Monday, March 22, 2010
Sundays are usually to relax and take it easy for the majority of people. It is a day for one to dedicate oneself to family or friends.
However, many times the same Sunday becomes quite a thrilling experience, if one is closely linked to the main political theater of the United States and its center stage, Washington.
Last Sunday was no different than the type of Sunday that I just described. After a year of discussions and sharp fights on the health care bill, the time for voting for the ultimate passage finally arrived. The historic $940 billion Senate bill was passed very late Sunday by a seven vote margin, 219 to 212.
The success made the White House suddenly the winner of the year by demonstrating some tangible success to its supporters. The Democratic fans of the bill have been comparing the successful passage similar to the establishment of Medicare and Social Security in the past.
Now it is time for the Senate to vote on a separate package of fixes, known as a reconciliation bill, which is to be taken up later this week. However, after the successful passage at the House, the result of the passage will put enormous pressure on the Senate to act on it.
On the same Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was also flying into Washington, mainly to speak at the American Israel Public Affairs, or AIPAC's, yearly policy conference. However, the visit especially attracted much attention because of the latest rift between the U.S. and Israel administrations, and whether Netanyahu's presence and meetings in the capital would help to ease the jittery relationship.
I participated in the AIPAC's annual conference and observed first hand how tense are the thousands of supporters and dozens of panelists of the strong, right-wing AIPAC.
Many attendees that I talked to during the conference did not see any reason to hide their irritation with the Barack Obama administration, for "it does not do enough to watch over its one and only true friend in the region."
The panelists also constantly blamed the current White House team, by rarely stating openly, but mostly implying politely how little love the White House has shown in recent times for its strongest ally in the Middle East. The panelists were very delicate while criticizing the administration, knowing that many of the participants of the conference are supporters of the Democratic Party, therefore its president at the same time.
Very few administration officials have shown up at the conference so far, and this lack of interest is also proving once more that the most powerful Jewish lobby is far from receiving the kind of attention it used to from previous administrations.
Just before leaving for Washington, Netanyahu once again rejected the idea of the full or even partial freeze of east Jerusalem settlements. The U.S. administration, on the other hand, has wedded itself with the idea of this total freeze, and it could lose much credibility if it has to step back once more, like it did during last summer meetings, before the United Nations Summit in New York.
Israel so far has been disappointed by how the U.S. has been dealing with Iran as well. So far, the White House has neither been able to put together an international coalition to bring meaningful and “crippling” sanctions, nor has it given any kind of support for the military actions on Iranian nuclear capability. In addition, the highest ranking members of the U.S. military have recently voiced their deep concerns over the "special" relationship between the U.S. and Israel, for it endangers American lives throughout the region.
America's relationships with Turkey are also going through a rough patch. Over the weekend, the American-Turkish Council, or ATC, postponed its annual conference which has been held regularly for the last several decades. The ATC openly stated that the reason of the cancellation was the approval of the resolution "by a one-vote margin, a non-binding resolution directing the president to recognize the Armenian ‘genocide.’”
The U.S. administration does not lose sleep over the angry reactions it has been receiving from the Turkish administration. According to a Washington source, who is closely involved with the U.S. administration, "the U.S. Administration is really and still angry this time with the Turks," because they feel they have been cheated by Turkey because it has not moved forward with ratifying the protocols.
I asked this question to White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs last week at the White House Press Conference, and reminded him that Turkish Ambassador to Washington Mr. Namık Tan is still absent from Washington. I asked Gibbs whether this occurrence is a matter of concern for the U.S. administration and if his administration is considering taking any expressive steps to assure the Turkish administration.
Gibbs was not ready for such a question and was not able to give me any articulate answer over what the U.S. administration has been thinking over the matter. Accordingly, Philip Gordon, the assistant secretary of state for Europe and Eurasian affairs, during a speech last week at the Brookings Institute, a Washington think tank, was very relaxed while stating that the U.S. administration wishes to see the Turkish ambassador back in Washington, and emphasized the independence of the legislation body, so implying that the White House might not be able to do much to prevent the bill, if it comes to it.
Many use Sundays to loosen up and try to forget about the stressful week that is looming ahead. Many Sundays of the Washington political theater, instead, offer just a concentrated and intensive package of what the looming week is about to bring.