The Time is 1938

Ordinarily a visiting head of state speaking to a joint session of Congress is not a huge event. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has done so on two prior occasions, with not a great deal of fanfare.

Yesterday was different. Very different. This time the White House rather publicly spurned the Prime Minister, questioned his motives, and, if reports are to be believed, didn't bother to even watch his speech, much less attend (along with dozens of Democrat members of Congress). The Prime Minister was not even welcomed at the White House. Why? Because Netanyahu came to America to share his grave concerns about the potential consequences of President Obama's impending "deal" with Iran over its nuclear program. These concerns are borne out of understandably heightened Jewish sensibilities. As Mr. Netanyahu has said on many occasions: "Jews have learned that when somebody threatens to annihilate you, you should believe them." On the long list of those who want the exterminate the Jewish people, Iran is at the top. And on the very short list of those who have the desire and potential capability of exterminating the Jewish people, Iran is essentially alone on the list. Their nuclear ambitions are a danger of incredible magnitude to our closest ally, and so, naturally, we have shut them out of the discussion. 

Now, President Obama has the thinnest skin of anyone to ever hold the office; true to this form, he is personally affronted by the leader of our closest ally publicly disagreeing with him on a major foreign policy issue. Because, as we should all know by now, it's all about him. Everything is about him. Not the survival of the Jewish people or stability in the Middle East or anything else (Count how many times Netanyahu says the word "I" or "me" and note the contrast. It's pretty close to zero.). Everything is about Obama's reputation and legacy. The President accordingly attempted to marginalize Netanyahu and his speech, and in this he made clear he does not want Israel's voice to even be so much as heard, much less heeded. It backfired. In a major way. The squabble only raised both public interest in the speech and its stakes.

And what a speech it was. If the Prime Minister was hoping to deliver something for the ages, he delivered it. This speech will be remembered. It will be remembered the same way many of Winston Churchill's speeches are remembered. I fear, like Churchill's speeches of the 1930s, it will be recalled with profound regret, along the lines of "Remember when we were warned about this?"

It had a clarity, sobriety, gravitas, and substance almost never heard in the halls of the United States Government. The writing was impeccable. The delivery powerful. It was so full of clarity and insight there was hardly a single sentence that is even debatable. It is no wonder the White House wanted this speech ignored. 

We ignore it at our peril. Prime Minister Netanyahu publicly clarifies the stakes as heretofore nobody has. This speech is a warning. The kind of warning we've heard before, from the lips of Winston Churchill. When he urges world leaders "not to make the mistakes of the past," his meaning is not hard to discern. It is not 2015. It is 1938 all over again. Only with the stakes far higher, for we are not just talking about conventional attempts at regional and global hegemony such as attempted by the Third Reich; we are talking about religious fanatics doing so with nuclear capabilities. From all appearances our President and his administration accept these capabilities as inevitable. Netanyahu finds this unacceptable, and so should we.

From the poetic perfection of his opening recitation of the Book of Esther to his closing exhortation from Moses, Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a warning of historic significance. I hope and pray the history books don't look back on it with regret.

Brian Mattson