Mondoweiss / March 11, 2021
Someday historians will scratch their heads over the fact that for the better part of 20 years U.S. presidents were engaged as a leading foreign policy question in how to restrain Iran, a small country half the world away that has not attacked the U.S., that does not have nuclear weapons, that is the seat of ancient civilization, and whose contribution to regional instability doesn’t look any worse than Israel’s or Saudi Arabia’s.
It is hard to see any American interest at all in Iran, and yet four presidents have now expended an immense amount of political capital on the country.
The answer to this question is actually simple. It is in Israel’s interest for the U.S. to treat Iran as a supposed “existential” threat to the world. Having the U.S. so engaged in Israel’s cold war with Iran serves Israel by keeping the world’s attention on a supposed dire threat to world peace instead of on the Israeli apartheid system for Palestinians. And it serves a master Israeli politician Benjamin Netanyahu in his effort to stay in power and out of jail by manufacturing one enemy after another and bragging of his closeness to an American president.
Israel’s lackies in the Congress on both sides of the aisle pipe the Israeli line. Senators Bob Menendez and Lindsey Graham sent Biden a letter containing the astounding claim:
“[O]utside of its nuclear program, Iran continues to pose a threat to U.S. and international security.”
The Israel lobby group AIPAC tweeted the same garbage Wednesday:
Iran’s determination to further destabilize the Middle East, develop nuclear weapons, and build ballistic missiles brings the world closer to war.
Sadly, Joe Biden appears to be dithering on Iran because of the pro-Israel pressure, lately wielded by Senator Bob Menendez. “[I]f Biden thinks he can make foreign policy decisions without consulting New Jersey’s Robert Menendez, he’s got another thing coming,” Politico says, which quotes fulsome praise of Menendez by Secretary of State Antony Blinken and national security adviser Jake Sullivan.
Iran is more important than Russia in Menendez’s world view, as he made clear in the hearing for Wendy Sherman, Biden’s choice for deputy secretary of state. Sherman helped negotiated the Iran deal, or JCPOA, but Menendez lectured: “[R]eturning to the JCPOA without concrete actions to address Iran’s other dangerous and destabilizing activities will be insufficient.”
This is of course insane. The Iran deal was a signal accomplishment of the Obama administration in setting us on the path toward a “just and amicable” relationship with Iran (to quote George Washington on international relations). It took years for Obama to build the deal, and it has been destroyed not just by Donald Trump and his late patron Sheldon Adelson but by a bunch of conservative Democrats like Menendez.
The Israel lobby group AIPAC is using Democrats to try to paint Biden into a corner on Iran, and it’s working. Responsible Statecraft reports:
“[Graham and Menendez] are asking for more offices to sign onto their letter. It comes as 70 Democrats in the House of Representatives joined a Republican-led letter warning that the JCPOA has failed to stop “the full range of Iran’s threats” and calling for Biden to seek an “agreement or set of agreements” that secures more Iranian concessions.”
“We have knowledge that AIPAC was behind this letter,” said Dylan Willliams, advocacy director at the left-leaning pro-Israel group J Street, referring to the House letter. “All of these vehicles on Iran and the Senate letter on the ICC are AIPAC asks that would normally be made around their annual policy conference, which is not being held this year. However, they are still making a number of legislative asks as they usually would at this time.”
If Biden gets back in to the deal, as we all must hope, it’s going to take many months or years and a lot of political capital. The liberal branch of the Israel lobby is working hard on Biden’s behalf, but as you can see, they can’t get unanimity inside the Democratic Party. No, the AIPAC implant in the Democratic Party — Democratic Majority for Israel, — is campaigning against the Iran deal.
The only thing to be said about all the efforts to destroy the deal is that they originate from the Israel lobby. Because it was such a “strong deal,” there was only one nation on earth that opposed it, Israel, as Obama said in a famous speech when he was trying to seal the deal in summer 2015. But the president said it would be an “abrogation of my constitutional duty” as American president to take Israel’s side.
“I recognize that Prime Minister Netanyahu disagrees — disagrees strongly…
And as President of the United States, it would be an abrogation of my constitutional duty to act against my best judgment simply because it causes temporary friction with a dear friend and ally.”
The pity is that the U.S. media and political system fall again and again for the Iran scam. Two Sundays ago, “60 Minutes” aired a segment highlighting Iranian-backed attacks on American troops in Iraq as a grave insult to our national honour. Without ever questioning the American presence in Iran’s neighbour, let alone our criminal invasion of Iraq.
I’m no political philosopher but the vulnerability of an advanced information-based democracy to fall for such propaganda speaks to deep flaws in our system. And of course one that George Washington warned about in his farewell address when he deplored “passionate attachments” to other nations– or “inveterate antipathies.”
“[P]ermanent, inveterate antipathies against particular nations, and passionate attachments for others, should be excluded; and that, in place of them, just and amicable feelings towards all should be cultivated. The nation which indulges towards another a habitual hatred or a habitual fondness is in some degree a slave.”
We’ve become that slave, with an inveterate antipathy for Iran.
It is amazing that Netanyahu was able to address a joint session of Congress in opposition to the deal back in 2015. But many Democrats were in loving attendance. As Obama said, all foreign policy touching on Israel was domestic politics:
“”When the Israeli government is opposed to something, people in the United States take notice.”
Or as Bill Clinton put it in anger, after a meeting with an “especially brash and insistent Benjamin Netanyahu:” “Who’s the fucking superpower here?”
Netanyahu is able to make such demands because as Ben Rhodes, Obama’s former foreign policy aide, explained recently, the center-right Israel lobby organizations are deeply enmeshed in policymaking. Ten to twenty American Jews who invariably took the Israeli government’s position came in and out of the White House all the time, Rhodes said. While Congress-people parroted an Israeli script on the latest radioactive isotopes found in the Parchin military facility, and when the deal actually got close, they warned Rhodes that AIPAC was going to cancel their fundraisers. Political money was at the heart of the influence. Rhodes:
“We’re never supposed to name the issue of money. But like when it became very acute and AIPAC is spending money and threatening people that they’re going to cancel fundraisers, suddenly you’re having that conversation in a way where you’re not even allowed to allude to it in normal circumstances.”
When Benjamin Netanyahu said in Hebrew 20 years ago that he didn’t worry about the peace process because “America is a thing you can move very easily,” he was talking about the power of the Israel lobby.
The United States was easily played, at the highest level. When Obama clashed with Netanyahu not over Iran but the creation of a Palestinian state, Democrats in Congress bailed on Obama, and Rhodes wrote in his memoir, “I was given a list of leading Jewish donors to call to reassure them of Obama’s pro-Israel bona fides.” Now Rhodes tells us that he feels “shame” that the Obama administration “pretended” that Netanyahu supported the creation of a Palestinian state, when he never did. Because it was politically dangerous to alienate the right-wing Israeli P.M.
I know why these politics are not openly discussed. Because a political analysis that presupposes Jewish influence, even when it’s backed by a top White House aide, is verboten in U.S. discourse. No, it’s always the evangelicals who push these bad policies. As if they have influence in the Democratic Party.
Today the leading Israel lobby groups, AIPAC, American Jewish Committee, and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, can’t stop talking about Iran. As a threat to America.
And Antony Blinken echoed that foolish idea in his testimony yesterday. While Biden is letting “Netanyahu ritually walk all over him,” and also posturing on Iran. And routinely disappointing progressives on the Hill with his compromises on Middle East policy.
The good news is that the Israel lobby is split and liberal Zionist organizations such as J Street and Americans for Peace Now have vigorously supported the Iran deal and are trying to give Joe Biden some of the Jewish political capital he needs to take on Menendez and thread the needle here. Let’s hope. The fact that Biden’s three top appointments at the State Department are Jewish is his way of trying to move the Jewish community to liberal Zionism.
Biden is also hoping that Netanyahu is replaced, even by another right-wing Israeli. Because a different Israeli leader is likely to choose “cautious… compromise with the US regarding Iran” (as Yossi Alpher tells Americans for Peace Now).
But Israel is setting the terms for U.S. foreign policy… Just as it did when we needed Israel as our battleship in the Middle East against the Soviet Union… Just as it did when the cold war ended and we needed the only democracy in the Middle East in our war against “radical Islam”… There’s always some geopolitical agenda that Israel is advancing. Israel gets to determine the narrative.
Palestinians are the biggest victims of the Iran shell game. For nearly 75 years the world has been promising them self-determination in their own land, and the U.S. has made sure that that would not happen, while Israel takes more and more of the country for expansion. There is growing recognition that what has resulted is an “apartheid regime” of Jewish supremacy. But Israel has always been able to change the subject.
Philip Weiss is senior editor of Mondoweiss.net and founded the site in 2005-2006