Richard Baehr has published a masterful analysis of the decline of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), which recently had to back away from Iran sanctions for the first time in two decades. It did so to preserve the façade of bipartisan support for Israel, even though Democrats are jumping ship under pressure from the Obama administration and the radical academics and leftist organizers from whence Obama comes.
Baehr points to the central reason for AIPAC’s decline–and for the deterioration in relations between the U.S. and Israeli governments: namely, President Barack Obama’s desire to change the strategic reality of the Middle East. He resented American influence there, and has undone it entirely, destabilizing the region. Moreover, the president is busily propping up the Iranian regime to counteract the Sunni states plus Israel, and vice versa.
The president made that strategy explicit, Baehr notes, in his recent interview with David Remnick of the New Yorker, when Obama called for a “new equilibrium”–one “developing between Sunni, or predominantly Sunni, Gulf states and Iran in which there’s competition, perhaps suspicion, but not an active or proxy warfare.” That idea, Lee Smith points out, likely comes from the anti-Israel (and so-called “realist”) academic Stephen Walt.
Obama’s “new equilibrium” requires downgrading the power of both Israel and the Sunni states–which is why the Saudis are suddenly just as furious as the Israelis about the way they are being treated, not just on Iran but overall. The “Arab Spring” has not changed Obama’s thinking–he was against it before he was for it–except in that Obama deliberately protected the Iranian regime from the same impulses, and the regime knows it.
All of the above means that AIPAC has an increasingly difficult job. It is a task made more difficult by the fact that Obama has supported an alternative group, J Street, whose dishonest leaders and ignorant followers have not only clouded the debate with their left-wing views but who have actively suppressed the views of their opponents. AIPAC is also suffering from the fact that Israel is no longer a priority for many American Jews.
Yet AIPAC is also suffering from a political challenge that faces Americans in general: namely, the weakening of Congress in the face of a president who increasingly ignores the constitutional process and instead imposes his will through executive actions. The same Democrats who mindlessly applauded the president’s threat, in his State of the Union address, to circumvent Congress are also the ones backing down on new Iran sanctions.
AIPAC’s power base has always been in Congress. That is because, firstly, the vast majority of Americans are pro-Israel, and secondly because AIPAC has been extremely skillful in training local organizers to build contacts with congressional leaders even before they win their seats. The executive branch has always been less pro-Israel–and, at the State Department, often anti-Israel, especially under Obama (and Hillary Clinton).
The mistake AIPAC has made over the past five years was to put faith not only in Obama’s promises but in its contacts in his administration. It elevated a Chicagoan to its presidency largely because of his friendship with Obama, and touted long associations with Joe Biden. Many of AIPAC’s flip-flops over the past several months–Chuck Hagel, Syria, Iran–can be understood as an effort to protect these connections. It has done no good.
There are some Americans, on both the right and the left, who would no doubt applaud AIPAC’s declining influence. They should think twice. Obama isn’t just ignoring Congress on the questions of Israel and Iran: he is ignoring Congress altogether. He is creating a pattern and a precedent that will erode the ability of Americans to lobby or petition their elected representative for any cause, great or small. He is undermining democracy.
That seems to suit today’s Democrats, and their left-wing hangers-on, just fine. As long as Obama (or Clinton) are in office, and they are close to power (or hope to be), they will not only ignore the constitutional threat, but celebrate it. As law professor Jonathan Turley noted yesterday: “I think many people will come to loathe that they remained silent during this period.” The danger is not limited to AIPAC, Israel, or conservatives.