Dissing Obama on the Middle East

The spectacle of Congress siding with a foreign power against the president of the United States seems to have escaped most commentators.

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Netanyahu in Congress (Getty Images)

When a joint session of Congress gave repeated applause to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week, it was a clear message to President Obama whose side they were on. Netanyahu was there at the invitation of Republican leaders, who wanted to make a point that they disagreed with the president's proposed rules for restarting peace talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Democrats too, wanted to make clear that they were abandoning their president on the Middle East. But few commentators brought up the fact that Congress was openly siding with a foreign power -- even if it's a friend -- and turning its back on the U.S. president.

At least in our sister publication, Foreign Policy, Michael A. Cohen pointed out the unusual scenario.

It is certainly appropriate for members of Congress to disagree with the president's foreign-policy agenda. But it's something else altogether to be appearing to work in concert with the leader of another country in trying to put the president on the defensive -- and seeking to score a partisan political advantage in the process. By openly siding with Netanyahu against Obama and making Arab-Israeli peace a partisan issue, Republicans in Congress are at serious risk of crossing a dangerous line and in the process undermining U.S. interests in the Middle East.

This behavior follows a concerning pattern. Last November, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, after a meeting with Netanyahu, suggested that a Republican Congress would serve as a check on the Obama administration when it came to Israel policy (a position he later sought to walk back). In the fall of 2009, Cantor criticized the Obama administration for its rebuke of the Israeli government over the eviction of Palestinian families in East Jerusalem's Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood. Most surprising of all, the attack was lodged from Jerusalem, where Cantor was heading a 25-person GOP delegation -- an unusual violation of the unspoken rule that members of Congress should refrain from criticizing the U.S. government while on foreign soil. Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee took a similar position this February while traveling in Israel. He called the Obama administration's opposition to Israeli settlements (a position long held by Democratic and Republican presidents) equivalent to "racism" and "apartheid."

We at The Root can't help continuing to ask: What is it about Barack Obama that makes some Republicans feel that he does not deserve the respect due any president of the United States? It's one of those thing that make you go "Hmm ... "

You can read Cohen's entire article at Foreign Policy.

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