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US public supports Iran deal, but lobby groups seek to quash it

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A nuclear deal with Iran could be a game changer for US foreign policy and for the Middle East. The P5+1 (the U.S., China, Russia, France and the United Kingdom, plus Germany) and Iran have been developing a comprehensive agreement that would freeze Iran’s ability to create a nuclear weapon and start the process of sanctions relief.
If it succeeds, this deal would dramatically decrease the probability of another costly war in the Middle East and could usher in an historic rapprochement between the US and Iran after 34 years of hostilities. US-Iranian collaboration against extremist groups from ISIL to Al Qaeda could help damp down the fires raging across the Middle East.
Key US allies, Israel and Saudi Arabia, oppose the deal. Both nations harbor long-standing hostilities toward Iran and both want to preserve their preferential relationship with the US.
But the American people, frustrated by over a decade of US involvement in Middle East wars, support the initiative. A recent Washington Post/ABC News poll shows that 6 in 10 Americans support a plan to lift international economic sanctions against Iran in exchange for limits on its nuclear program.
Democrats back the agreement by an overwhelming majority of five to one, but even a plurality of Republican voters support the Iran nuclear deal.
Why, then, will there be such a tough battle in Congress to approve a deal that the Obama administration has worked so hard to achieve and is supported by most Americans?
Some Republicans have a knee-jerk reaction to anything the Obama administration puts forth. And certain Republican and Democrat Congress members fundamentally distrust Iran, believe it is sponsoring militant groups like Hamas and Hezbollah, and think a deal will strengthen Iran to the detriment of Israel.
But the most compelling reason that so many elected officials will oppose the deal is the power of lobby groups and think tanks, backed by hawkish billionaires who are determined to quash a deal they see as bad for Israel.
Little known to the public, here are some of the groups:
United Against Nuclear Iran: Founded in 2008, UANI boasts a bipartisan powerhouse advisory board of former politicians, intelligence officials and policy experts. Cofounders Richard Holbrooke and Dennis Ross, and its president Gary Samore, have all worked in Obama’s White House.
In June, UANI announced a multimillion-dollar TV, print, radio, and digital campaign with the message that “America Can’t Trust Iran, Concessions have gone too far.” Mark Wallace, UANI’s chairman and George Bush’s US ambassador to the UN, said, “We have a multi-million-dollar budget and we are in it for the long haul. Money continues to pour in.”
Secure America Now. Founded in 2011 by pollsters John McLaughlin and Pat Cadell, it is linked to right-wing pro-Israel factions in the US and abroad. The Advisory Board includes Col. Richard Kemp, who denounces the “global conspiracy of propaganda aimed at the total de-legitimization of the state of Israel” and former UN Ambassador John Bolton, who insists that “the biggest threat to our national security is sitting in the White House.”
The group labels Iran “the world’s largest sponsor of terrorism” and recently launched its own $1 million ad campaign against the nuclear deal. One ad features an American woman saying her father was killed by an IED in Iraq, followed by a menacing voice claiming “Iran has single-handedly supplied thousands of IEDs that have killed or maimed America’s troops overseas. Today, negotiators are pushing for a nuclear deal with Iran that would give them access to nuclear weapons.” It tells Americans to call their Senators and “speak out against a bad deal.”
Foundation for the Defense of Democracies: Founded just after the 9/11 attacks, this neoconservative think tank pushes for an aggressive military response in the Middle East and also follows a hawkish pro-Israel line. It advocates for crippling sanctions on Iran, including medicines, as a way to cause domestic hardship and internal turmoil and its experts are leading advocates for a US military strike on Iran.
American Security Initiative: This is a new group, also bipartisan, formed in 2015 by three former senators: Norm Coleman, Evan Bayh and Saxby Chambliss. In 2014 Norm Coleman, a Republican from Minnesota, became a registered lobbyist for the repressive Saudi regime, providing the Saudis with legal services on issues including “policy developments involving Iran.”


Its first campaign was a successful effort to pass the Corker-Menendez bill, which forces President Obama to submit the agreement to Congress before signing it. In March, the group launched a $1.4 million ad campaign aimed at Senator Schumer and other key senators with the message that the deal (which had not even been released) is “great for Iran, and dangerous for us.” One over-the-top, fear-mongering ad showed a suicide-bombing truck driver in an American city detonating a nuclear bomb, apparently on behalf of Iran. The message, albeit a crazy one, is that if Iran is allowed to get a nuclear weapon, it will attack the US.

AIPAC: The American Israel Public Affairs Committee is the largest pro-Israel lobby group. AIPAC, too, has been pushing sanctions and opposing the nuclear deal. It claims that Iran is the world’s leading state sponsor of terror and is racing toward a nuclear weapons capability. AIPAC spends millions of dollars lobbying but its real financial clout lies with the pro-Israel Political Action Committees (PACs) it is tied to.
In addition to lobbying against a deal in Washington, over the past several years AIPAC has also been promoting state-level bills mandating divestment of public funds from foreign companies doing business with Iran.
Dozens of states have passed such bills, and many are likely to stay in place even after a nuclear deal, complicating the federal sanctions relief that is a key element of the negotiations.
What is the source of the millions of dollars now being poured into the effort to squash the nuclear deal? Most comes from a handful of super-wealthy individuals. Home Depot founder Bernard Marcus gave over $10 million to the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. Other multimillion donors are hedge fund billionaire and Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs board member Paul Singer, and Charles Bronfman of the Seagram liquor empire and board chair of Koor Industries, one of Israel’s largest investment holding companies.
The largest donor is Sheldon Adelson, a casino and business magnate who contributed almost $100 million to conservative candidates in the 2012 presidential campaign, outspending any other individual or organization. He publicly advocated for the Obama administration to bomb Iran. Peter Beinart, a contributing editor at The Atlantic, said, “Every Republican politician knows that Adelson conditions his checks on their Iran vote.”
Congress has 30 days from the day the deal is introduced to vote in support or opposition (or 60 days if the negotiations are delayed). To block the deal, Congress needs a veto-proof majority, which is precisely what these groups and individuals are attempting to buy.
“I’ve been around this town for about 30 years now and I’ve never seen foreign policy debate that is being so profoundly affected by the movement of hundreds of millions of dollars in the American political system,” said former six-term Congressman Jim Slattery.
Congresspeople face a dilemma: they fear a backlash by the billionaires if they vote for the deal, but most of their constituents support the deal. The pathetic irony is that the democratic move of giving Congress a say in the Iran deal (instead of leaving the administration with the authority to seal the agreement), the billionaires have a better shot at drowning out the voices of the American people.

This piece was originally published at Telesur.

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Medea Benjamin

Medea Benjamin, cofounder of CODEPINK for Peace, is the author of The Kingdom of the Unjust: Behind the US-Saudi Connection.

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13 Responses

  1. HarryLaw on July 13, 2015, 2:12 pm

    Billionaire Thomas Kaplan and a family fundraiser foundation operated by Republican mega-doner Sheldon Adelson, revealed to be behind the group United Against Nuclear Iran [UANI] they accounted for three quarters of total revenue for the tax year 2013. It is impossible to conceive of a rapprochement between Iran and the US short of regime change in Iran, which is not going to happen. The talks seem to be on hold for the moment. The US prefer the sanctions to remain in place, while at the same time Irans nuclear activity is curtailed. The BRIC’s may have other ideas, even the Europeans can see how intransigent the US positions are, and they can see the potential for huge profits in the Iranian market, they do not want those profits to go east. Will they cut their noses to spite their faces? Or is it true [as Putin alleges] that they are vassal states? Only time will tell, one thing is for sure the US electorate do not want another war [witness the electorates backlash against strikes against Syria] a war against Iran would be 100 times more problematical, and which could destroy Western economies.

  2. traintosiberia on July 13, 2015, 2:14 pm

    Saxby Chambliss once wanted all muslims entering Georgia be arrested on the charges of terrorism .
    Now he can be part of lobby group hurting Iraninas who are mostly muslim.

    “November 21, 2001
    Arrest Every Muslim That Enters Georgia
    by CounterPunch Wire


    The Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) today wrote to House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert asking that Rep. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga), chairman of the House Subcommittee on Terrorism and Homeland Security, be removed from his position because of bigoted anti-Muslim comments at a Nov. 19 meeting with local Georgia officials. Chambliss told 30 local officials in Valdosta, Ga., that to combat terrorism a Georgia sheriff could be turned loose to “arrest every Muslim that comes across the state line.”

  3. ritzl on July 13, 2015, 2:53 pm

    Young faces in the picture is so VERY heartening! Those girls are young enough to have everything to lose by protesting, yet there they are.

    What profound courage! Sa-LUTE!

    How many issues where the people are on opposite sides of a corrupt/ed government to change the dynamic of ignoring popular will? It would be interesting if Ms. Benjamin shared her thoughts on that tipping point.

    In the last few days, I’ve just had long conversations with my relatively conservative Bro-in-law, my VERY conservative mother, and a conservative manager at a local chain restaurant. ALL of them see the “system” as breaking and/or irretrievably broken (via money corruption). Broken being defined as not serving the interests of the middle of society.

    I try to point out that it has always been that way for the bottom 40% (median income). I think they’re now getting the fact that the corruption is working its way up. For my mother in particular to admit that without prompting, was quite a revelation.

    I wish we didn’t [seemingly always] have to go through the apocalypse phase to get to the solution phase, but it seems we do — as a principle human characteristic.

  4. Citizen on July 13, 2015, 3:06 pm

    This is data no one will see on US TV News. What to do about this?

    • JWalters on July 13, 2015, 6:49 pm

      I wouldn’t say “never”, but it sure is a tough problem. The dam, however, is starting to leak and crack. We can post comments to MSNBC shows and the PBS Newhour, trying to embarrass pundits who ignore the obvious, and help put a fact in play. I believe I’ve had that happen. Commenter Kathleen kept emailing MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry to have Hillary Mann Leverett as a guest, and she eventually did. The herd moves slowly, needing mutual protection from the billionaires. The Mondowess Megaphone strategy will undoubtedly help move toward the facts. If you come up with a silver bullet, great! If you can record a secret video, those can also be very helpful …

  5. HarryLaw on July 13, 2015, 6:23 pm

    One major reason the US needs a deal with Iran has just occured in Ufa Russia at a gathering of the BRIC’s “China and Russia have described BRICS, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) and the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) as the core of a new international order…
    Russian President Vladimir Putin said… “There is no doubt — we have all necessary premises to expand the horizons of mutually beneficial cooperation, to join together our raw material resources, human capital and huge consumer markets for a powerful economic spurt.” Mike Whitney in this excellent article says Russia and China cannot allow the US to determine the rules of the financial markets, and allow the US to use those tools to coerce other nations to do its bidding. Iran would surely look east in the event of further US sabre rattling .

  6. JWalters on July 13, 2015, 6:31 pm

    “A nuclear deal with Iran could be a game changer for US foreign policy and for the Middle East.”

    It would definitely be a game changer because it would deprive the war profiteers of their major panic button. Their top political and media flacks would become even more glaringly detached from reality. Attention would naturally turn toward who is paying them to be such idiots in public.

    “What is the source of the millions of dollars now being poured into the effort to squash the nuclear deal? Most comes from a handful of super-wealthy individuals.”

    Much of the super-wealthy society is interconnected. It is quite possible that this handful, like Haim Saban, profits from Israel’s crimes and conflicts. As Shakespeare said, “Follow the money.”

    These simple facts make it obvious that that handful of super-wealthy predators needs to be removed from the political decision system, and the system needs to be secured against that kind of influence for the future.

    • Citizen on July 15, 2015, 3:05 pm

      Haim Saban and Sheldon Adelson have joined together to squash BDS

  7. Kathleen on July 15, 2015, 3:27 pm

    When do we march in support of deal Medea? Before the August recess? Sure lots of groups in D.C. willing to coordinate. Time to hit the halls of congress…again!

    • Kathleen on July 16, 2015, 11:29 am

      Just contacted NIAC (National Iranian American Council) asking them to consider getting together with Medea, J Street other peace in the middle east groups to put together a support peace support the Iran deal March before the August recess. I know thousands would come…

  8. piotr on July 15, 2015, 10:26 pm

    “Key US allies, Israel and Saudi Arabia, oppose the deal. ”

    This is an expression that circulates in the media, but is it accurate? Key allies, as opposed to France, Germany and United Kingdom? Especially Israel, economically smaller than Belgium, with exports at par with Slovakia. Neither Belgium nor Slovakia raised any opposition to the deal, and NO newspaper made a note of that.

    • oldgeezer on July 16, 2015, 12:06 am

      Neither Israel nor Saudi Arabia are key allies although a case might be made if you append the phrase, in the middle east. Even then they aren’t key really.

      The real key part of the comment was ” and both want to preserve their preferential relationship with the US. ” which is a fine objective from their point of view. From a US/Western point of view neither of them are really allies. They are nowhere to be found when actual allies are needed but are the first to make demands otherwise.

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