Fear of Lobby Keeps Dems From Praising Obama's Iran Deal -- and the Best Book on Israel in 40 Years

It didn't take one prominent neocon long to figure out that that the Iran deal -- and the prospect of ending the stalemate with Iran without recourse to war -- has put the Democrats in a box.
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It didn't take one prominent neocon long to figure out that that the Iran deal -- and the prospect of ending the stalemate with Iran without recourse to war -- has put the Democrats in a box.

In the normal course of affairs, Democrats would be ecstatic about what Secretary of State John Kerry brought home from Geneva and not only for the most obvious reason. If it holds, the agreement will prevent development of an Iranian nuclear weapon and lead to normalizing of relations with a powerful Middle East state with whom we have been in a cold war for 44 years. Improved relations can help us in both Afghanistan and Iraq.

Even more significantly, Iran can work with us to confront the surge in Al Qaeda and its offshoots which, according to Wednesday's New York Times have "raised concerns among American intelligence and counter terrorism officials that militants aligned with Al Qaeda could establish a base in Syria capable of threatening Israel and Europe." The Iranian government (unlike the Saudis who back the jihadists) have helped us against them in the past (immediately following 9/11) and would, no doubt, do so again.

Above all, the agreement (if Congress allows it to be implemented) puts a brake on Iranian nuclear development, something that no other strategy the U.S. has tried has accomplished. (Sanctions? Before sanctions were imposed Iran had 160 centrifuges for advanced uranium enrichment; now it has 19,000).

But lay all that aside for a moment. And think only of the politics. At a time when President Obama's popularity may be at its lowest point since his 2009 inauguration (due largely to the problems with the Obamacare rollout) the administration has something truly magnificent to show off as a second term accomplishment: the Iran breakthrough. With the off year election looming, Democrats can go into the campaign with something tangible to show, something on a par with Nixon's opening to China. Congressional majorities are built on successes like the one in Geneva.

Only it is not turning out that way because most Democrats are too worried about offending donors to even discuss Iran, let alone take credit for the agreement. The ones who are talking about it are condemning it in terms that sound Ted Cruzesque. (See top Democrats Chuck Schumer and Bob Menendez for two, of many, examples). And it's not just Democrats from the northeast who are hammering on Obama. Congressional campaigns now fundraise nationally, meaning that senators from South Dakota and Oregon respond to events in the Middle East as if they represented the New York metropolitan area. Pretty much all Congressional Democrats are running scared...of a Democratic president's historic success.

Writing in The Forward, former George W. Bush administration official and life-long neocon, Noam Neusner appreciates this spectacle as much as you would expect him to. He acknowledges that the Iran breakthrough may be President Obama's "biggest diplomatic overture ever."

Right or wrong, nothing else he does overseas will be remembered or noted with as much attention. Normally, a party's leadership will stand behind a president in his moment of diplomatic achievement. Not this time.

He then contemplates the reasons for, what he calls, the "conspicuous silence" among Democrats.

It does not take him long to come to the obvious conclusion (one that pleases him as both a Republican and Netanyahu enthusiast). They can't support Obama's Iran achievement because these Democrats are "the men and the women, after all, who are on a first-name basis with most of the board of AIPAC" and "they want to be in Washington long after Obama leaves the White House."

Anyone who has any doubt about what Neusner is talking about should note his reference to the Democrats' "first name" relationship with the AIPAC board. He doesn't just refer to the lobby or to AIPAC in general. He certainly does not refer to Jewish American voters who tend to be part of the Democratic party's progressive wing and are no fans of Netanyahu's or his paranoid visions. No, he refers to the AIPAC board which is composed of AIPAC's wealthiest members, the ones who decide who the lobby will support (or try to defeat) in November 2014.

This applies to the 2016 election as well. Secretary of State John Kerry's predecessor, Hillary Clinton, has also been conspicuously silent. Because she is the lobby's favorite for president, she no doubt also feels the need to tread softly. (Fearing donor backlash, Clinton has, to put it mildly, never been a profile in courage when it comes to any Israel-related issue).

No doubt, she will ultimately endorse the deal but envelop her endorsement with enough saber rattling at Iran to please her lobby-affiliated donors. As for progressives like Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH), they have not yet demonstrated if they will put America's interests -- number one of which is preventing U.S. involvement in another neocon generated Middle Eastern war -- above filling their campaign coffers.

The fact is that there is no reason other than the desire to placate donors that would lead any Democratic Member of Congress to oppose the agreement. (Republicans sincerely despise the idea of negotiations so they don't have to be bought). These are, after all, just negotiations. If the Iranians do not live up to the Geneva agreement's terms, the United States can and no doubt would impose even tougher sanctions on Iran. On the other hand, there is no way other than negotiations to prevent a nuclear armed Iran (if, in fact, that is its government's goal).

Of course, there is the war option, preferred by Netanyahu and the lobby. But given that virtually all experts agree that bombing would guarantee an Iranian nuclear bomb rather than deter one, that option has to be off the table. Additionally, with two-thirds of Americans opposing bombing (or another Middle East war, period), there is no way that the United States will either bomb Iran or give Israel the permission it needs to do so.

That leaves the choice of supporting the Kerry/Rouhani negotiations or favoring the status quo, an all-sanctions, all- the-time status quo that has punished only the Iranian people, not the regime, while doing nothing to slow down Iran's nuclear program.

There really is no choice but to support the agreement, unless you believe, despite all evidence, that another Middle East war would be the cake walk the neocons promised that invading Iraq would be. Why would anyone believe anything that crowd tells us? Even for campaign dough.

Postscript: I just finished reading My Promised Land by Ari Shavit. It is an absolutely brilliant book which left me grateful for the existence of Israel, awed by its accomplishments, yet stunned by the horrors that surrounded its creation (the Nakba) and the post-'67 occupation. I highly recommend it. It is the best book I've read about Israel since Amos Elon's The Israelis: Founders and Sons in 1971.

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