Netanyahu and the GOP See Peace as an Existential Threat


ANN CURRY: Again, I think you’re pointing the finger at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
JAVAD ZARIF: I– I’m pointing the finger at anybody who– sees peace as– as an existential threat.

– NBC News Interview with Iranian Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif [3.4.15]

Ann Curry pressed Zarif, whose talks with the P5+1 ended yesterday, relentlessly on a number of issues relating to Iran’s nuclear program (it’s a shame they don’t turn her loose on Bill O’Reilly).

You can trust Iran’s – and his – protestations of innocence or not. There is no doubting that Netanyahu (though evidence suggests not everyone in his government) has an obsessive hatred of Iran that is not at all helping efforts at building peace in the Middle East.

It is certainly interesting that Curry feels the need to say Zarif is pointing a finger at Netanyahu when Netanyahu is without question pointing a finger at Iran, but that says more about Western biases than it does about Iran.

Read the entire transcript or listen to the interview. What stands out are this final question and answer. This is, as Sheldon Cooper of CBS’ Big Bang Theory would put it, the “Bazinga!” moment of the interview, and it was worth waiting for.

Pointing the Finger at Speaker of the House John Boehner

It sounds very much as though Zarif has also correctly and succinctly identified the problem with our own Republican Party. Peace itself is an existential threat to the GOP, which is in the business of fear, of conjuring up new enemies, both home and abroad.

Interestingly Noam Chomsky made the same point to Amy Goodman of Democracy Now on Monday:

For both Prime Minister Netanyahu and the hawks in Congress, mostly Republican, the primary goal is to undermine any potential negotiation that might settle whatever issue there is with Iran. They have a common interest in ensuring there is no regional force that can serve as any kind of deterrent to Israeli and U.S. violence, the major violence in the region.

War should not be a common interest. A perpetual state of war might benefit the military industrial complex, but it does not benefit the American people, and that, ultimately, is whose interest Boehner & Co. are supposed to be watching out for.

Undeniably, they are not. They brought in a foreign leader to attack our president – the man we elected twice – and to challenge his foreign policy.

Chris Matthews nailed it Tuesday on MSNBC, telling MSNBC’s Thomas Roberts:

I’ll get to the heart of this speech now. This man from a foreign government walked into the United States legislative chamber and tried to take over U.S. foreign policy. He said, ‘You should trust me, not your president on this. I am the man you should trust, I am your true leader on this question of U.S. geopolitics. To protect yourself, you must listen to me and not this president.’

It was a startling situation. To allow someone to come in — knowing that was going to be their message — to the U.S. Congress. This was a decision made by Boehner and certainly complied with by Netanyahu and his ambassador [Ron Dermer]. They went into the U.S. Congress to take over U.S. foreign policy from the president.

Think it through, what country in the world would let a foreign leader come in and attempt to wrest from the president control of the U.S. foreign policy?

This was a takeover attempt by Netanyahu with this complying America partners to take American foreign policy out of the hands of the president.

And the Republicans cheered and cheered, leading Jon Stewart to quip Tuesday that Congress gave Netanyahu “by far the longest blow job a Jewish man has ever received.”

Which leads me to fantasize about hearing those words come out of Nancy Pelosi’s mouth.

The GOP as a Radical Insurgency

Chomsky, in his interview, made another valid point:

The Republicans stopped being an ordinary parliamentary party some years ago. They were described, I think accurately, by Norman Ornstein, the very respected conservative political analyst, American Enterprise Institute; he said the party has become a radical insurgency which has abandoned any commitment to parliamentary democracy. And their goal for the last years has simply been to undermine anything that Obama might do, in an effort to regain power and serve their primary constituency, which is the very wealthy and the corporate sector.

And in fact, this is exactly what Ornstein said, writing in a 2012 op-ed at the Washington Post that, “The Republicans are the problem.”

The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.

When one party moves this far from the mainstream, it makes it nearly impossible for the political system to deal constructively with the country’s challenges.

To the oft-heard claim that “both sides do it,” Ornstein and Mann responded, “the Democrats may have moved from their 40-yard line to their 25, the Republicans have gone from their 40 to somewhere behind their goal post.” As they wrote, both sides moving to the center is “a strategy that is simply untenable when one side is so far out of reach.”

President Obama responded to Netanyahu’s speech with metaphorical yawn, saying “as far as I can tell, there was nothing new” in the prime minister’s speech and that “The prime minister didn’t offer any viable alternatives.” This prompted outrage from Jennier Rubin, writing in her column at The Washington Post that Obama’s response was “strange” and “illogical,” that of course Netanyahu offered alternatives.

But as Tamara Cofman Wittes writes at Brookings, Netanyahu “did not present a preferred alternative to negotiations.” Republicans don’t seem to understand that there are alternatives to the use of force.

Rubin actually had the nerve, after Congress brought in a foreign leader to attack our president, to commandeer American foreign policy for his own nation’s selfish purposes, to accuse Obama of chutzpah.

That’s chutzpah.

The Iranian government apparently agreed with Obama, calling Netanyahu’s speech “boring and repetitive” (it was certainly that, which is why Republicans gave it such thunderous applause).

Who knew Iran’s revolutionary regime would ever sound so sensible when placed next to our own Republican Party?

What is to be done?

If you’re talking about Democrats and Republicans, we can do nothing with the Republican Party. They have opted out of governing.

Worse, they have opted out of our shared reality and the fact-filled universe. What they want has trumped what is, and there can be no dealing with people who refuse to recognize that wishful thinking never solved anything. That, in fact, wishful thinking is dangerous – catastrophically so.

As John Kerry said yesterday, “Simply demanding that Iran capitulate is not a plan.” Someone might remind Republicans of the same thing where President Obama is concerned.

We can deal with Iran, however. Trustworthy or not, Iran is still part of our shared reality, in a way neither Netanyahu nor Republicans are. And that, perhaps, is the saddest commentary possible on the state of the Republican Party in 2015.

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