Barack Obama may have had enough of Benjamin Netanyahu's stunts. It might just be time for Bibi to go. Foreign Policy's Aaron David Miller writes that Obama is pursuing regime change in the upcoming Israeli elections.
Welcome to regime change, Obama-style. There are few opportunities to change the mullahcracy in Tehran. But Jerusalem may be another story. By accepting Speaker John Boehner’s invitation to address a joint meeting of Congress — now widely seen as a real bungle — the prime minister has given the Obama administration an opening. And you can bet the White House is taking advantage to make it unmistakably clear that Bibi is bad for the U.S.-Israeli relationship.
The White House has already made clear there will no meeting with President Obama, assuming that Netanyahu sticks to his word and actually shows up in early March. The good news for Netanyahu is that the two won’t have another bad meeting. The not-so-good news is that the White House door will be closed to a sitting Israeli prime minister — that doesn’t happen often. While White House spokesman Josh Earnest has said that the reason is that we’re too close to an Israeli election, that’s a stretch. Trust me: If Obama and Bibi were buddies, they’d be hugging in the Oval Office. Just look at former President Bill Clinton’s efforts to sway the 1996 election in Shimon Peres’s favor, which included seeing him at the White House. This close to an Israeli election, a freeze-out can't help the incumbent.
Meanwhile, the administration wasted little time in backgrounding the press on how angry it was at Israel’s ambassador, Ron Dermer, who was apparently the architect of the congressional invitation. A senior administration official said that Dermer had put Netanyahu’s political aspirations ahead of the U.S.-Israel relationship. And let’s be clear: An attack on Dermer is an attack on Netanyahu. It’s rare to get that personal. Now, Dermer — like his boss — is getting a cold shoulder in Washington, another orchestrated signal of a dysfunctional U.S.-Israeli relationship. Indeed, U.S. Amb. Dan Shapiro had a tough meeting with Israeli officials last week. There will ultimately be a price for this, he was quoted as saying.
Vice President Joe Biden won’t be attending Netanyahu’s Washington speech either. That such a pro-Israeli stalwart will be missing from Congress during Bibi’s address gives other Democrats cover not to attend. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) has already indicated he won’t attend, as have others. And that list will likely grow. There’s no other way to read Biden’s absence than an orchestrated signal from Washington that something is very wrong in the relationship with Israel — and that the White House is working to deny Netanyahu any gains from the speech.
And you’d better believe that the White House is aware of that fact. Both Obama and Kerry would love to see Netanyahu out and Labor’s duo of Herzog and Tzipi Livni in. And they’re doing everything they reasonably can — short of running campaign ads — to bring that about.
Update: Speculation that Netanyahu might cancel his speech to Congress or at least try to get it delayed until after the election has been resolved by Netanyahu's announcement that he'll go ahead, come what may. I think he's boxed in and can't back down without looking weak at home, never a good thing for a guy posing as a strongman.