You may have heard about the speech Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave to a joint session of Congress last week about the ongoing U.S.-Iran nuclear negotiations, a polarizing event that received round-the-clock coverage in the days and weeks leading up to it. Indeed, as Netanyahu was recently quoted as saying, “Never has so much been written about a speech that hasn’t been given.”
The speech, in which Bibi slams the Obama administration’s attempt to reach a deal with Iran that would put restrictions on its nuclear program in exchange for a gradual lessening of sanctions imposed by Western nations, is nothing if not fiery, prompting comparisons to famed orator Winston Churchill. The response has been equally impassioned, drawing praise from Republicans and heavy condemnation from liberals and Democrats.
Responses to the speech broke down neatly along party lines. Partly that’s due to the events leading up to it: Speaker of the House John Boehner invited Netanyahu to speak to Congress without consulting President Obama first, a procedural no-no the Obama Administration and Congressional Democrats took as an insult, prompting many to boycott the speech.
But it’s also due to the content of the speech itself, in which Netanyahu rejects root-and-branch a deal the Obama Administration has poured significant effort and political capital into over the past year, calling it “a very bad deal” and concluding that “We’re better off without it.”
Left-leaning commentators begged to differ. In a Washington Post op-ed, Fareed Zakaria derided the speech as a “fantasy ride” in which Bibi “spun out one unattainable demand after another.” Netanyahu’s hardline position on the Iranian nuclear program — no uranium enrichment whatsoever — hasn’t worked in the past, and won’t work now, Zakaria says.
In fact, it was just this type of hardline approach that scuttled preliminary talks between Iran and European powers back in 2005, when “the Bush administration, acting through the British government, vetoed it,” Zakaria says. That agreement would’ve limited Iran to 164 centrifuges, which are used to enrich uranium to the point where it can be used in a nuclear weapon. Iran currently has about 19,000 centrifuges.
“By insisting on maximalist demands and rejecting potential agreements, the first of which would have limited Iran to 164 centrifuges,” Zakaria quotes nuclear issues expert and Harvard professor Graham Allison as saying, “We have seen Iran advance from 10 years away from producing a bomb to only months.”
Expecting a different outcome to the hardline policies promoted by Netanyahu this time around, Zakaria says, would be Peter Pan politics, in which “dreams do come true, if only we wish hard enough.”
Meanwhile Daily Show host Jon Stewart panned the thunderous standing ovation the speech provoked from the mainly Republican crowd, calling it “by far, the longest blow job a Jewish man has ever received.” Stewart also mocked Netanyahu for making a similar speech to Congress back in 1996, where he claimed Iran was on the brink
of obtaining a nuclear weapon, and asserted that a regime change in Iraq would have a stabilizing effect on the Middle East.
That prediction, Stewart wryly noted, didn’t exactly pan out.
[Washington Post] [Hollywood Reporter]