Was AIPAC ever really up to the task?
Was the urgency of preventing a nuclear Iran truly embedded within AIPAC’s institutional DNA? If so, how could the fervent appeals, made year after year over the last decade, by 15,000 Policy Conference disciples, have been so callously ignored?
Regardless of the unprecedented amount of pressure that the president brought to bear, the defection of 42 senators on an issue which carries such a cataclysmic downside, begs the question as to whether the conversations that needed to have been had inside of AIPAC were truly taking place.
AIPAC has lost before. Maybe not on issues as existentially reaching as Iran, but the result of those losses was to have actually lit a fire under the AIPAC base. Depending on the depth of introspection to which AIPAC is willing to probe, the loss in this instance may yield a different outcome. Those who since 2008 have felt blindsided by AIPAC’s consent to have veered from the assumed course of imposing stiffer sanctions, are waiting on AIPAC for a diagnosis. They are waiting for a credible prescription for getting AIPAC on a track that is congruent with the rebooting of U.S. foreign policy to a brand that stands up definitively to Iranian and Islamist aggression and expansionism, and which supports allies who aspire to do the same.
AIPAC in February 2013, chose to stand down as the “Hagel-shot” was fired over the bow. Chuck Hagel’s appointment to secretary of defense within the context of the uphill battle that the Administration appeared to be facing with Kirk-Menendez, was ominous testimony to the Administration’s sense of invincibility. In January 2014 AIPAC decided not to support Kirk-Menendez. This was the official confirmation of AIPAC’s public intention to execute a sharp detour from the intended path of continued Iranian isolation. AIPAC is quick to point out that had they gone ahead and rolled Kirk -Menendez out, that it would have been without the support of Democrats. Would it have been less Democrats than ultimately availed themselves of the tool of disapproval through the Corker-Cardin mechanism? What is certain however is within AIPAC’s prevailing rules of engagement, the self-perceived limits of persuasion had been correctly self-diagnosed.
If you lined up the top leadership of AIPAC, what percentage were still supporting Obama in April 2011? What percentage up until 2014, even after the nomination of Hagel were still willing to trust that the Administration’s “diplomatic solution” might still possibly bring fruitful results? Whatever that number was, AIPAC, in order to function as a body had to honor the political perspective of this group. This meant that up until August 2015, strident public opposition was not to have been officially expressed by AIPAC. Instead, “non-mainstream” groups like TIP, FDD, ZOA, and Stand with Us, were left to fill that space. For the sake of internal cohesion, AIPAC had to play the role of impartial examiners. Honoring their traditional mandate of bi-partisan play, AIPAC taking the part of the “adult in the room”, was obliged to at least give the appearance of “allowing the diplomatic exercise a proper hearing”. Once the agreement with all of its hideous warts, had been opened for public viewing, AIPAC did rise up to the same level of strident opposition as the “non-mainstream voices”. But by then the hollowness of their previous protestation had indelibly impinged on the possible outcome of their escalated rhetoric.
Backing off of Kirk-Menendez was the white flag, which probably most materially condemned the dicey Corker-Cardin mechanism to failure. Kirk-Menendez was the diplomatic masterpiece of the decade. It was a magnificently intricate piece of work that would have severely notched up the painful chokehold that sanctions were exerting on the mullahs. Throwing that weapon away, which is what AIPAC essentially consented to doing, when it substituted the high-risk, low-probability, Corker Cardin mechanism, was tantamount to an act of complete submission. With the abandonment of Kirk-Menendez, it was already established that Democrats would continue their cowardly bolt for the exits. A successful outcome with Corker-Cardin would have required that Democrats reevaluate the wisdom of continuing to run for the exits. But if AIPAC was not willing to fight for Kirk-Menendez, what new factors would have suddenly ignited a fire of sufficient intensity in the AIPAC belly for Corker-Cardin?
On top of that, AIPAC’s restrained body language had been consistently out of sync in relation to the degree of perceived downside. AIPAC leading up to that point of where the contents of the agreement were made public, had been operating in a discreetly civil negotiating mode. In reality, the cataclysmic downside posed by the failure of stopping the agreement, called for a far more vociferous posture. Inside of the AIPAC collective there were adherents of the diplomatic solution” (non-warmongers) who were ultimately jolted into wishing for a “do-over” once they realized how objectionable the terms of the deal really were. But would it have been possible to have transformed the temperament of the collective from a state of restrained discourse to the forceful equivalent of a SWAT team breaking through a door? The AIPAC rhetoric during the 60 day study period did get “white hot” but not sufficiently hot to have been perceived by Members as a force that might credibly have threatened their political well-being.
Further undermining the impact of AIPAC’s half- throttled opposition was the benign shuffling of both the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) and even more notably the United States Holocaust Memorial (USHM). Neither of these organizations cared to acknowledge the connection between the genocide taking place amongst Muslim and Christian populations, and the high probability that the next target in the cross-hairs of radical Islam’s agenda, would be the Jews of Israel. With an empowered Iran, soon to be potentially high on nuclear toys, the ominous risk could not have been more obvious. The need for prudent intervention could not have been greater. Somehow these two highly visible Jewish icons chose to have avoided speaking out on this terrifying reality. Publicly perceived as two of the most prominent guardians of Jewish welfare, their silence opened a huge blank spot where oppositional content should have been prominently displayed.
What we have today is far worse than what we thought that we were initially signing up to stop. We have a deal that will inject Iran with fresh and spendable cash. Discounting the nuclear factor, the net effect of this injection will be to empower and strengthen the most unrepentantly diabolical force that the world has yet to witness. We did have a choice.
From the outset we understood Corker-Cardin to have been rigged like a cheesy carnival game. Instead of counseling us to have scuttled Corker-Cardin however, AIPAC vociferously supported it, proclaiming that although being a longshot, it was our “last bi-partisan bite at the apple.” If we had scuttled Corker-Cardin however, and not voted on the agreement, it would have forced the president to have imposed the terms of the agreement with an executive order. Of course there would have been a nasty partisan taint to this seemingly renegade tactic, however, by stopping a congressional vote, we would have had a broader foothold from which to have launched any future challenge to the legitimacy of an executive order which had been presidentially imposed. Other nations who for reasons of economic gain were anxious to break down the sanctions wall, would have perceived a more tenuous platform from which to re-build economic ties with Iran. What we are left with instead, barring a gross Iranian misstep, is a messy political quagmire, the unwinding of which will require complicated political and diplomatic gyrations. As defective as the finances of Obama-care may have turned out, nobody is talking seriously anymore about making substantive changes to the law. Similarly, without a notable act of aggression by Iran, any momentum, which moves to put Iran back in the penalty box, will be viewed as regressive, provocative and politically costly to implement.
Rather we must sadly come to terms with the fact that the winners of Corker-Cardin are the perfidious members of Congress who will have been able to have abandoned ship without a trace. History never seems to re-count the little details in between headlines. Instead, as the episode is viewed historically from a safe distance, those members who ran but who supported Corker-Cardin, and who should be tagged with lapses in integrity will, in effect by sleight of hand, go on record as having voted the “pro-Israel” line. That’s because nobody ever bothers to read the footnotes. I wonder if AIPAC understood that.
Andy Lappin is a board member of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews and a former National Council member of AIPAC.