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Netanyahu’s speech to Congress may not be the crisis of authority it seems


There has been a considerable amount of discussion over the decision for the now recently re-elected Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to give a speech to a session of Congress without White House approval or involvement. But while reviewing the intent and motivations of all parties involved in the event is important, one must remember that the event, and the speech itself, are political theatre and rhetoric. Maintaining focus on such matters distracts from the real, substantive problems, over which these events may have considerable influence, but by no means total.

Even prior to the speech made by the Prime Minister, a great deal of speculation and debate concerned the manner in which the address was set. The White House was not included in the discussion, as the invitation instead came from high ranking GOP Congressmen, and many believe that the Republicans were doing so simply to spite the President and his administration. Others claim that the GOP was addressing a concern expressed by their party and their constituents over a lack of clarity between Israel and the United States over the terms and goals of any potential deal with Iran. As no one has admitted to possessing any ulterior motives, in either their actions or accusations, it will likely be impossible to know what the motivations were, and thus we will return to our usual solution to such a concern and pick the argument we either speculate is the most logical or pick the side with which we most identify.

It is not to say that such matters as these are unimportant. One need only look to Winston Churchill to see how much power a well written, well delivered speech can have, holding the morale and vigor of a country together in the face of destructive bombing and almost inevitable invasion by the Germans. Much of the strength of Statecraft, throughout the ages, has been based on perception, which leader clearly possess power, who seems to understanding the situation, which faction seems to have control, and the list goes on.

But one must consider that many aspects of Statecraft are largely theoretical. Every citizen of every country can remember a time when leaders claimed they would come together and bring prosperity through some new agreement, or when they exchanged a round of insults or threats. In either case, it was mostly words. Now obviously the topics Prime Minister Netanyahu discussed, those being the relationship between the United States and Israel and the Iran nuclear talks, are incredibly important. But it is still one thing to relate sentiments, talking points and arguments, and another entirely to put them into action. Winston Churchill was certainly able to maintain the morale of the RAF, but it was the RAF themselves who ultimately won the Battle of Britain.

To the original point, while it is important to understand the gravity of an address to Congress by a foreign leader, and possible ulterior motivations in the invitation and subsequent acceptance, it is much more imperative that one put such events in context. A speech is just that: a speech. A pattern of sentences and words intended to inform, inspire, and engage a populace. But as to what happens as a result of those words and sentences, it is not predetermined. Furthermore, speeches rarely discuss specifics and logistics of a plan. Obviously the point is to explain a policy; but this writer is in the minority that would prefer if leaders discussed more than just broad goals and ideas in their addresses to the people. An in depth explanation of the steps which the administration or organization would take to complete the policy would not only demonstrate a clear path to complete the goal, but also the speaker’s understanding of the topic. That is perhaps this writer’s largest complaint over the whole Statecraft speech situation: There was very little substance to any of it. Once again, politics becomes about perception rather than results, and the debate over the Prime Minister’s speech and the invitation which lead to it, was all a mere discussion about shifting perceptions: an important part of life and modern politics, but by no means the be-all-end-all. And if so, it should not be.

It is impossible to know what impact the Israeli Prime Minister’s speech will have on the Iran nuclear talks, or on the divide between Congress and the White House. Perception, however overstated in today’s society, still has a great effect on such decisions. But a single speech, or talking point, or interview, or public debate, no matter how controversial, should possess this great an impact on today’s policymakers, be it the nuclear talks, or anywhere else for that matter. Policy is nothing without logistics, and too often have citizens been promised a plan without any of the practical effects to back it up.

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Netanyahu’s speech to Congress may not be the crisis of authority it seems