AIPAC’s Lost Invincibility

Neocons have remained a powerful force inside Official Washington despite their prominent role in the disastrous Iraq War. But the invincibility that they and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee once held has been shattered by recent defeats, says Trita Parsi.

By Trita Parsi

The defeat of AIPAC’s ill-advised push for new sanctions on Iran in the midst of successful negotiations is nothing short of historic. The powerful and hawkish pro-Israeli lobby’s defeats are rare and seldom public. But in the last year, it has suffered three major public setbacks, of which the sanctions defeat is the most important one.

AIPAC’s first defeat was over the nomination of Senator Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense. In spite of a major campaign defaming Hagel, even accusing him of anti-Semitism, his nomination won approval in the Senate.

President Barack Obama talks with President Hassan Rouhani of Iran during a phone call in the Oval Office, Sept. 27, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Barack Obama talks with President Hassan Rouhani of Iran during a phone call in the Oval Office, Sept. 27, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

The second was over President Barack Obama’s push for military action against Syria. AIPAC announced that it would send hundreds of citizen lobbyists to the Hill to help secure approval for authorization of the use of force. But AIPAC and Obama were met with stiff resistance. The American people quickly mobilized and ferociously opposed the idea of yet another war in the Middle East. By some accounts, AIPAC failed to secure the support of a single member of Congress.

The third defeat was over new Iran sanctions. Now, AIPAC and the President were on opposite sides. The interim nuclear agreements from last November, explicitly stated that no new sanctions could be imposed. Yet, backed by Senators Mark Kirk, R-Illinois, and Robert Menendez, D-New Jersey, AIPAC pushed for new sanctions, arguing that it would enhance America’s negotiating position.

The White House strongly disagreed, fearing that new sanctions would cause the collapse of diplomacy and make America look like the intransigent party. The international coalition the President had carefully put together against Iran would fall apart, and the U.S. and Iran would once again find themselves on a path towards military confrontation.

But AIPAC insisted. Its immense lobbying activities secured 59 cosponsors for the bill, including 16 Democrats. Its aim was first to reach over 60 cosponsors to force the bill to the floor, and then more than 67 cosponsors to make it veto proof.

But 59 cosponsors turned it to be a magical ceiling AIPAC could not break through. Supporters of diplomacy put up an impressive defense of the negotiations policy, building both off of years of careful development of a pro-diplomacy constituency and coalition machinery as well as the grassroots muscle of more recent additions to the pro-diplomacy camp.

(To get a hint of who these forces are, see the coalition letter against new sanctions signed by more than 70 organizations and organized by Win Without War, FCNL and my own organization, the National Iranian American Council.)

The watershed moment came when the White House raised the temperature and called out the sanctions supporters for increasing the likelihood of war.

“If certain members of Congress want the United States to take military action, they should be up front with the American public and say so,” Bernadette Meehan, National Security Council spokeswoman, said in a statement. “Otherwise, it’s not clear why any member of Congress would support a bill that possibly closes the door on diplomacy and makes it more likely that the United States will have to choose between military options or allowing Iran’s nuclear program to proceed.”

The prospect of coming across as “warmongers” incensed AIPAC and its supporters. But the White House knew exactly what it was doing. It was tapping into the only force that could stop AIPAC — the war wariness of the American public. The very same energy among the public that put a stop to the White House’s war plans for Syria, would now be used to put a stop to AIPAC’s efforts to sabotage the last best chance to avoid war with Iran.

The angry reaction of the sanctions supporters only confirmed the effectiveness of the White House’s strategy. AIPAC was put on the defensive and it could never explain how imposing diplomacy-killing sanctions actually was good for the negotiations. Chemi Shalev of the Israeli daily Haaretz put it best:

“Some of [AIPAC’s] supporters claimed that it was meant to strengthen Obama’s hand in the nuclear negotiations with Iran, when it was clear that they meant just the opposite: to weaken the President and to sabotage the talks. They couldn’t speak this truth outright, so they surrounded it, as Churchill once said, with a bodyguard of lies.”

AIPAC finally threw in the towel on new sanctions last Thursday. The defeat was an undeniable fact.

These three defeats show the importance of mobilization. Absent the work of the pro-diplomacy coalition, both the careful groundwork laid in the last few years as well as the intense mobilization in the last few weeks, it is not clear whether the White House could have won this fight or if they even would have tried. The NSC spokesperson’s statement was clearly an attempt to activate the pro-democracy grassroots since their help was needed.

But the defeats also show that the dominance of AIPAC has to a large extent depended on the absence of the American public. The majority of Americans has too many concerns and is too distracted to focus consistently on foreign policy matters, giving a small, but focused minority the ability to dominate these issues. Until, that is, the larger public wakes up and gets in the game.

AIPAC, of course, remains an immensely powerful organization, but these recent defeats go beyond these specific issues. The real loss AIPAC has suffered is that the illusion of its invincibility has been shattered. Much of its power has lied in the (false) belief that it is invincible. This illusion provided AIPAC with tremendous deterrence convinced that they would lose, most groups simply did not bother to go up against AIPAC. Consequently, AIPAC won most of its battles on walk-over. That may change now.

The next showdown is only months away. Having lost the sanctions vote, AIPAC is shifting its focus to the final stage negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program. Its second path for collapsing the talks is to push for a non-starter final agreement a return to the Bush administration’s policy of a complete dismantlement of the Iranian nuclear program and zero enrichment.

This would cause the Iranians to walk away from the table. In fact, the interim deal already makes clear that Iran will have enrichment on its soil at the end of the final deal. Once again, AIPAC’s demands violate the previous agreement. It seeks to renegotiate everything Obama already has painstakingly settled with Iran.

It remains to be seen if it can win that battle and collapse the talks. But its recent failure shows that the outcome is far from predetermined. It all depends on the American public and the intensity of their desire to avoid war with Iran.

Trita Parsi is the author of Treacherous Alliance — The Secret Dealings of Iran, Israel and the United States (Yale University Press, 2007) and President of the National Iranian American Council, the largest Iranian American grassroots organization in the U.S. [This story originally appeared at HuffingtonPost.]

8 comments for “AIPAC’s Lost Invincibility

  1. February 13, 2014 at 18:22

    Elite Jews have are responsible for more genocide and terrorism than any people in modern times. Elite Jews were a reign of terror in the Soviet Union.

  2. OH
    February 11, 2014 at 15:02

    American foreign policy has got to make sense for Americans.

    Invasion of Iran is so stupid that people can hardly believe that the Republicans are so hell-bent on accomplishing it or that Centrist Democrats would ever try to give Republicans a veto-proof 67 votes in the Senate to drag America down this self-destructive path to bankruptcy, blowback, and bucks for billionaires.

    Yet, these attempts to jack up a worse stupid war than Iraq, are real. During Bushs time, at the time of the British Sailor Incident in the Persian Gulf, they almost got their war, but as we understand, the Admirals and Generals said no. The British Sailor Incident followed up on nearly 2 years of daily headlines, accusing the Iranians of killing the GIs in Iraq, which made no sense given the Shiite majority controlled govt in Iraq, and which was never substantiated, but was repeated over and over in a way that could only mean they are serious about what they say they want to do.

    When war-mongers are begging, “please let us drag Americans off to war, come on please, you gotta, we’re dying to drag Americans off to war”, they mean it. A post-apocalyptic world is in their interests – no more wages for us – no more laws for them. Stupid is precisely the point of such a stupid war.

  3. Hillary
    February 10, 2014 at 08:29

    The tiny but mega-powerful colonial state of Israel with it’s 6,000,000 Jews seeks to further its ruthless domination of the Middle East and a total population of 340,000,000.

    AIPAC has worked ceaselessly to achieve this overwhelming power of Israel with hundreds of Nuclear Weapons ready for the their “ Sampson Option” as they hold the rest of the world to ransom .

    Israel is the world’s sixth nuclear power.

    • Anonymous
      February 11, 2014 at 13:02

      Thanks for the link, Hillary. Quite informative.

  4. N Dalton
    February 10, 2014 at 04:07

    It is not all lost yet,there is still plenty the American voting public can do at the upcoming 2014 Midterm Election,when people have a chance at the voting booth.
    The up-most important aim,to change the course of this country,must be the removal of every ” American Israel-firsters ” in both houses,who have long since dropped any pretense of loyalty to the United States and its genuine national interests. They have moved brazenly into the Israel first, last, and always camp. The thousands of wealthy supporters of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) appear to care about the United States only so far as Washington is willing to provide immense, unending funding and the lives of young U.S. service personnel to protect Israel. These individuals and their all-for-Israel journals – Commentary, National Review, the Weekly Standard, and the Wall Street Journal – amount to nothing less than a fifth column intent on involving 300 million Americans in other peoples’ religious wars, making them pay and bleed to protect a nation in which the United States has no genuine national security interest at stake.

    People must begin the understand and realize that Israel is evil at the core.

  5. F. G. Sanford
    February 10, 2014 at 01:39

    “It all depends on the American public and the intensity of their desire to avoid war with Iran.”

    Wait a second. This article implies that, if diplomatic efforts fail to resolve Iran’s nuclear program to Israel’s satisfaction, the only other alternative…the ONLY one…is a war with Iran? So…let me get this straight. If Iran should decide during the next six months to assume the same diplomatic posture as Victoria Nuland, and say, “F**k the negotiations”, the ONLY choice The President would have is to go to war?

    For those analysts among you who never had a high school civics class, even if the Kirk-Menendez resolution was unanimously approved in the Senate, The President is still the Commander in Chief. Yes, Congress could then declare war. The President can still say no…in which case, he could be impeached. None of that is likely to happen. If it did, AIPAC would clearly be the de facto government of The United States: a role I’m sure they’d covet but would prefer to cloak behind a curtain of manufactured public approval.

    There are no plans to shift away from a warfare economy. If campaign contributors are to retain the largesse to which they have become accustomed over the last fifty years, expect a different strategy. Without a conceptual epiphany among American voters, the most likely outcome is a less objectionable small scale war someplace else, or a false flag event to start one that would be otherwise unpalatable. In the meantime, AIPAC is pinning its hopes on electing Hillary. She’ll make Victoria Nuland Secretary of State, and that’s sure to start a war somewhere. Now that Christie’s goose is cooked, Jeb Bush is the likely Republican opponent. Either way, AIPAC wins. The distraction will permit more settlement construction. The game ain’t over yet. Sarajevo, anybody?

  6. JohnWV
    February 9, 2014 at 12:11

    Would that UN and NATO had preemptively obliterated the racist Jewish State before it had AIPAC, ICBM nukes, German submarines, the Sampson Option and Eretz Yisrael. There is no greater or kinder support that we could have rendered to the Mideast and world civilization.

    • sharonsj
      February 11, 2014 at 11:30

      Funny how you consider Israel a racist state but overlook the racism and apartheid policies of Muslim countries. For example: Jordan and Egypt–no Jews may become citizens or own land. Syria and Yemen–no Jews allowed in the military, in government, and in the financial industry. PLO and Hamas–all Jews should be expelled (or killed–which would fit right in with your attitude).

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