President Obama, Take it like a Head of State
President Obama, Take it like a Head of State

President Barack Obama is not happy. A foreign leader came to his capital and criticized his policy from the podium of the U.S. Congress in an address televised throughout the world. That’s understandable—to an extent.

What is not understandable is how the President has dealt with it.

From the moment the administration was advised by Speaker John Boehner that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would be addressing the U.S. Congress on the subject of Iran, the White House went into shock. Then into damage control mode. Then into attack mode.

The White House Press Secretary first called it “a breach of protocol.” Then an anonymous administration official claimed that Netanyahu “spat in our face publicly.”

As the date of the speech approached, National Security Advisor Susan Rice told Charlie Rose that it was “destructive of the fabric of the relationship” between the US and Israel. The day before the speech US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power implied that U.S.-Israel relations were being “politicized” by Netanyahu.

All the while, the White House brought pressure to bear on Democratic members of Congress to boycott the speech, with 57 ultimately not attending.

And despite Netanyahu’s warm praise for Obama, both at AIPAC and then during his address to Congress, the administration’s reaction to the speech itself ranged from critical to passive aggressive, to openly aggressive.

"Literally, not one new idea; not one single concrete alternative; all rhetoric, no action," one senior administration official said following the speech.

House Minority Leader Nancy Policy (not a member of the administration, but a political ally in the Democratic leadership) said after the speech that it was an “insult to the intelligence of the United States.”

As for the President’s own response to the speech: “I did not have a chance to watch Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech… I did have a chance to look at the transcript and as far as I can tell there was nothing new.”

“The Prime Minister didn’t offer any viable alternatives,” he added.

By reacting so combatively both to the fact that there would be a speech and then to the content of the speech, Obama revealed himself as beaten and frustrated on his own playing field and managed to deepen the rift with a close ally, Israel.

That’s not how a diplomat, let alone a head of state, should have handled the situation.

A diplomat’s response to the announcement of the speech would have been to say “we welcome the Prime Minister and his contribution to the discussion, as we always have.”

A diplomat would not have pressured members of congress not to attend.

Obama: Recognize that this a rare moment where Israel and other Arab states agree on something.
A diplomat would have instead called the Prime Minister to tell him in private, “I understand you’re concerned and we’re going to make sure there is a deal that meets those concerns.” His aides would have then spoken to their Israeli counterparts to influence the content of the speech.

A diplomat would have responded to the ultimate content of the speech by saying, “we take the Prime Minister’s concerns very seriously and will of course take them into consideration when dealing with Iran at the negotiating table.”

A diplomat wouldn’t be in this situation in the first place because he would not put a close ally whose survival was at stake, in a position to feel that his only option left was to go public with his concerns.

But Obama has rarely acted like a diplomat when it comes to Netanyahu and the State of Israel. Obama has pressured, attacked, insulted, and vilified Netanyahu, and criticized and focused world pressure on Israel since he first entered the Oval Office six years ago. To Obama, Netanyahu has always been an opponent with whom he must duel. That’s why the very fact that Netanyahu would address Congress set off alarms in the White House.

Because of the combative relationship that Obama has created, Obama could not believably tell Netanyahu that his concerns would be addressed. Indeed, Obama’s failure to work with one of the United States’ most loyal allies, as well other allies in the region, is what led to the speech in the first place.

But President Obama, there is time to change course. Reconsider your position, and take into account Israel’s concerns. Recognize that this a rare moment where Israel and other Arab states agree on something. Demand that Iran remove the centrifuges and dismantle their nuclear program.

But if you can’t bring yourself to change your position, at least keep your dignity, and the dignity of the office which you occupy and stop the attacks on the Prime Minister of Israel.