Bibi’s Bad Gamble

We’re still in some suspense about the exact margin, and more importantly, whether Barack Obama will or will not have to use his veto pen. But the Iran Nuclear Deal is now quasi-certain to survive congressional review. Or we could put it another way and say that Benjamin Netanyahu’s reckless gamble in intervening in U.S. partisan politics to fight the deal has failed. As usual, writing at the Prospect, Israeli journalist Gershom Gorenberg has the most lucid analysis:

Forget the convoluted theories about how Netanyahu expected to lose but intends to game defeat for political advantage. He fought because he expected to stop the deal, which was a mistake, and because he thought that sinking the agreement would be good for Israel, which is a bigger mistake.

This isn’t rational. Netanyahu’s preference has been a military strike, but even his close circle of political partners balked at that, according to Ehud Barak, who spent several years as Netanyahu’s defense minister. It’s not rational to prefer an offensive that might slow the Iranian arms program for two or three years and reject an agreement because, in your view, it will “only” delay the program 10 or 15 years.

Nor is it rational to be the leader of Israel, a country known to possess a serious nuclear arsenal, yet compare yourself to the Jews who faced Nazi Germany.

Gorenberg points out that one of Bibi’s supposed assets has been his understanding of the United States. No longer, it seems.

Netanyahu’s imagined America is one in which Mitt Romney was sure to win in 2012, as can be seen from the prime minister’s behavior back then. Like the Republicans to whom he is close, he treats Obama’s presidency as a historical glitch. Like many Jewish Republicans, he expects American Jews to place Israel at the top of their voting priorities, to agree with his policies, and to wake up at last to the need to vote Republican. After all, that’s how the American Jews he knows best see things. To these misreadings, add his irrepressible impulse to jump into American politics.

And so Netanyahu has seriously alienated both Democrats–who are tired of being called anti-semites for insisting on a U.S. foreign policy that is independent of Israel’s–and American Jews–who stubbornly refuse to follow Bibi’s instructions to join a Republican Coalition cheek-by-jowl with Christian Nationalists and climate change deniers–in a losing cause. Heck of a job, Bibi.

But as Gorenberg concludes in a savage but apt comparison, Netanyahu can’t seem to help himself:

Making a toast to the Jewish New Year at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem Thursday, the prime minister insisted that “the overwhelming majority of the American people” agree with him. Those aren’t the words of someone trying to cut his losses. Like a compulsive gambler in one of Sheldon Adelson’s casinos, he can’t stop.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.