Bob Franken: Mitt, Bibi and their common enemy

  • By Bob Franken
  • Tuesday, February 3, 2015 10:02pm
  • Opinion

Now that Mitt Romney has done his famous back-stepping one more time and withdrawn from the presidential race, he doesn’t have to be concerned about poverty and the middle class anymore. At least for the moment. I say that because buried in his pullout is a hint that he just might be waiting to be pushed back in if GOP leaders decided that the other candidates were making the party go kablooey, and pleaded with him to reverse direction still again to come roaring to the rescue.

Could it happen? “That seems unlikely,” said Romney, which is not the same thing as “No way.” “Unlikely” in Mittspeak seems to translate to: “Oh, just ask me. Pleeeeeeze!” But give the guy some credit: He can read the handwriting on the Republican wall, which was saying “Mitt Romney, go home” (or perhaps more appropriately “homes”; he’s got a bunch of them)! So that leaves center-right field open to Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Scott Walker and even Lindsey Graham, who seems to have started a “sure, why not?” campaign.

As for Mitt, maybe for solace he can turn to his old BFF Bibi. He’ll have his chance in March if Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu follows through on his plan to address the U.S. Congress while entirely bypassing President Barack Obama — and probably seriously setting back U.S.-Israeli relations in the process.

If ever the Yiddish word “chutzpah” applied, this would be it. First of all, Netanyahu is running scared in his own election. Unfortunately for him, his move to insert himself into the American political debate over Iran sanctions by addressing a joint session is causing a backlash at home, where he’s been accused of serious hot-dogging. Not only that, but this whole maneuver was done behind President Obama’s back and arranged on the sly in secret discussions between the GOP’s House Speaker John Boehner and Israel’s ambassador to Washington, Ron Dermer.

There’s something really important to note here: Dermer was born and raised in the United States. Before he switched U.S. for Israeli citizenship and became a Likud Party functionary, he had been a Republican operative. It is not a stretch to suspect that he would be a willing plot participant in the nonstop GOP effort to discredit Barack Obama, even if it sabotages delicate foreign policy in the explosive Middle East.

Add to the mix that Netanyahu really dislikes Mr. Obama, if for no other reason than the Obama administration hasn’t been as pliant about Israel’s wishes as those lock-stepping in the past. But it’s gotten personal, and it’s mutual. What’s really great about it is that the animosity is so intense that it can’t be hidden behind the usual diplo-speak smokescreen. In fact, neither one of them bothers hiding it. For once, we get a clear view of big egos colliding.

It also means, however, that any chance whatsoever of making progress in the fitful peace negotiations with the Palestinians is obliterated, certainly as long as these two figures dominate the world stage. It also threatens the hope of somehow negotiating Iran away from nuclear development, putting the deadline in serious jeopardy, thanks to interference from Netanyahu and congressional Republicans.

Nobody wins. The White House feels like Netanyahu and Dermer have engaged in some serious head-of-state backstabbing. Not only will Obama refuse to see Netanyahu during his visit, but his aides openly talk about making Israel pay a big price diplomatically for what they regard as a serious and malicious breach of protocol.

It would not surprise me that, given all the negative election campaign reaction Bibi might realize he’s committed a boo-boo and won’t come after all. It’s possible he’ll change his mind. If he does, he’ll be acting just like his buddy Mitt Romney.

Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.

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