Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution of the United States of America, referring to presidential powers and responsibilities, states:
“He shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur;”
In a word the President does, indeed, have the power to negotiate an agreement with another country, in this case with Iran, on behalf of the United States. However, the Constitution makes it perfectly clear that any such agreements are subject to the advice and consent of the Senate of the United States which is defined as a 2/3 majority (i.e.67 of the 100 member body assuming everyone votes).
The Senate therefore, in coordination but not dependent upon, the House of Representatives, is carrying out its constitutional duty in letting the President know that it has serious reservations about the ongoing deliberations with Iran by the P5+1 of which the US is a member. How it chooses to let the President know this is an internal matter within the US and, of course, it would be better if this concern were resolved behind closed doors. But in the President’s State of the Union address last week he clearly stated that if the Congress passed legislation in favor of reinstating broad sanctions on Iran should the current talks fail, that left the Congress little choice but to do whatever is could to bolster its campaign to pass such legislation.
It was under this scenario that House Speaker John Boehner issued the invitation to Israel’s Prime Minister to address a joint session of congress, an invitation rarely issued to heads of state except in extraordinary circumstances. Speaker Boehner wanted to bring the world’s most outspoken critic of the negotiations to the floor of that chamber, who also happens to be the leader of the nation that runs the highest risk of devastation should Iran acquire nuclear weapons……Israel.
So, in effect, Israel and Prime Minister Netanyahu are simply bit players in an internecine fight between a lame-duck president who believes he is beholden to no one and a Congress that correctly takes as its mandate that which was enshrined in the Constitution ratified in 1788.
President Obama may feel that inviting our Prime Minister to speak to a joint session of Congress is a slap in his face, as one pundit put it. But he himself had no qualms about asking British Prime Minister David Cameron last week to lobby congress against the Kirk-Menendez Bill as the sanctions legislation is known. Frankly, one of the strengths of US politics is that freedom of expression and urging people to vote one way or the other is a significant part of the democratic tradition and, of course, what’s good for the goose should be good for the gander.
I have many problems with our Prime Minister and the way he has or has not handled many of the socio-economic issues confronting Israel as we edge towards the mature age of 70. But when it comes to the security of this country, when it comes to understanding the ramifications of living 600 miles away from the capital of nuclear-capable country whose stated aim is to see us destroyed, and when it comes to letting the world know the risks of appeasement, there is no one else I’d rather see make that case. And, of course, Speaker John Boehner clearly feels the same.
This will be the third time that Prime Minister Netanyahu has been invited to address a joint session of Congress. The only other person to whom that honor has been accorded is Winston Churchill. Two of his pronouncements would be well to note:
“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.”
“The truth is incontrovertible. Malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end, there it is.”
President Obama would do well to ponder those words which are as applicable today as they were 70 years ago when they were first uttered. We can only hope that these words will penetrate what can only be described as the arrogance of power.
Sherwin Pomerantz is a 31-year resident of Israel, president of Atid EDI Ltd., and a past national president of the Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel.