Democratic Support for Iran Deal Is Obama’s Victory and AIPAC’s Debacle

Tehran's behavior in coming months will determine whether GOP ploy of using Iran as electoral issue pays off – or boomerangs.

Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev
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Senators Chris Coons (D-DE) and Richard Blumenthal, June 4, 2015.
Senators Chris Coons (D-DE) and Richard Blumenthal, June 4, 2015.Credit: Bloomberg
Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev

Whether he is ultimately forced to exert his veto power or not, U.S. President Barack Obama cemented a decisive political victory on Tuesday. Notwithstanding the procedural shenanigans that are sure to occupy the media’s attention in the coming few days, the bottom line is crystal clear: Not only is the nuclear agreement with Iran a done deal, but the effort to persuade Democratic lawmakers to rebuff their president has failed.

The skirmishes are far from over. Although the addition of four more Democratic senators who support the president has brought their number to 42, not all of them are similarly in favor of the filibuster that could avert a Senate vote altogether. The White House will do its utmost to persuade Delaware’s Chris Coons and others not to give the Republicans the 60-member majority they need in order to shut down the filibuster and force a vote that they would then depict as a “moral victory” over the president. The Republicans will counter, as Senator Corker did on the Senate floor at the start of the Iran debate on Tuesday, that relying on a filibuster is cowardly.

The last Democratic holdouts, including Connecticut’s Richard Blumenthal, Oregon’s Ron Wyden and Michigan’s Gary Peters and Washington’s Maria Cantwell were plainly unenthusiastic about their decision. They described it as the lesser of two evils, but only by a hair’s breadth. Caught between the White House and pro-Obama Democrats on the one hand and the pressures of the pro-Israel lobby and a fierce public campaign on the other, their decision was ultimately determined by GOP’s unwavering unanimity against the deal. The Republican’s uniformity made the debate intensely partisan, painting potential Democratic defectors as deserters as well.

Republicans seem to have already moved on in any case. Whether or not they ever entertained realistic hopes of squashing the deal in Congress, the GOP is banking on the nuclear deal’s lack of popularity among Republicans in particular and the American public in general in order to score points against each other in the party primaries and against the Democrats in the 2016 elections. Some Democrats believe that this was their intention, as well as Benjamin Netanyahu’s, from the very outset.

In the upcoming days, Republican lawmakers will utilize the floors of the Senate and the House of Representatives to lash out at Obama and his nuclear accord.

Billionaire Donald Trump will join a Wednesday protest on Capitol Hill organized by presidential candidate Ted Cruz of Texas and strident right wing groups, including the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA). According to a new report in New York Magazine, presidential hopefuls, including Jeb Bush, view the harshness of their positions on Iran as a potential key to the bountiful coffers of the other billionaire who casts a long shadow on the GOP, Sheldon Adelson.

The success of the GOP’s gambit of using the accord in order to score points with hawkish independents and Jewish voters is dependent now, ironically, on Tehran. The more the Iranians seem reluctant to implement the deal or extreme on a host of other issues, the more they will serve the Republican interests and hurt Democratic candidates. But the speech by former Vice President Dick Cheney at the American Enterprise Institute on Tuesday, in which he seemed to indicate military threat as the only credible alternative to a diplomatic accord should serve as a warning sign of how the GOP’s Iranian strategy could boomerang: If the Iranians behave well, voters might be reminded of the adventurous and disastrous Cheney-style policies they emphatically rejected not too long ago.

The defeat of AIPAC and the Jewish establishment that supported it, however, is already clear and present, whether it was determined from the outset or a consequence of tactical mistakes made along the way. Persuading only four Democratic senators, along with a dozen or so party representatives, to oppose a deal described as an existential threat to Israel is a minuscule achievement indeed for a body claiming influence and leverage on both major parties.

In a situation in which Republicans don’t really need AIPAC to convince them to enthusiastically support any and all positions taken by the current Israeli government, while Democrats are unmoved by millions of dollars in advertising and potential loss of donations, some people might be tempted to ask whether AIPAC is needed at all. Ironically, the persons asking might very well be Netanyahu, his patrons or their representatives, for whom even AIPAC is suspected of being overly leftist-liberal and way too bipartisan in the first place.

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