One critical aspect of president Obama's Middle East policy is finding a way to stop Israel continuing to expand settlements on the West Bank. Without a permanent cessation of such activity, there's no way to get the two sides together. But Israel simply refuses to cooperate, as it has refused for two decades in its land-grab, and is eagerly anticipating the end of its temporary semi-freeze of some settlements, while it maintains its policy of populating East Jeruslame with as many Jewish-Israelis as possible. In such a situation, having some leverage over Israel is essential to advancing US interests in forging a settlement that could help undercut some of the rationale for Islamist terror.
So what do several sitting Senators do in such a delicate situation in which George Mitchell has recently raised the option - a remote one, but an option - of withholding loan guarantees as the first Bush administration did. They go to Israel and back prime minister Netanyahu against their own president in an open news conference.
The man who lost the last election reacts by directly undercutting the victor's foreign policy goals, and does so abroad in the very country Obama is trying to push toward change.
Lieberman, for his part, is effectively telling the Israelis that Obama does not control US foreign policy with respect to Israel, and that he will be prevented by Congress from exerting any pressure. He says this with a certainty, as if the autonomy of the president is simply moot. And remember that Lieberman and McCain often invoke the necessity for sanctions against foreign countries the US is trying to nudge or persuade in one way or another. Here's Lieberman's quote (and the video of his backing Netanyahu against Obama is here):
Any attempt to pressure Israel, to force Israel to the negotiating table, by denying Israel support will not pass the Congress of the United States. In fact, Congress will act to stop any attempt to do that.
Message to a foreign government: if the US president tries to pressure you in any way, we will stop him and back you. McCain endorses Netanyahu's position entirely, ignoring the settlement issue, and boldly supports a foreign leader over his own president. For good measure, they also both back the Netanyahu government's position on Iran, calling for massive, general crippling sanctions rather than more targeted measures against the Revolutionary Guards. This again is effectively backing Netanyahu against Obama.
Are you surprised? Me neither. As an Israeli reader writes:
I was under the impression that foreign policy was formed in the White House, not congress, and isn't it a bit weird for two right-wingers to attack the US administration on foreign soil? Then again, It's Israel.