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Israel lobby’s man on Iran keeps his job from Bush to Obama, no problem

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Obama got past Hillary in 2008 because his opposition to the Iraq war was a litmus test for much of the Democratic base. Then he won the last presidential election in part by opposing Bush’s foreign-policy agenda and promptly reached out to the "Muslim world."

So why is a Bushie with an ideological agenda hanging on into the Obama administration?

Below are excerpts of an important piece on Obama’s Iran policy, a piece about Stuart Levey, under secretary of Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Security who is responsible for Iran sanctions (penned by JTA’s Ron Kampeas six weeks ago). Levey was appointed by Bush in 2001. Obama has kept this Bushie in a key policy position in Treasury. Why? Because he is beloved by the Israel lobby. For the same reason that Martin Indyk said that Obama has folded on settlements with Netanyahu: because of the "Jewish factor" in elections. Do you think the Democratic base would tolerate a high-level Bush appointee at HHS or in the Justice Department? No way. But this is how policy gets made in the Middle East; and you can’t seriously critique policy-making without factoring in the ethnic-religious component.

Stuart Levey was given a big stick when the Bush administration made him the first under secretary of the Treasury for terrorism and financial intelligence….

Levey is that rarity — a senior government official who has transitioned not just between two administrations, but between two presidents with profound foreign policy differences.

President Obama’s decision to keep Levey and his office in place has less to do with ideology and more with how Levey has made the office into a tool that has effectively squeezed Iran …

Most recently, on June 16, Levey had the floor in the White House press room when he outlined new sanctions targeting an Iranian bank, a number of shipping companies and individuals associated with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, which is believed to control the Islamic Republic’s suspected nuclear weapons program.

"Stuart has been the chief architect of our strategy to impose growing financial costs on Iran for its continued defiance and he has played a major leadership role on this issue internationally," Obama’s Treasury secretary, Tim Geithner, said in introducing Levey…

Levey’s children attend a Jewish day school…

Jonathan Schanzer, an analyst for Levey in the middle of the decade who is now a vice president at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracy think tank, said Levey was exacting and probing in assessing evidence….

In making his case for sanctioning shipping companies, Levey at times has attracted headlines with a spectacular find — notably in 2008, when his agency helped linked the owners of a building in New York’s financial district to an Iranian bank with ties to weapons dealers….

Before joining the Bush administration in 2001, Levey was in law practice for 11 years at the Washington firm Miller, Cassidy, Larroca & Lewin, where he worked with Nathan Lewin, well known for his work on behalf of Jewish groups…

“We were absolutely delighted when the Obama administration chose to ask him to stay in office,” said David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee, which honored Levey with the organization’s 2009 Public Service Award. “That really spoke to the reputation Stuart established.”

Levey welcomes submissions from nongovernmental groups, like the Foundation for the Defense of Democracy, that track sanctions busters and terrorist financing. He tells colleagues that people behave better when they know they are being watched.

Notice the presence in this piece of David Harris of the American Jewish Committee, whose job is protecting Israel, and of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracy, a neoconservative shop, and of neocon Jonathan Schanzer, who lately in the Weekly Standard called it the terror flotilla.

These are Obama’s friends? Yes. Note that Levey is a longtime admirer of AIPAC and attended Hebrew University in Jerusalem as an undergraduate: "I have been an admirer of the great work this organization does since my days on the one-year program at Hebrew University in 1983 and 1984."

Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is senior editor of and founded the site in 2005-06.

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