An Inside Look at How AIPAC Beats War Drum on Capitol Hill
September 4, 2013 | by M.J. Rosenberg
The media today is full of stories about AIPAC and its decision to push for a “yes” vote on Syria to ensure that President Obama initiates the war it really wants, with Iran. Check out this Washington Post story.
There is simply no way AIPAC and its camp followers would do this for Syria. Israel has no problem with the Assad regime. Like their dearly departed fellow former strongman Hosni Mubarak, both Hafez and Bashir Assad scrupulously kept the peace with Israel since 1973. As for chemical weapons, Israel not only has used them in Gaza but is one of seven countries in the world (Syria is another one) that has not ratified the treaty banning their use. Additionally, any regime likely to succeed Assad’s is likely to be more militantly anti-Israel and more trigger happy than the current regime.
The reason Israel (and its lobby) are going all out to push the United States to attack Syria is as a precedent for a much larger attack on Iran. As AIPAC admits in its own statement of support for the Syria attack:
This is a critical moment when America must also send a forceful message of resolve to Iran and Hezbollah — both of whom have provided direct and extensive military support to Assad. The Syrian regime and its Iranian ally have repeatedly demonstrated that they will not respect civilized norms. That is why America must act, and why we must prevent further proliferation of unconventional weapons in this region.
America’s allies and adversaries are closely watching the outcome of this momentous vote. This critical decision comes at a time when Iran is racing toward obtaining nuclear capability. Failure to approve this resolution would weaken our country’s credibility to prevent the use and proliferation of unconventional weapons and thereby greatly endanger our country’s security and interests and those of our regional allies.
To put it simply, AIPAC fears that if it if lets President Obama go wobbly on Syria, it is impossible to imagine that he would undertake a war with Iran that could ignite the entire Middle East and lead to the commitment of U.S. troops in a third major Middle Eastern war in a little over a decade.
And that is why AIPAC and its satellites are turning the screws on Congress, especially on progressive and liberal Democrats who tend to be antiwar except when AIPAC comes knocking. (Republicans are more immune to AIPAC because they do not rely on AIPAC-directed campaign dollars given that they have so many other sources. Besides they tend to be hawks on their own, without pressure).
So what does AIPAC pressure feel like? How does it work?
I called a friend who is a foreign policy aide to a House member and, after I promised not to identify him in any form, he told me this.
First come the phone calls from constituents who are AIPAC members. They know the Congressman and are nice and friendly and just tell him, or whichever staffer the constituent knows, just how important this vote is to him and his friends back in the district. Then the donors call. They are usually not from the district but from New York or LA or Chicago. They repeat the message: this vote is very important.
Contrary to what you might expect, they do not mention campaign money. They don’t have to. Because these callers are people who only know the Congressman through their checks, the threat not to write any more of them is implicit. Like the constituents, the donors are using AIPAC talking points which are simple and forceful. You can argue with them but they keep going back to the script. Did I mention the rabbis? We only have a few in our district but we get calls from all of them and from other rabbis from around the state.
Then there are the AIPAC lobbyists, the professional staffers. They come in, with or without appointments. If the Congressman is in, they expect to see him immediately. If not, they will see a staffer. If they don’t like what they hear, they will keep coming back. They are very aggressive, no other lobby comes close. They expect to see the Member, not mere staff.
Then there are the emails, the editorials in the one Jewish newspaper we have in our state. And then the “Dear Colleague” letters from Jewish House members saying how important the vote is for Israel and America. Because my boss is not Jewish, he tends to defer to his Jewish colleagues. It is like they are the experts on this. And, truth be told, all the senior Jewish Members of the House are tight with AIPAC. Also, the two biggest AIPAC enforcers, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and his Democatic counterpart, Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, are fierce AIPAC partisans. On anything related to Israel, they speak in one voice: AIPAC’s.
My friend concluded:
Obviously, there is no counterpart to this on the antiwar side. No anti-AIPAC to speak of. AIPAC owns this issue. It gets what it wants. It will get this and, sad to say, my boss, who hates the idea of using more war as a means to end war, will probably vote “yes.” He says he will never support an attack on Iran but, when the time comes, this Syria push will look like nothing. Syria is just a tactic for AIPAC. But its #1 goal, at least from the vantage point of Capitol Hill, is war with Iran.
Yeah, it’s scary.
It also makes me wonder what Obama had to promise AIPAC in order to get its support on Syria. Just sayin'.
M.J. Rosenberg is a Special Correspondent for The Washington Spectator. He was most recently a Foreign Policy fellow at Media Matters For America. Previously, he spent 15 years as a Senate and House aide. Early in his career he was editor of AIPAC's newsletter Near East Report. From 1998-2009, he was director of policy at Israel Policy Forum. Follow him @MJayRosenberg.
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