If you’re unaware of current Congressional happenings, and therefore the speech to which I’m referring in the title of this article, there’s a good chance that you’re one of what is likely a majority of Americans. That said, I’m not writing this to criticize America or Americans (one of whom I am), but rather to do something somewhat close to the opposite of that: I’d like to discuss the fact that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recently delivered speech to Congress, or more accurately, the fact that he gave such a speech, made me feel proud to be American.
Ok, so those falling into the category of “not up to speed,” let’s get you there: the Prime Minister of Israel, Netanyahu, gave a speech to Congress about the most effective course of action for the US to take in an effort to prevent the obtaining of a nuclear bomb on the part of Iran. In his mind, imposing increased sanctions on Iran is the most prudent thing to do in the interest of putting nuclear negotiations to rest and preventing Iran from having access to a nuclear weapon. President Obama, on the other hand, feels that newly imposed sanctions on Iran will not necessarily result in a favorable outcome in this regard, and has backed a plan that does just the opposite, relieving Iran of strict sanctions on the condition that Tehran strictly limit its nuclear program. In Obama’s mind, taking such actions could potentially result in avoiding Iran’s procurement of a nuclear bomb, as well as a full-fledged war with the country (America should probably take a breather from war). Netanyahu, however, has his doubts about Iran’s sincerity in all such negotiations, and is therefore effectively pinned against the president in his strongly held belief that new sanctions against Iran are vital to the safety of Israel and the world at large. For that reason, he attempted, in his speech, to sway Congress to support his suggested course of action, as opposed to that proposed by Obama. All such information was taken and rephrased from this awesome article by Vox, which explains everything in more depth- it is definitely worth a read.
Back to the main point of my article, which isn’t actually the specific content of Netanyahu’s speech or the arguments he or Obama are proposing, there’s something pretty cool, even if come to be expected, about the fact, in and of itself, that Netanyahu was permitted to speak before Congress in this manner. Not many countries in the world, comparatively speaking, would allow any individual, politician or not, to so openly express an opinion that overtly calls into question the plan proposed by a leader holding what is objectively considered the highest political position one can hold (in the respective country). Not only was Netanyahu invited to do so, but he was calling upon members of Congress to join him in his skepticism regarding the effectiveness of Obama’s plan, and decide upon matters accordingly. In so many other countries, not only would something of this sort, a plea for direct action taken in opposition to the view of an individual of such high political standing, be forbidden, but it seems that it would almost be unthinkable to political leaders and certain members of the citizenry alike. Where I am currently living, in Thailand, the King is very highly and consistently revered, in a way that I am able to respect and understand, but is almost literally a foreign concept coming from America, where the open expression of disapproval of political leaders is as common, perhaps even more so, as the support we hold for them. To be clear, none of this is coming from a place of blind or unjustified nationalism or the belief that “America is so much better than other countries.” I respect and am mindful of the fact that cultures vary immensely, and as such so will the dynamic and structure of political systems and politician-citizen relations. That said, this undoubtedly resulting from my background and upbringing from/within Western culture, I am proud to be from a country that so fervently values freedom of speech and expression, legally and on principle.
In attempting to persuade Congress to disapprove of Obama’s plan, Netanyahu did something which reflects not only the value that American culture places on freedom of speech, but also the fact that the concept of authority, or official standings or titles, though very far from of no significance or leverage, don’t always equate to unquestioned power in decision making and subsequent actions taken. Obama, as president, holds what is technically speaking the highest political position granted to an American. In actuality, however, other Americans (most directly, members of Congress), were permitted to form, voice, and act on opinions, potentially those influenced by an individual not even from America. Technically speaking, a single member of Congress holds less power or authority than the president himself, yet American culture will have it that a multitude of individuals, and resulting range of opinions, are believed to be most conducive to acting wisely and effectively, regardless of official individual title. This is certainly not the case in many other countries, and this concept expands further when applied to the American populace. Yes, there are numerous flaws in our political system, perhaps most disturbingly the fact that democracy has been jeopardized when considering the amount of money that goes into influencing politicians, yet the concept of democratic participation is still alive and well, as evidenced most notably by our right to vote, and the consequent desire for political candidates to appeal to the populace, at least when up for election. Political figures technically hold more authority than the average citizen, when it comes to major decisions affecting our country, but such authority is to some extent undermined when considering the fact that average Americans play a vital role in electing and openly approving or disapproving of those objectively of a higher authority than we are. Authority itself, in that sense, is exercised with at least some input and influence from others. The source of influence at hand here is Netanyahu’s speech, and the fact that he was allowed to give it, and every member of Congress and American citizen alike can feel and express opinions held to their liking, is something that makes me proud to be American.