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Wednesday, 12 February 2014

AIPAC’s Lost Invincibility

Consortium News
Trita Parsi

Neocons have remained a powerful force inside Official Washington despite their prominent role in the disastrous Iraq War. But the invincibility that they and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee once held has been shattered by recent defeats, says Trita Parsi.

The defeat of AIPAC’s ill-advised push for new sanctions on Iran in the midst of successful negotiations is nothing short of historic. The powerful and hawkish pro-Israeli lobby’s defeats are rare and seldom public. But in the last year, it has suffered three major public setbacks, of which the sanctions defeat is the most important one.

AIPAC’s first defeat was over the nomination of Senator Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense. In spite of a major campaign defaming Hagel, even accusing him of anti-Semitism, his nomination won approval in the Senate.
  President Barack Obama talks with President Hassan Rouhani of Iran during a phone call in the Oval Office, Sept. 27, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

The second was over President Barack Obama’s push for military action against Syria. AIPAC announced that it would send hundreds of citizen lobbyists to the Hill to help secure approval for authorization of the use of force. But AIPAC and Obama were met with stiff resistance. The American people quickly mobilized and ferociously opposed the idea of yet another war in the Middle East. By some accounts, AIPAC failed to secure the support of a single member of Congress.

The third defeat was over new Iran sanctions. Now, AIPAC and the President were on opposite sides. The interim nuclear agreements from last November, explicitly stated that no new sanctions could be imposed. Yet, backed by Senators Mark Kirk, R-Illinois, and Robert Menendez, D-New Jersey, AIPAC pushed for new sanctions, arguing that it would enhance America’s negotiating position.

The White House strongly disagreed, fearing that new sanctions would cause the collapse of diplomacy and make America look like the intransigent party. The international coalition the President had carefully put together against Iran would fall apart, and the U.S. and Iran would once again find themselves on a path towards military confrontation.

But AIPAC insisted. Its immense lobbying activities secured 59 cosponsors for the bill, including 16 Democrats. Its aim was first to reach over 60 cosponsors to force the bill to the floor, and then more than 67 cosponsors to make it veto proof.

But 59 cosponsors turned it to be a magical ceiling AIPAC could not break through. Supporters of diplomacy put up an impressive defense of the negotiations policy, building both off of years of careful development of a pro-diplomacy constituency and coalition machinery as well as the grassroots muscle of more recent additions to the pro-diplomacy camp.

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