The author of the famous statement that the Israel lobby is a “night flower,” former AIPAC official Steven J. Rosen at Foreign Policy explains how painful it is for the lobby to have to come into the sunlight on the Syria question. But the risk of silence was too great, losing a precedent for American military action against Iran:
Pesident Barack Obama’s decision to make Congress decide on the course of the Syrian intervention has put the pro-Israel camp just where it did not want to be: openly advocating American military involvement in the volatile Middle East. It’s a calculation based on the lesser of two evils, the greater being risking Washington’s withdrawal from leadership on global security just as Iran crosses the nuclear threshold. No one has a greater stake in a strong United States — and the credibility of America’s deterrent capability — than Israel and the Jewish people. Indeed, many of the arguments that motivate the president’s opponents on Syria could also apply in the event that a military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities becomes necessary.
Rosen is rightly fearful that the American public will see this as a war for Israel:
Yet this is a debate about the American national interest, and most American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) supporters do not want it to degenerate into a debate about Israel. Most agree with former Israeli Ambassador Itamar Rabinovitch that, “It’s bad for Israel [if] the average American gets it into his or her mind that boys are again sent to war for Israel.”
Paralyzed by these fears, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and AIPAC supporters in Washington remained nearly silent for weeks,… [T]hey remained quiet even after Obama indicated that he was preparing a military strike. They did not want to be drawn into a political melee in a deeply divided Congress, risking strains in the bipartisan support for Israel that forms the bedrock of the U.S.-Israel relationship.
And though I often think our views at this site are marginalized, note how our drumbeat about the neoconservative and lobby support for the Iraq war has helped define the US discourse among Democrats, per Rosen:
…Israel’s detractors never cease asserting that the Iraq War was fought on Israel’s behalf, and that belief has eroded support for Israel on the left wing of the Democratic Party.
Rosen seeks to explain the power of the lobby, without talking about the money that it gives.
As a White House official told the New York Times, AIPAC is “the 800-pound gorilla in the room” because it has close relations with and access to a vast array of members on both sides of the aisle and on all sides of the debate. Simply put, the president has staked a lot of political capital on the gambit to sway Congress on his Syria plan — and he needs AIPAC’s support….[T]he main thing is the mobilization of AIPAC’s vast network of trusted “key contacts” to speak privately with members they know well.
Rosen is afraid of “isolationism” and “a wider U.S. retreat in the Middle East…. [that] would certainly undermine the campaign to prevent Iran from completing its nuclear weapons program.”
Apparently retreat is what most Americans want now. They don’t see any profit in our continuing engagement in unrest, one root of which is the lack of acceptance of Israel, an occupier.
Rosen is reduced to pro-Israel doctrine, it lives in a terrible neighborhood and doesn’t have security (Hey, who chose Palestine?):
Americans and Brits are far away, but Israel’s permanent reality is that it lives in that very bad neighborhood, faced with an existential crisis and a Syrian civil war in danger of spiraling out of control. That is why, while Americans are divided on the issue, an overwhelming majority of Israelis are hoping President Obama will prevail.
The permanent reality. So that means war after war after war. No wonder Americans are balking at this vision for the future.