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Netanyahu invitation unwise

Once upon a time, not so long ago, the Republican party was generally thought of as the party of national security. The final years of Ronald Reagan's administration, successful arms control talks and masterful handling of the collapse of the Soviet Union by George H.W. Bush strengthened that perception.

Republican credibility on national security was obliterated, however, by the Bush-Cheney administration and their reckless, strategically disastrous, $2 trillion invasion of Iraq. The GOP has not recovered from that calamity.

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And now House Majority leader John Boehner has put a nail in the coffin of GOP weakness on major national security issues with his flippant and dishonorable invitation to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address the Congress of the United States on the most critical foreign policy issue now facing the nation: the negotiations to block Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons.

It is an insulting invitation on several counts. First, Mr. Netanyahu faces an election in Israel two weeks after he's scheduled to address Congress on March 3, and his opponents will not like this kind of electioneering. Several Israeli observers have criticized both Mr. Boehner and Mr. Netanyahu for their actions — saying among other things that such an intervention at a delicate time in the Iran nuclear talks could set up Israel as sabotaging the discussions and heightening anti-Israeli feelings. Democratic nations usually do not interfere in another country's vote.

Second, presidents are normally allowed deference in handling foreign affairs — with Congress usually allowing the White House to take the lead in this area, while reserving its role to advise and consent.

Only Winston Churchill, a far grander and more important figure on the world stage than "Bibi" Netanyahu, ha addressed the Congress as many times as this Israeli leader — if he does come and speak.

A generally pro-Republican commentator, David Brooks, said he thought Mr. Boehner's invitation was "unwise."

Mr. Boehner, whose expertise on foreign affairs is as superficial as his year-round tan, is not the only member of Congress who wants to play president. A number of Republicans and not a few Democrats are trying their best to interfere with the Obama administration's negotiations on Iran.

Several efforts are underway to pass additional sanctions against Iran. The most crippling would be a bill backed by Sen. Mark Kirk, an Illinois Republican, and Sen. Robert Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat. The proposed legislation would add to current sanctions that have played a key role in bringing Iran to the table. One of the most respected Republican strategists of the last half-century, Brent Scowcroft, has said that all these last-minute attempts to interfere in the negotiations are a bad idea.

There is no guarantee that President Obama will be successful in the talks now going on in Vienna. These talks are not just between the United States and Iran. The U.S. is one of six countries that have found common ground to try to defuse Iran's nuclear ambitions, and Mr. Boehner's gesture is also insulting and potentially damaging to the other five powers: France, Germany, Russia, China and Britain.

It is a very complex set of issues. After two years of talks, there has been some important progress. Iran, while denying it wants nuclear weapons, has frozen several activities that could yield a bomb. At this point, while many differences remain, the key issues revolve around the P-5+1 insistence on a dramatic cut in Iran's centrifuge production (mainly to lengthen its "break-out" time to build a bomb) and, on the other side, Iran's demand for clear commitments to end the broad economic sanctions that have undermined its economy.

Mr. Boehner and posturing politicians like Mr. Kirk — a man who has accepted more than half a million in campaign contributions from pro-Israel lobbying groups in the U.S. between 2008 and 2014, according to one survey — should step back and allow the president of the United States to work with his partners to reach an agreement. If they fail to reach an agreement, there will be plenty of time to add to the sanctions already in effect.

What is doubly wrong with all the interference with a president's vigorous diplomatic effort is that Messrs. Boehner, Kirk, Menendez and so many of the critics are a mirror image of the hardline faction in Iran that wants to kill the nuclear negotiations and embarrass the most reformist leader Iran has elected in many years, Hassan Rouhani.

Even more cynically, Mr. Boehner and many of his ilk are what one can call chicken-hawks. Like almost all of the George W. Bush administration's top decision-makers, including a vice-president who dodged the draft five times, very few of those who want the negotiations to fail and increase the possibility of conflict with Iran ever served in the military and have very little background in strategic affairs.

Frederic B. Hill, a former correspondent for The Sun in Europe and Africa, conducted wargaming exercises on national security issues for the Department of State from 1986 to 2006. His email is fhill207@gmail.com.

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