How The White House Botched Bibi’s Speech

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by Karl Rove,

from The Wall Street Journal,

The public relations assault on an ally gave the address far more attention and import.

Put aside the policy implications of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s powerful speech to Congress on Tuesday, and the dire consequences if President Obama bungles his dealings with Iran.

Instead, consider how badly the Obama administration has handled things during the six weeks since Jan. 21, when House Speaker John Boehner invited Mr. Netanyahu to address Congress. Mr. Obama and his team pride themselves on their communications prowess, but they’ve made a hash of the situation.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest delivered the initial response, suggesting a protocol violation and implying Mr. Netanyahu needed Mr. Obama’s permission to come to the U.S. The administration was clearly piqued. That soon gave way to anger—and a series of steps to escalate the confrontation with our most stalwart ally.

Within days, the White House announced the president would not meet with the Israeli prime minister. Within a week, an unnamed senior official expressed “outrage” to the New York Times, saying the White House was “angry” at Mr. Netanyahu. The Times found this “unusually sharp criticism.”

In early February, Vice President Joe Biden announced he would not attend the speech and the administration reportedly encouraged congressional Democrats to boycott it. Eventually nearly 60 Democratic congressmen and senators refused to attend the speech.

Even that wasn’t the end of it. The White House then orchestrated a three-day assault. On Feb. 23 Senate Democrats demanded a private meeting with Mr. Netanyahu, saying his visit “sacrifices deep and well-established cooperation on Israel” and warning of “lasting repercussions” if he refused their invitation to visit their woodshed.

In an interview on “Charlie Rose” the next day, National Security Adviser Susan Rice declared the prime minister’s appearance was “destructive of the fabric of the relationship” between the U.S. and Israel.

And in congressional testimony the following day, Secretary of State John Kerry questioned Mr. Netanyahu’s judgment for having supported the 2003 invasion of Iraq, saying, “We all know what happened with that decision.” Mr. Kerry neglected to mention that as a U.S. senator in 2003 he voted for the war.

What the Obama administration succeeded in doing with its unceasing assault on Mr. Netanyahu was to make his speech much more significant and the setting much more dramatic than otherwise. They took an important address and turned it into a must-see event. With the stage set, the Israeli prime minister, after beginning his address with generous praise about the president’s past support of Israel, proceeded to demolish Mr. Obama’s arguments one by one. It was a devastating takedown.

It was obvious in advance how the White House should have handled Mr. Netanyahu. Rather than bashing him, they should have played down his appearance.

There should have been administration officials in the House chamber.

A president who came into office promising to repair relations with our friends has made them worse—and not just with Israel but with our Arab allies, all of whom are fearful of a nuclear Iran. The administration has said and done things it cannot take back and that have united Israel and key Arab nations—against us.

It is interesting that Mr. Obama’s antipathy has recently been focused not on the planet’s most evil regimes, including Iran, but on America’s most dependable ally, Israel, a vibrant nation that is a champion of liberty and human rights and a beacon of freedom in a sea of oppression.

The president’s behavior has provided ample additional evidence that he lacks the skills and patience to deal with allies with whom he disagrees.

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