Oct 9th 2015

AIPAC in Decline

MADRID – The American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s lobbying power in the United States is undeniable. But AIPAC’s supposed ability to control US policy decisions is a Potemkin village myth, cultivated by friends and rivals alike. In fact, thanks to Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, AIPAC’s influence is under threat – though Netanyahu himself will be just fine.

Claims about AIPAC’s clout have long shaped analysis of US foreign policy. For example, Steve Walt and John Mearsheimer, in their notorious essay “The Israel Lobby,” asserted that AIPAC manufactured the Iraq War. But the reality is far less sinister: in that case, AIPAC merely surfed on the pro-invasion wave unleashed by President George W. Bush, with his Messianic urges, and Vice President Dick Cheney, a one-man war lobby.

The truth about AIPAC – that it is influential, but far from invulnerable – has recently been revealed, both to the public and to the group itself. Having been pushed by Netanyahu into an unwinnable fight against US President Barack Obama’s administration over its nuclear deal with Iran, AIPAC is now crumbling under the weight of its own hubris.

In fact, AIPAC has never overcome resolute opposition from an American president, particularly in a matter of US national security. It failed to stop Jimmy Carter from selling F-15 Eagle fighters to Saudi Arabia in 1978, or to prevent Ronald Reagan from supplying AWACS reconnaissance planes to the Saudis three years later. And its 1991 battle with President George H.W. Bush over the linkage of US loan guarantees for Israel with Prime Minister Yitzak Shamir’s support of the 1991 Madrid peace conference – one of Bush’s key legacies – ended in defeat.

Against this background, AIPAC should have known that its attempt, in close cooperation with Obama’s Republican opponents, to block the Iran nuclear deal (one of Obama’s most important achievements) would fail. Indeed, Obama even used a tactic similar to that of George H.W. Bush to win the day. Just as Bush openly denounced the “thousand lobbyists” working the halls of the US Congress against a vital national interest, Obama said in a conference call that his critics “would be opposed to any deal with Iran,” and called out AIPAC’s $20 million advertising campaign against the agreement. He also put AIPAC in the same category as the Republicans who “were responsible” for leading the US into the Iraq war.

For AIPAC – which has traditionally relied on a broad coalition of social and political forces in the US that view Israel’s security as both a moral cause and a vital national interest – this is not any old defeat. The Republican-backed crusade against a key agreement negotiated by a Democratic president, with his party’s overwhelming support, has threatened the bipartisan foundations of Israel’s cause in America.

Of course, the nuclear deal involved more than just the US and Iran. AIPAC was opposing an international agreement that six major world powers – China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the US – had already signed and that the United Nations had approved. Even some of Israel’s staunchest supporters in Congress were unlikely to deal a potentially devastating blow to America’s international credibility, and the idea that the negotiating countries would all agree to reopen the talks to produce a “better deal” was sheer fantasy. Yet that is the objective that Netanyahu set for AIPAC.

The row over the Iran deal is bound to be a watershed moment for American Jews, among whom sharp divisions have formed. Indeed, the American Jewish Committee 2015 Survey of American Jewish Opinion reports the emergence of “two diverging Jewish sub-communities,” with a growing number of Jews feeling alienated by the organizations that claim to represent them.

AIPAC represents a striking anomaly in the life of American Jews. It is increasingly identified with the Republican agenda and Israel’s evangelical Christian supporters, even though polls have repeatedly shown that Jews are America’s most liberal ethnic group.

The truth is that American Jews largely opposed the Iraq war. They overwhelmingly vote for the Democratic Party. They define their religion as moderate and liberal, with many upholding gay rights and abortion, both anathema to evangelical Christians. The majority of American Jews even support the creation of a Palestinian state. And, although they are far from united on the Iran deal, the agreement’s supporters outnumber its opponents.

Much of the blame for the damage that has been done – to AIPAC, American Jewish communities, and even the US political process – falls on Netanyahu. But he is unlikely to face retribution for any of it. On the contrary, the Obama administration has already begun the discussions it promised on upgrading Israel’s strategic capabilities. As Arab countries throughout the Middle East melt down – with increasingly significant spillover effects in the West – Israel continues to represent a stable regional partner for the US.

More dangerous, Netanyahu could achieve his next goal: preventing a strategic détente between the US and Iran that would enable cooperation in resolving major regional conflicts, from Yemen to Syria. After all, Obama’s victory on the nuclear deal may have been inevitable, but it was far from easy. An odd coalition of Iranian radicals, AIPAC, the Saudi-led Sunni alliance, the Israeli government, and US politicians from both parties have already compelled Obama to promise additional sanctions on Iran for its sponsorship of terrorism. As a result, America’s cold war with Iran is likely to persist.


Shlomo Ben-Ami, a former Israeli foreign minister, is Vice President of the Toledo International Center for Peace. He is the author of Scars of War, Wounds of Peace: The Israeli-Arab Tragedy.

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2015.
www.project-syndicate.org

 


This article is brought to you by Project Syndicate that is a not for profit organization.

Project Syndicate brings original, engaging, and thought-provoking commentaries by esteemed leaders and thinkers from around the world to readers everywhere. By offering incisive perspectives on our changing world from those who are shaping its economics, politics, science, and culture, Project Syndicate has created an unrivalled venue for informed public debate. Please see: www.project-syndicate.org.

Should you want to support Project Syndicate you can do it by using the PayPal icon below. Your donation is paid to Project Syndicate in full after PayPal has deducted its transaction fee. Facts & Arts neither receives information about your donation nor a commission.

 

 

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Jul 15th 2019
".....one of the most accurate recession indicators, known as the yield curve, has recently been flashing warning signs. Every postwar recession in the US was preceded by an inversion of the yield curve, meaning that long-term interest rates had fallen below short-term interest rates, some 12 to 18 months before the outset of the economic downturn."
Jul 6th 2019
Extract: ".........growing poverty even when working, the collapse of stable and safe social identities linked to work, the increasing instability of employment security, and the rapid change of local communities due to emigration, migration, collapsing housing affordability, and redevelopment initiatives that displace communities. These provide precise and urgent electoral rallying points. They are particularly effective given that so many mainstream politicians ignore these basic grievances. In recent years, the lineup of politicians opposing the New Right – Hillary Clinton, the Remain campaign, Emmanuel Macron and Matteo Renzi – have been unwilling to even recognise these structural problems. This provided the New Right the opportunity to appear credible, simply by acknowledging them."
Jul 6th 2019
".........an openly Russophilic administration in the US may be one reason why Putin’s domestic support has been declining so sharply."
Jul 3rd 2019
"Extract: .........in a world of rapidly expanding automation potential, demographic shrinkage is largely a boon, not a threat. Our expanding ability to automate human work across all sectors – agriculture, industry, and services – makes an ever-growing workforce increasingly irrelevant to improvements in human welfare. Conversely, automation makes it impossible to achieve full employment in countries still facing rapid population growth........The greatest demographic challenges therefore lie not in countries facing population stabilization and then gradual decline, but in Africa, which still faces rapid population growth."
Jul 1st 2019
Trump’s personal style – vocal, expertise-averse, scandal-prone and driven by a focus on his partisan base – may be unusual, but aspiring Democratic presidential contenders may be making a serious error in allowing Trump’s “Wizard of Oz” act of big claims and small achievements to pass unchallenged. There is a massive gap between the pledges he made to voters and the reality of an outsider presidency thoroughly co-opted by its party. So far, the “Trump revolution” turns out to be an ordinary Republican presidency.
Jun 25th 2019
"Trump’s vindictive bluster has steamrolled economic-policy deliberations – ignoring the lessons of history, rejecting the analytics of modern economics, and undermining the institutional integrity of the policymaking process. Policy blunders of epic proportion have become the rule, not the exception. It won’t be nearly as easy to spin the looming consequences."
Jun 19th 2019
Solar energy is one of the fastest-growing energy sectors in the world, and has the great advantage of producing no carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that is raising the average surface temperature of the earth. India is now for the first time in history investing more in solar energy than in coal. There is a simple reason for this. Coal costs roughly 5 cents a kilowatt hour to generate electricity. India just let a bid for 1.2 gigawatts of solar energy and four companies scooped it up at 3.6 cents a kilowatt hour.
Jun 19th 2019
Extract: "Abe has reportedly nominated Trump for a Nobel Peace Prize – at the request of the US – for opening talks with North Korea. And he has offered to mediate in America’s dispute with Iran. (His recent visit to Tehran – where he reportedly asked Iran’s leaders, at Trump’s request, to release detained Americans – made clear that, even squeezed by sanctions, Iran has no interest in negotiating with a serial violator of signed agreements.) What Trump calls an “incredible partnership” is, in reality, a largely one-sided relationship. But, for Abe, appeasing Trump is not so much a choice as a necessity: he must prove to Japan’s people and their neighbors, particularly the Chinese, that he knows how to keep Trump on his side."
Jun 17th 2019
Extarct: "We know well the damage that corrupt leaders do to their people. We should therefore have much more to say about the quintessential corruption entailed by tolerating lies. Such tolerance allows the poison to spread through the body and soul of democracy, undermining democracy’s institutions by attacking the invisible norms and tacit understandings that support them."
Jun 11th 2019
Extract: "I noticed this dynamic firsthand a few years ago in Blagoveshchensk, on the Siberian border, just a half-mile from the Chinese town of Heihe. A century and a half ago, Blagoveshchensk was part of China. Then the Cossacks took control of it, along with many other territories in Chinese Outer Manchuria, on behalf of the Russian czar. Blagoveshchensk’s local history museum presents the development of the town after the Cossack takeover as a civilizing mission. The Russians, it seems, still view themselves as superior Westerners. As for Heihe, it got rich a quarter-century ago, after capitalizing on Russia’s post-Soviet disarray to sell cheap goods to then-starving Russians. Its own history museum presents the Cossacks as “hairy barbarians” (Lao Maozi) and lists the towns of Russia’s far east by their historical Chinese names: Blagoveshchensk is Hailanpao, Vladivostok is Haishenwai, and Sakhalin is Kuye. Local behavior reflects these perspectives. At the ferry port, the Russians sneer at the Chinese traders who bring Russian vodka and chocolate to Heihe, while the Chinese move past the Russians as if they do not exist."
Jun 5th 2019
Extract: "....the Constitution, which established the impeachment process as a check on the president’s behavior between elections, says nothing about using it only when politically convenient. Moreover, given the results in 2018, Democratic Party leaders might well discourage making the disposition of the president the key issue in the next election. Most important, a decision not to initiate an impeachment process against Trump could set a terrible precedent. If Trump isn’t impeached for his numerous criminal acts and abuses of power, would impeachment remain a viable check on the presidency? "
Jun 3rd 2019
Extracts: "Sooner or later, all smaller powers dependent on global markets would have to choose a side, unless they are somehow strong enough to withstand both American and Chinese pressure. With China and the US both demanding clarity, even economic giants like the European Union, India, and Japan would be faced with an intractable economic dilemma."
May 24th 2019
Waging a war against Iran, or even thinking of doing so, is sheer madness. Trump has thus far wisely rejected the warmonger National Security Advisor John Bolton’s outrageous advice. Waging another war in the Mideast, this time against Iran, would have not only disastrous consequences for the US but will also engulf our allies from which they would suffer incalculable human losses and destruction. Bolton was the architect behind the devastating war in Iraq in 2003, which inflicted more than 5,000 US casualties and a cost exceeding two trillion dollars, allowed Iran to entrench itself in Iraq, and gave way to the rise of ISIS.
May 24th 2019
The private Tasnim news agency reports from Iran that in a speech to thousands of university students, Iran’s clerical leader Ali Khamenei made an unusual and extraordinary criticism of president Hassan Rouhani and foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif over their handling of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or deal on limiting Iran’s nuclear enrichment program.
May 21st 2019
Extract: "Brexit, after all, is as much a Kremlin project as it is anyone else’s. Putin wants to divide Europeans, and in the UK, Brexit has succeeded in dividing Britons like nothing since the Corn Law debates almost 200 years ago. Putin wants the EU to fragment, and Brexit is causing the biggest crack yet in the bloc’s history. Putin wants to sow doubt about the legitimacy of traditional news sources; pro-Brexit media consistently promote lies as truth and inveigh against reputable papers like the Financial Times as elitist enemies of the people."
May 16th 2019
Iraq’s population when invaded was 26 million. Iran’s population today is 81 million..........Whereas Iraq’s neighbors– Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia in particular– had been mauled by Saddam and so did not strongly oppose Bush’s invasion, Shiite Iraqis, many Syrians, the Hazaras of Afghanistan, and the some 40 million Shiites of Pakistan would support Iran.
May 15th 2019
It’s time that economists, pundits, and politicians start looking holistically at life in our times, and take seriously the long-term structural changes needed to address the multiple crises of health care, despair, inequality, and stress in the US and many other countries. US citizens, in particular, should reflect on the fact that many other countries’ people are happier and less worried, and are living longer. In general, those other countries’ governments are not cutting taxes for the rich and slashing services for the rest. They are attending to the common good, instead of catering to the rich while pointing to illusory economic statistics that hide as much as they reveal.
May 8th 2019
"........Meanwhile, Trump is leaving the door open for Russia to come to his aid again in 2020. The White House and congressional Republican leaders have been blocking a bill to secure US elections against foreign attacks. And administration officials have been instructed not to raise the issue of Russian interference with the president, lest it cast a shadow on his legitimacy.  The next phase in this affair is already coming into focus. Barr, with the help of Trump’s golfing buddy Lindsey Graham, the Republican chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is now enlisted in peddling the president’s fantasy that the Mueller investigation was a “witch hunt” orchestrated by “deep-state” supporters of Hillary Clinton. Once again, current and former FBI agents will be targeted, either because they expressed criticism of Trump or because they opened a national security investigation into a hostile power’s meddling in the US presidential election (which continued in the 2018 midterms). FBI director Christopher Wray, commenting on the Mueller report, said that the Russians are “upping their game” for 2020. "
May 7th 2019
We are witnessing the loss of biodiversity at rates never before seen in human history. Nearly a million species face extinction if we do not fundamentally change our relationship with the natural world, according to the world’s largest assessment of biodiversity.