The Israeli consulate in San Francisco celebrates the Senate vote on Twitter.
If you want to understand the pressure that Obama is under from the Israel lobby, consider this greasy story: Last week three high Obama officials urged Senators not to pass an amendment to the huge Defense Authorization Act that would apply far stiffer sanctions to Iran’s central bank than the Obama administration wanted. Two of the officials went to the Hill, and said the amendment would send oil prices higher, among other damaging effects.
But the Senate rebuffed the administration and voted unanimously, 100-0, for the sanctions.
Why did the Senate put aside appeals from Treasury secretary Tim Geithner, under secretary of the Treasury David Cohen, and Wendy Sherman, #3 at the State Department, all saying that the bill would be bad for business and bad for the U.S.’s efforts to build a coalition on Iran? Why did John Kerry, chairman of Senate Foreign Relations, acknowledge Tim Geithner’s letter against the legislation, and then vote against his president?
The clear evidence is: because the lobby wanted this amendment and these guys feared for their political lives. AIPAC led the charge. AIPAC rolled the amendment out 3 weeks ago, and then led a letter-writing campaign to US Senators on the amendment, known as Kirk-Menendez (in part for the Senator from AIPAC, Mark Kirk of Illinois). Here’s the AIPAC memo from last month:
Time is running out to prevent Iran from obtaining sufficient quantities of higher enriched uranium to facilitate a quick breakout to produce a nuclear weapon. Together with like-minded nations, the United States must act quickly and with the full force of our remaining economic tools to prevent such a nightmare scenario.
The president should immediately designate the CBI [Central Bank of Iran] as a weapons proliferator or terror supporter under Executive Order 13224 or 13338. This designation would prohibit foreign banks with operations in the United States from conducting business with the CBI.
And AIPAC took its scalp: It promptly organized a campaign to thank the Senators for voting for the sanctions.
Then after the Senate version passed, Adam Kredo reported that Howard Berman in the House was going to “fall on his sword” for the Obama administration and “water down” the legislation in the House. Stop the presses– Berman then sent Kredo a long email saying I will do nothing of the sort. And why? Because Berman’s district is being redrawn, and he’s in competition with liberal Democrat Brad Sherman, who is even more supportive of sanctions on the Central Bank of Iran.
Jeffrey Goldberg anchors the lobby relay team with this post calling for military strikes on Iran and saying Obama fails to understand the seriousness of the Iranian threat:
I have to say that I’m beginning to have doubts about the Obama Administration approach to this issue… If Iran’s nuclear program is actually unacceptable, then why the hesitancy to sanction Iran’s Central Bank? I know the reason, of course: Such sanctions might lead to a spike in gasoline prices. But either you think Iran’s nuclear program is the most serious foreign policy challenge facing America, or you don’t.
AIPAC famously can get 70 Senators’ signatures on a napkin inside of a day, as Goldberg himself reported. AIPAC got 76 Senate signatures on this letter to Obama rebuking his stance on Israel back in the spring of last year. There were 87 Senate signatures on this Senate letter of June 2010 telling Obama to back Israel’s murderous response to the flotilla. When Gerald Ford thought to “reassess” Israel policy, he got a letter with 71 Senate signatures.
This time AIPAC got 100 against Obama!
The point here is that Obama is actually the most moderate on Israel issues of anyone in high elective office– Ron Paul can’t get arrested in New York. And when Obama tries to do something a little bit helpful, like calling for the settlement freeze a year back, he gets undermined by his own party. Because Likudniks basically control the Congress on these issues.
The Obama administration’s chief concerns appear to be that the amendment could be a blunt instrument that might send oil prices higher and undercut support for sanctions among U.S. allies, whose backing has been vital to pass four U.N. Security Council sanctions resolutions against Iran.
And Ali Gharib reports on the administration’s efforts to head the legislation off. In essence, businesses would have to stop doing business with the Bank of Japan because the Bank of Japan does business with the Central Bank of Iran.
The Kirk-Menendez amendment, named for the sponsoring Senators Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Bob Menendez (D-NJ), would bar any companies or central banks abroad that do business through Iran’s central bank from doing any business in the U.S. Kirk has said the legislation was designed to collapse Iran’s currency and expressed indifference to the suffering of ordinary Iranians as a result of doing so.
At a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing today, two administration officials pushed back against the Kirk-Menendez amendment, offering a critique that while they shared the goals that underly the bill — pressuring Iran — they feared consequences of the legislation might be counterproductive…
Cohen said the “threat of coercion that is contained in the amendment” could alienate even close and cooperative allies like Japan and European countries. The administration believes, Cohen added, that cooperation and coordination can be better achieved “if we approach this issue through an effort to coordinate action voluntarily.”
Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman, who also appeared at the hearing, said the administration’s analysis concludes that “there is absolutely a risk that in fact the price of oil would go up, which would mean that Iran would in fact have more money to fuel its nuclear ambitions, not less.”
Also today, as committee chair Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) acknowledged, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner wrote a letter to Armed Services chair Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) stating the administration’s “strong opposition to this amendment because, it its current form, it threatens to undermine the effective, carefully phased, and sustainable approach we have undertaken to build strong international pressure against Iran.”