Losers of Iran-deal War Use Orwellian Newspeak to Claim Victory

There is no 'bipartisan majority,' 'moral win,' or 'Jewish unity' - and no GOP president who will scuttle the nuclear accord as promised.

Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev
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Netanyahu speaking at the annual AIPAC policy conference, Washington D.C., March 2, 2015.
Netanyahu speaking at the annual AIPAC policy conference, Washington D.C., March 2, 2015.Credit: Bloomberg
Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev

A few minutes after the Senate vote brought its campaign to an abrupt end, the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC issued a remarkable press release entitled “Bipartisan Senate Majority Rejects Iran Nuclear Deal.” The statement said that the Senate had “sent a strong message” against the “deeply-flawed, unpopular agreement” that would also serve as a “note of caution – especially to foreign companies and governments – about jumping back into Iran.”

What the lobby’s communiqué failed to mention, however, was that the all-hands-on-deck multimillion dollar campaign that it had led to scuttle the Iran deal had collapsed, handing Obama one of the biggest political victories of his presidency.

Welcome to the virtual reality created in the wake of the lost battle in Congress, which often sounds like a calculated campaign concocted in the Ministry of Truth in George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984. In this world, defeat is victory, division is unity and a failing strategy is a brilliant success. On a day when some English commentators will likely react to the election of socialist Jeremy Corbyn as the British Labor Party’s new leader by invoking the Ingsoc ideology (that evolved from English Socialism) that underpinned Orwell’s totalitarian Oceania, one might also mention the fountains of “Newspeak” with which critics of the Iran deal in both Washington and Jerusalem are now convincing themselves that their battle has actually ended well.

After all, there was no “bipartisan majority” in Congress, when only 4 of 46 Democrats joined the GOP majority in the Senate or when 25 of 187 Democratic Representatives voted against the Iran deal in the declarative resolution adopted the following day in the House of Representatives. And Israel did not achieve any “moral victory”, as the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem has asserted, not from a Congress which is reviled by most Americans, one in which Republicans wage total war against anything that Obama touches, from the Iran deal through the Federal budget and the Affordable Care Act to abortions and judicial nominations. And there is no real purpose to the flurry of legislation and legal suits with which Republican leaders are now threatening to hound the Iran deal, as they’ve done with ObamaCare: it’s more the crying and feet-stomping of a child who didn’t get his or her way than a judicious reaction by politicians who play by the rules.

There is no consolation in the fact that public opinion has turned against the deal, as Netanyahu boasts, because it can just as easily turn around again, or move on to other issues, and in any case has little bearing on the future of the accord. And there was no “Jewish unity” against the deal that some commentators and organizational leaders are now alluding to, but a 50-50 split, attested to in the most recent American Jewish Committee (AJC) poll released on Friday, which inflamed divisions on the inside and eroded the community’s self-confidence on the outside.

And there can be no doubt that AIPAC’s stature has sustained damage, though the extent remains to be seen. And the analogy to the 1981 AWACs battle, which the lobby also lost, is a false one, because AIPAC’S success 35 years ago exceeded expectations whereas its bottom line in 2015 underwhelmed even its most pessimistic supporters. Now the lobby can expect sniping not only from J Street on the left but also from potential competitors on the right, possibly encouraged by Sheldon Adelson. They will claim that AIPAC failed to live up to its raison d'tre and should perhaps be replaced by a stronger and more determined Jewish leadership that will abandon the bipartisan mumbo jumbo and devote itself to the conservative right, where Israel belongs.

But rest assured: Contrary to the pledges wantonly made by the party’s candidates, no GOP president elected in November 2016 will scuttle the deal, not on his first day or on his last. If the deal collapses because the Iranians have cheated, presidents from both parties will deal with it; if it doesn’t, no sane Republican president – on the assumption that the adjective fits all the current contenders – will initiate a confrontation with Tehran that could turn violent and overshadow the remainder of their term.

The head to head clash between AIPAC, the Jewish establishment and the Obama administration increases the already significant distance between Israeli policies and Democrats and the left. The fact that an overwhelming majority of Democrats voted against Israel on a matter that it described as existential doesn’t bode well for the future either. The fallout in the shorter term, on the other hand, could very well be minimal: contrary to the poison that Benjamin Netanyahu and his supporters inject themselves with on a regular basis, Obama and his top administration officials aren’t out to harm Israel, but quite the contrary.

Obama would be more than happy to cool tensions with Netanyahu in order to devote his energies to other matters, including, according to weekend reports from Washington, enlisting the world in the fight against climate change. Hillary Clinton and other Democratic candidates for national and local office certainly have a clear and present interest in soothing ruffled Jewish feathers, especially those of wealthy donors who are growing increasingly distant from Obama and the left. Jewish voters, on the other hand, appear to be holding strong, steady and steadfastly loyal to the Democrats, despite everything, as shown in the post-Iran deal AJC poll.

The White House is extending a hand to Netanyahu, suggesting a November meeting and an immediate start to talks over a new security package, which Netanyahu has refused to hold lest it be interpreted as acquiescence to the nuclear accord. Some officials in Washington, however, are wondering whether the prime minister intends to take part in the guerilla warfare that the GOP is planning to conduct in the coming months against the deal. Others close to the White House are asking whether Netanyahu’s real objective was to fight the Iran deal, as stated, or to sabotage Obama’s last year in office and influence the selection of his heir, as some suspect.

There is a chance now to reestablish a business-like dialogue between the two leaders, officials in Washington say, but Netanyahu might spurn it and opt to continue the fight. At the very least, he won’t have any problem convincing himself and others that the maneuver, like its predecessors, is nothing less than brilliant.

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