In the fierce transcontinental contest over who depicts the Iran nuclear deal in more cataclysmic terms, the Republican Party seems to be winning. True, Israel had some formidable contenders, including Miri Regev’s “Iran got a license to kill,” Naftali Bennett’s “one of the darkest days in world history” and of course Benjamin Netanyahu on Iran’s wish to “take over the world.” But these ominous warnings are no match for Lindsey Graham’s “death sentence for Israel,” Dick Cheney’s “nukes just got closer” and Glenn Beck’s prediction that the deal would cause another Holocaust “perhaps bigger than the last.” Munich, it seems, was child’s play.
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The letter sent this week by AIPAC President Robert Cohen, on the other hand, is disciplined and sober. He explains why the pro-Israel lobby had come “to the unfortunate conclusion that this agreement does not achieve the minimum requirements necessary for an acceptable deal.” An AIPAC statement attached to Cohen’s letter went on to detail lax restrictions, inadequate inspections, speedy sanctions relief and $100 billion, among other things, that Iran will use “to spur deadly conflicts throughout the region."
Carefully worded as it was, however, the bottom line of AIPAC’s clarion call to its members was just as over-the-top as the unbridled rhetoric of the politicians. It amounts to a declaration of all-out war against President Obama that is virtually unwinnable, for an objective that is most certainly unattainable.
“Congress should reject this agreement, and urge the administration to work with our allies to maintain economic pressure on Iran while offering to negotiate a better deal that will truly close off all Iranian paths to a nuclear weapon,” AIPAC writes. Perhaps, but only in another universe. Even if one assumes that Israel, its’ lobby, and the GOP could emerge victorious from the kind of confrontations it has always lost before, is it in any way realistic to assume that a defeated administration would then lobby the world to re-ratchet economic sanctions on Iran? Is it conceivable that Russia, China and other world powers would simply jump to attention and do Congress’ bidding? Is there any reasonable doubt that Congressional rejection of the deal concluded by the administration would deal a harsh blow to America’s international standing? Or that it would paint Iran as the injured victim and give it free rein to pursue its nuclear goals to its hearts content?
And can any right-thinking person persuasively deny that under such circumstances, Israel and the Jews would be blamed? Or that Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer would be owed a retroactive official apology?
Generals always prepare for the last war, as the saying goes, but the pro-Israel masterminds are doing so in an environment that no longer exists. “We strongly believe that the alternative to this bad deal is a better deal,” AIPAC asserts, but only if they can enlist Arnold Schwarzenegger to travel back in time to terminate the Vienna deal before it is signed. On earth, on the other hand, the die is cast, the train has left the station and this is the only deal in town. If there was ever a “better deal” to be had, it is long gone by now. The choice is between making the best of the Vienna agreement or assuming responsibility for the mayhem that will inevitably ensue from its rejection by Congress, including the possibility of armed conflict. Perhaps this is what Israel and AIPAC have in mind, but then they should come out and say so.
The GOP, at least, is consistent. They have been waging a scorched earth, take-no-prisoners campaign against Obama ever since his election six years ago. Even after the U.S. Supreme Court dashed hopes that the Affordable Care Act would be crippled, they are still vowing to gut it the first chance they get. It’s no coincidence, after all, that among 54 Republican Senators and 246 Representatives not a single one has found anything remotely positive to say about a nuclear deal that has been praised by a substantial number of professional experts: for the GOP, sabotaging Obama is not only a matter of politics and ideology – it is a religion in which heretics are doomed. Though they have learned to keep it to themselves, many Republicans still wonder about the very legitimacy of Obama’s election: their all-out assault on his polices is their way of venting frustration.
Republicans are increasingly bewildered by Obama’s recent string of achievements; they view the destruction of his Iran deal as one last chance to deal him a lethal blow. Israel and AIPAC and other pro-Israel groups will be their Iron Dome, providing them with political cover for the war they would have launched even if the Vienna deal was foolproof and tamper-free. Netanyahu will be cast as the Republicans’ authoritative counterweight to Obama’s assertion as Commander in Chief’s that the nuclear deal is in America’s national security interest.
It’s far from clear if the planners of the campaign against Obama and his Iran dealings have internalized his remarkable string of achievements in recent months: perhaps they are still relying on their predictions that he had turned into a lame duck following the Democratic debacle in last Novembers elections. It’s also far from clear whether anyone anticipated that Hillary Clinton would make such an early and unequivocal endorsement of the Iran deal, effectively shutting down hawkish Democratic legislators. And it’s far from certain that anyone has devoted enough time to consider the potentially destructive ramifications for the already polarized Jewish community, which is about to be split down the middle by the fierce fight between Israel and the administration: J Street and AIPAC are already slugging it out for all to see.
One could accept collateral damage to the Jewish community or to Israel’s standing if this was a war that could actually be won. One could even live with it if it’s only a tactical ruse aimed at extracting advantage and concessions elsewhere. But the main cause for concern is that this is simply a continuation of the same kind of failed policy of confrontation, fueled by inherent mistrust of Obama and possibly by ulterior political motives, that brought us to this low point in the first place. It could cause untold damage to the standing of Israel and to the cohesion of the Jewish community, with absolutely nothing to show in return.