There is only one possible good-faith reason that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC), the National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC), and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) are lobbying Congress to approve President Barack Obama’s proposed “limited” attack against Syria: they have despaired of any other way of prodding him to stand up to Iran over its nuclear program.
But the actual reason is that President Obama is pressuring these groups–directly in the U.S., and indirectly through Israeli officials, according to reports–to come to his aid. (He is not risking his own group, Organizing for Action, but rather letting Jewish and pro-Israel groups do the heavy lifting on Syria.) None of these groups was pressing for war with Syria before Obama’s reversal on approaching Congress for official approval.
What some of them were doing was pushing the Obama administration to stand firm on Iran, backing tougher sanctions, supporting military aid to Israel, and so on. Yet none was prodding the U.S. to war, and certainly not against the will of the American people. Opposition to a Syria attack has surged to nearly two-thirds against. By contrast, a nearly identical proportion of Americans supports military action against Iran.
The reason for those contrasting proportions is that most Americans understand that Iran is the most urgent threat to our national security and that of our allies. Iran is also behind Syria, and bears some responsibility for the Assad regime’s atrocities. If Obama’s real intention were to confront Iran, the case would be relatively clear. If his aim were to defend norms against chemical weapons, he would have acted far sooner.
In fact, however, Obama’s foreign policy is aimless, save for the ideological goal of a humbler U.S and a prouder Number One. And while pro-Israel groups and the Obama administration are sounding the same warnings about the decline of the American deterrent, for most of those pro-Israel groups, that is a deep concern of long standing. For Obama, it is a strange new rhetorical point to be deployed in service of his collapsing prestige.
Thus have we arrived at a situation in which pro-Israel groups have been pressed into the service of an Obama policy that is likely to be rejected by at least one House of Congress and likely to fail in the field. Defenders of Israel have argued in the past that the so-called “Israel lobby” did not push the U.S. into the Iraq War, and that Israel enjoys support in Congress because of broad affection for Israel among the public, not insider politics.
In this case, however, these pro-Israel groups are openly advocating for war, and doing so against the broad feelings of the American people. It is almost a setup for the likes of John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, who might regret that they did not wait until now to publish their incendiary book, except for the fact that the so-called “lobby” has turned out to be more manipulable by a liberal president than a neoconservative cabal.
Many of those who support Israel, Jewish and otherwise, do not support Obama’s Syria campaign. Needless to say, AIPAC and the rest have taken on immense political risks–for God knows what reward–and the cause they serve can only suffer for that. When (if) the dust from this debacle settles, they might as well make the straightforward case for regime change in Iran, and try confronting Obama instead of carrying his water.
Full disclosure: the author is a member of RJC Leadership.