National Public Radio’s David Welna reported Thursday morning that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and other pro-Israel groups had suffered defeat in efforts to lobby Congress to back a military attack against Syria.
Though Welna cites some dubious sources, such as John Mearsheimer, whose 2008 book The Israel Lobby (co-authored with Stephen Walt) combined shoddy research with conspiracy theories to allege that pro-Israel groups had pushed the U.S. into the Iraq War, his general observation is correct: AIPAC might win many debates, particularly on foreign aid, but it gambled and lost big in the Syria debate.
Welna notes that members of Congress like Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), who cited support for Israel as a reason to launch a strike, were unable to prevail among his colleagues.
Welna also notes that members of Congress who chose “to break ranks” with pro-Israel groups on Syria, such as Senate Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), sided with their constituents and public opinion rather than AIPAC. He adds that even members of Congress who support a military strike in Syria, such as Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD), said that they did so independently of AIPAC’s lobbying efforts.
One key omission in Welna’s report is that AIPAC and other pro-Israel groups were acting at the behest of the Obama administration. That fact was reported extensively in the coverage of AIPAC’s role elsewhere–for example, in Foreign Policy, where former AIPAC official Steve Rosen noted that AIPAC and other groups were “responding to a full-court press by the Obama administration” to lobby on its behalf.
AIPAC chose to sit out the contentious debate over Chuck Hagel’s confirmation as Secretary of Defense earlier this year, partly because it believed that the effort was a losing cause. But when President Barack Obama pushed pro-Israel groups–and Israeli officials–to support his Syria policy, AIPAC and other pro-Israel groups jumped to attention, only to be abandoned by the White House in the end.