White House Press Secretary Jay Carney today was restrained in describing the relationship between President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, calling the ties between the two “functional” and “candid,” terms that suggest the problems between the men are as bad as people suspect.
Carney’s description shows the White House is unwilling to try to portray as close two leaders who are well known not to like each other, even as they together make decisions about Iran’s nuclear program and Middle East peace that have broad consequences for both nations’ futures.
Obama and Netanyahu will meet Monday to talk about mainly about Iran. Netanyahu reportedly wants Obama to clarify Washington’s position on how far Iran can go before the United States would either attack Iran’s nukes or acquiesce in Israeli action.
In Washingtonspeak, which is carefully choreographed to depict reality without unduly upsetting people, “candid” means that the two disagree but without overt rancor. A “frank” relationships would be one where voices are raised.
“Functional” would suggest that Netanyahu and Obama can sit down in a room together and talk about serious matters even if they don’t particularly like each other.
Carney could have used a more positive term, like saying the relationship was “good” or “close,” neither of which apply, obviously. He could have even said something a bit more positive, like “a good working relationship,” which would indicate that though not friends, they can work together.
Carney also used a couple of descriptions that defy explanation, saying they have a “productive candid functional relationship” and that they have “a full relationship.”
That he uses such tortured phrasing is another hint the White House is struggling to come up with a way to describe the relationship that doesn’t indicate it’s a catastrophe.