The Democrats set out to teach John Boehner and Benjamin Netanyahu a lesson. They would boycott the Israeli prime minister’s speech to Congress and apply enough pressure to cancel the speech, keep Mr. Netanyahu at home and embarrass the Republicans who invited him here. What a happy day’s work that would be.
What President Obama and his compliant Democrats have actually done, however, is to give Mr. Netanyahu a bigger platform than the Republicans could dream of. The eyes and ears of the world, which might have been distracted by the usual media trivia, are now aimed at the U.S. Capitol. What might have passed as a one-day story, worth eight or 10 paragraphs on Page One, instead becomes a continuing story with embarrassing questions for Mr. Obama and the Democrats.
The Democrats, once the fiercest champions of the Jewish state, have cooled on Israel. Secretary of State John F. Kerry calls Israel an “apartheid state,” linking it to an earlier regime in South Africa, and Hillary Clinton, the former secretary of state who thinks it might be nice to be the president of the United States, denounces Israel for the “brutal occupation” of the West Bank and depriving the Palestinians of “dignity and self-determination.”
You have to wonder what Mr. Obama is scared of, with the plain-speaking Mr. Netanyahu now in sight. What might he say of disclosures hidden in the tortured discussions between Israel and Mr. Obama’s administration? What embarrassing secret might leak while Mr. Netanyahu is in town? A Kuwaiti newspaper, citing Israeli sources, reports that Mr. Obama once threatened to shoot down Israeli bombers trying to reach Iranian nuclear reactors once they crossed air space, presumably Iraq, controlled by Americans. What other tantrums might be ventilated by a Netanyahu visit?
Mr. Netanyahu is likely to talk with the bark off, but taking care to reassure Americans that he appreciates the Israeli friendship with America, and that no harm to that friendship is intended, nor does he think frank talk will harm it. He reviewed seven decades of that friendship in a speech Monday to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, recounting three occasions when Israel concluded that it had to look after its own survival, despite American misgivings — in 1948 when it declared statehood against American advice, in 1967 when it acted alone in the Six Day War and in 1981 when it bombed the nuclear reactor at Osirak. The friendship was unharmed because both Israeli and American governments wanted it to be unharmed. That might not be true this time. Mr. Obama does not feel about Israel as presidents before him have.
Complacence is the retreat of the weak and indecisive. Barack Obama, with his projection of impotence abroad, does not want the comparison to Benjamin Netanyahu, with his robust defense of his country. Who could blame him?
Winston Churchill came to Washington in December 1941, when America was reeling in the wake of Pearl Harbor and spirits needed bucking up much in the way of March 2015. Franklin D. Roosevelt was a wartime president, like it or not, but there was at last no more ambiguity. He did not look for ways to excuse or ignore the barbarism of Nazi Germany or the runaway territorial greed of Japan. Americans of the generations since can hardly appreciate the gloom and despair abroad in the land in December 1941. The might and muscle of a triumphant America was still years in the future.
Churchill fibbed a little, saying he had “found an Olympian fortitude which, far from being based on complacency, is only the mask of an inflexible purpose and the proof of a sure, well-grounded confidence in the final outcome.” The Olympian fortitude survives, the American will as strong as ever, if there was a leader who wanted to tap into it.
Mr. Obama affects the leadership of Alfred E. Neuman — “What? Me worry?” Churchill recognized the face of wickedness, as Mr. Obama clearly does not. Churchill invoked the defiance of Stonewall Jackson who urged care and concern in picking the fields of battle, but once the sword is drawn, “throw away the scabbard.”
Mr. Netanyahu’s speech is intended to remind Americans that theirs is Lincoln’s “exceptional nation,” and to remind Mr. Obama that, like it or not, that’s the exceptional nation that he is heir to. A resolute president would fear neither the knives and guns of a determined adversary, nor the message of a friendly visitor. Irresolution invites doubts, fears and ultimately contempt. That’s the ultimate message of the Netanyahu speech to the joint session of Congress. Rarely has an occasion introduced itself with such eloquence.
• Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.