There is a fundamental absurdity hanging over negotiations with Iran and I fear it could doom the whole enterprise.
It is the position of AIPAC as adopted by the Congress of the United States. This president will only go as far as AIPAC (or the Israel lobby at large) will permit him to go. Given that the Iranian government is aware of that fact and given that it knows that the lobby has been agitating for war for a decade, it can hardly be a surprise that it is not particularly responsive to our demands. It understands that U.S. demands are AIPAC’s (and really Netanyahu’s) demands and it knows that there will be no satisfying them.
There are so many ironies here, the first being that AIPAC (and the Congress that is under its sway) is far more hawkish than the Israeli military and intelligence communities, not to mention the Israeli public. As for the U.S. military, it is well-known that it opposes war much like President George W. Bush who refused to give Israel permission to attack because he feared the consequences.
The only other foreign policy issue that is decided not on the basis of the merits but because of the influence of a single-interest lobby is Cuba. Under ten presidents the Miami Cuban lobby has been preventing any form of normalization with Castro’s Cuba out of the most parochial of interests. Although the policies it supports, and which the U.S. adopts, have failed (Castro is still in power while only the Cuban people suffer from the embargo) there is little indication that the policies will change until the lobby changes or withers away.
The only difference between the two is that the last time the demands of the Cuba lobby help lead to a situation where nuclear war loomed was 50 years ago. The Israel lobby poses a threat now. Other than that, they are the same item, both equally uninterested in the interests of the United States as compared to their parochial interests.
The Israel lobby is the cloud hanging over the Iran talks. Even today, as the Iran talks reconvene, three Senate lobby stalwarts – Joseph Lieberman (I-CT), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), John McCain (R-AZ) – have an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal demanding that the Obama administration accept nothing less than zero uranium enrichment by the Iranians, even though that train left the station a long time ago. That is, of course, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s position, one designed to sabotage talks not to advance them.
Of course, there are other signs the Iranians surely read that indicate that the U.S. will not be negotiating in good faith. Just yesterday Vice President Joseph Biden met with the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations to assure the assembled leaders that the U.S. has no intention of doing anything on Iran that Netanyahu would not approve.
Today Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid also met with the hawkish group to reassure them of U.S. fealty. On Monday, the Senate piled on new Iran sanctions on top of the ones we already have in place which are already inflicting heavy punishment on the Iranian people (although not on their leaders). And then there is the “no containment” bill which passed both Houses overwhelmingly and which says that if Iran develops a nuclear weapon, the president must attack Iran.
The bottom line is that U.S. Iran policy is made by and for Netanyahu and the lobby. No matter what progress comes out of the Baghdad negotiations, Congress – at the lobby’s bidding – will immediate move to thwart it.
So what should Iran do?
The answer is simple. It should pretend there is no lobby and be as forthcoming as possible. If Iran actually lays on the table a proposal that seems genuinely designed to avoid war, while preserving legitimate Iranian interests, not even the lobby can prevent the president from taking it very seriously.
After all, there is no public clamor against Iran in the United States. It is all ginned up by a lobby which a president can defeat if he has a tool to defeat it with. My guess is that, as much as the lobby and its Congressional acolytes, oppose any deal with Iran, they will surrender if Iran makes a fair offer. Despite all its bluff, the lobby lives in terror of a president who stands up to it. He can’t do that with nothing in his hand.
So, Iran, be smart. Call the lobby’s bluff. For your own good. But also for America’s and, although the lobby will never understand this, for Israel’s too.