanyahu, and it noted that it was unprecedented for Congress to invite a foreign leader to address it without White House involvement.
Many Americans hoped the president would find ways to work with the new Republican-controlled Congress, but his State-of-the-Union address scuttled that idea. Boehner's invitation to Netanyahu highlights Republican charges that Obama has failed to defend U.S. interests in the Middle East. As Congress gears up to debate Obama's request for authority to use military force against the ISIL threat. Netanyahu's views will enliven the debate.
Three major arguments are made by influential Republicans and several key Democrats to support their case against Obama's Middle East policies.
Obama's June 2009 Cairo speech, which encouraged people across the Middle East to replace their repressive governments with democratically-elected ones, set off popular uprisings in many countries and were labeled the "Arab Spring." In Cairo, this resulted in the ouster of the pro-American government headed by Hosni Mubarak and was followed by the election of a radical, anti-Western party, Muslim Brotherhood. Last summer it was overthrown in a military coup. In neighboring Libya, its dictator, Moamar Kadhaffi was removed and political chaos resulted. A new democratically-elected government is powerless to keep order. In the Persian Gulf state of Bahrain, home to the U.S. Sixth Fleet, the government was saved from overthrow by Saudi Arabia's dispatch of troops to defend its ally. Obama's critics argue that he was naïve to think that democracy could easily be implanted in societies that had no experience with it.
Critics also argue that Obama should have used air power three years ago to establish "safe zones" to prevent President Assad's air force from bombing opposition forces who called for his ouster. They argue that Obama compounded this mistake by threatening military action if Assad used chemical weapons, and then failed to act. World leaders concluded, his critics say, that Obama was an indecisive leader and could be manipulated.
Israel's Netanyahu charges that the United States and other countries negotiating with Iran--Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China—are being drawn into an agreement where Iran maintains the capability to become a nuclear power but refrains from doing so if other powers respect Iran's interests in the Persian Gulf region and Syria. It accepts U.N. inspections but does not agree to the low threshold on enriched uranium demanded by Israel and U.S. defense hawks. They fear that Iran would need only a few months to break out of the agreement and produce nuclear weapons. Netanyahu says this poses an "existential threat" and must be opposed by military force.
The Obama administration cites two major reasons for its cautious policy: First, the president won two elections after promising to withdraw combat forces from Iraq and Afghanistan. He has done that and polls show that a large majority of Americans support his cautious policy. Obama is now using air power to attack ISIL forces, and is sending trainers and intelligence operators to assist Iraq's revamped army. There are no plans, he said, to send ground troops.
Secondly, Obama believes strongly that the United States should not engage militarily in the Middle East unless it has European allies. On Syria, British Prime Minister David Cameron could not persuade his Conservative Party to support intervention. Similarly on Iran, Obama will not contemplate military action unless other major powers join us. Israel alone would not qualify.
We await a major showdown about U.S. national interests and policies in the Middle East. Hopefully, Congress will provide this needed debate.
File last modified on Monday, 02-FEB-2015 10:51 AM EST