Anyone who follows this blog would surely know that blaming the Israel lobby for the decisions of US political leaders is a frequent theme at the Guardian and ‘Comment is Free’. So, it was not at all surprising when ‘Comment is Free’ contributor Stephen Kinzer published a commentary on Jan. 13 titled ‘Invading Iraq was dumb enough. Now Congress wants to derail the Iran deal‘, which included the following:
This week’s accord with Iran, which was signed by five other powers in addition to the US [P5+1], is the first step in what could become a process that will prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons and allow it to work with the west in confronting serious security threats. Beyond that, it lays the basis for a process that could turn Iran into a normal country that respects basic human rights at home and exports stability instead of instability. There is no chance that America’s longstanding Arab ally, Saudi Arabia, could evolve that way. Yet this deal has evoked passionate opposition in Washington. Why?
It is a safe bet that many of members of Congress, including more than a few of the 59 senators now trying to kill the US-Iran peace process, would struggle to identify Iran on a map. Many, however, cling to the belief that the only true test of any American foreign policy is whether Israeli leaders support it. The Israel lobby in Washington has turned the Iran deal into a life-or-death struggle. It is no accident that leaders of the war party, like Senator Mark Kirk of Illinois, have received huge amounts of campaign money from that lobby.
First, in addition to the fact that Kinzer grossly mischaracterizes the intent of the bill (which ties sanctions relief to Iranian compliance with their nuclear deal with the P5+1) he’s just plain wrong on the role of the “Israel lobby”. As Elder of Ziyon noted in a recent post about another false characterization of the pro-Israel lobby’s influence, AIPAC evidently hasn’t put any pressure on lawmakers over the
Despite growing support in the Senate for Iran sanctions legislation, Democratic leaders have yet to feel insurmountable pressure to bring the measure to the floor.
One major reason: The American Israel Public Affairs Committee is mostly keeping quiet.
The powerful pro-Israel lobby has not engaged in a shoe-leather lobbying campaign to woo wayward senators and push Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to schedule a vote on the bill, according to several key senators and aides. While the group supports the bill — authored by Sens. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) — it is not yet putting its political muscle behind a push for an immediate vote.
“I don’t know where AIPAC is. I haven’t talked to anybody,” said Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.), who opposes any vote for additional sanctions at this time.
As of now, the Menendez-Kirk bill has 59 public supporters, including 43 of 45 Senate Republicans. But dozens of Democrats remain publicly undecided on the bill and seem unlikely to cross the Obama administration and openly back the legislation at this time. And AIPAC isn’t yet twisting Democratic arms.
A number of senators on both sides of the sanctions debate said they’d heard little from AIPAC on the issue, suggesting that wavering lawmakers are feeling little pressure from the group. With its clout on Capitol Hill and ties to deep-pocketed Jewish donors, the group’s muscle could be enough to change the political calculation over how to proceed on the contentious issue.
“I don’t know what they’re doing,” said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a leading defense hawk and strong supporter of getting a vote on the bill.
…California Sen. Barbara Boxer, a Jewish Democrat, said she’s met with AIPAC “many times” on the issue of Iran. But asked if the group had been pressing her to support the Iran sanctions measure, she replied “not at all.”
“They respect my position, which is that sanctions are totally appropriate if this fails,” she said, referring to the diplomatic talks.
But other senators have not yet heard from the group and indicated they were entirely unaware of AIPAC’s activities on the Hill.
“I really have not talked to AIPAC about it,” said Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland, a Jewish liberal and one of the few Senate Democrats publicly backing the Kirk-Menendez legislation.
Further, as a Washington Post foreign policy analyst recently argued in the context of dismissing AIPAC root cause theories:
it [is] likely that senators are supporting Iran sanctions because doing so is squarely in their political self-interest. Iran is very unpopular in the United States. Republicans are already signaling that they may use the Obama administration’s Iran outreach as a weapon in coming elections. Any lawmaker who votes against new sanctions, even if it is for very sound foreign policy reasons, is taking a big political risk. That’s doubly true if the Iran deal fails. And if the Iran deal succeeds, all the credit will go to the Obama administration, so there’s little political incentive for individual members of Congress to support diplomacy.
Indeed, if Kinzer would see past his characteristic Israel lobby obsession, he’d note recent polling data which shows that “lopsided majorities of Americans from both political parties” are distrustful of Iran’s intentions during the nuclear talks, and “overwhelmingly favor deepening sanctions against the Iranian government, regardless of current negotiations.” That is, the support in Congress for the proposed sanctions bill is thoroughly consistent with US public opinion on the issue.