Opinion

Trump’s climbdown on Iran is a defeat to the Israel lobby

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Since Donald Trump decided not to attack Iran Thursday, it has been stated again and again that the American people don’t want another war in the Middle East. NPR says so, PBS says so, the Washington Post says the Congress is “war-weary,” the Times notes the considerable support Trump has gotten from Republicans; and even Lindsey Graham has backed Trump’s decision. So do Democratic liberals and centrists and Nancy Pelosi.

Trump himself said a war with Iran is unpopular when he told his Orlando rally Thursday that great nations don’t fight “endless wars,” and he was removing troops and putting “America first.”

The reasonable question here is, Who wants a war with Iran, and why do they want it? The answer is, far-right Republicans like Adam Kinzinger, Tom Cotton, and Liz Cheney who say it’s a sign of weakness not to attack Iran. And the Israel lobby, which wants the U.S. to take on Israel’s regional rival.

The media write about those rightwing Republicans, “Tom Cotton wages lonely campaign to attack Iran,” Politico says. But they tend to avoid the Israel angle. So here we go again. Let’s look at some of the data.

Two days ago, Benjamin Netanyahu rallied support for Trump’s efforts to “stop Iranian aggression.”

“In the last 24 hours Iran has intensified its aggression against the United States and against all of us. And I repeat my call for all peace-loving countries to stand by the United States in its effort to stop Iranian aggression,” Netanyahu said in a statement. “Israel stands by the United States on this.”

The Republican Jewish Coalition gave Netanyahu a megaphone. And when Trump declined the advice, the Jewish Democratic Council of America all but slammed Trump for indecision.

Eli Clifton writes that Trump has a $259 million reason to attack Iran, and cites three pro-Israel donors to Republican campaigns (echoing my view that Trump’s biggest donor, Sheldon Adelson, has driven the hawkish policy on Iran). It’s a mystery why news organizations don’t bring this up. “News coverage of Trump’s slide toward war frames the discussion as a competition between his better instincts and a national security advisor and secretary of state who, to varying degrees, favor military action,” Clifton writes. “But the $259 million that helped elect Trump and Trump-friendly Republicans must loom large over the president.”

Those funds  came from Sheldon and Miriam Adelson, Paul Singer and Bernard Marcus, donors who have made no secret, both through public statements and funding think tanks that support military action against Iran, of their desire for the United States to destroy the Islamic Republic.

Adelson, who alongside his wife Miriam are the biggest donors to Trump and the GOP, contributed $205 million to Republicans in the past two political cycles and reportedly sent $35 million to the Future 45 Super PAC that supported Trump’s presidential bid. His role as the biggest funder of Republican House and Senate campaigns makes him a vital ally for Trump—who relied on Adelson’s campaign donations to maintain a Republican majority in the Senate and curb Republican losses in the House in the 2018 midterm election—and any Republican seeking national office.

Unfortunately, Lobelog never mentions Israel; but protecting Israel is the central concern of Adelson, Singer and Marcus.

Many of the pundits who pushed for war are also Israel focused. Bill Kristol– who helped promote Tom Cotton to the Senate with funding from the Emergency Committee for Israel —  is deeply disappointed in Trump’s decision. Bret Stephens has been the leading “warmonger” at the Times, writes Andrew Bacevich.

The teaser for a recent Bret Stephens column in The New York Times accurately summarizes its contents: “If Iran won’t change its behavior we should sink its navy.”…

“Nobody wants a war with Iran,” writes Stephens. Actually some people do want war, almost surely including President Trump’s secretary of state and national security adviser. So, too, does Stephens himself. The deceptive history that he chooses to propagate can have no purpose except to promote armed conflict and to impede any understanding into America’s role in planting the seeds of forever war.

One of the most remarkable aspects of this week in foreign policy is the critical mass that exists inside the establishment against war. David Brooks looked sheepish last night on the PBS News Hour. He approved Trump’s decision before arguing that he has to do something– and so what if he kills people.

They could do cyber-warfare. They could attack Iranian forces that are spread around the Middle East.

They can, as earlier presidents have done, gone after the Iranian navy. There are lots of different things they could do. Some of them would kill people. Some of them wouldn’t kill people.

So we should take on Hezbollah and go further into Syria? Remember that Brooks supported the Iraq war that has been an unmitigated disaster (surely in part out of his “gooey-eyed” fondness for Israel). In 2015, he wrote that the Obama Iran deal was a strategic defeat of the U.S. on a par with Vietnam and Iraq, and typically distorted Iran’s behavior. “Iran is a fanatical, hegemonic, hate-filled regime. If you think its radicalism is going to be softened by a few global trade opportunities, you really haven’t been paying attention to the Middle East over the past four decades.”

Back in 2015, President Obama had to defeat a $40 million campaign by the Israel lobby against the Iran deal. As Ben Rhodes wrote, you couldn’t really talk about that.

Even to acknowledge the fact that AIPAC was spending tens of millions to defeat the Iran deal was anti-Semitic. To observe that the same people who supported the war in Iraq also opposed the Iran deal was similarly off limits. It was an offensive way for people to avoid accountability for their own positions.

Obama mentioned Israel 24 times in a climactic speech he gave to win the deal. He said Israel was the only country to speak up against the Iran deal, but it would be an abrogation of his constitutional duty to take Israel’s side.

[B]ecause this is such a strong deal, every nation in the world that has commented publicly, with the exception of the Israeli government, has expressed support….

as President of the United States, it would be an abrogation of my constitutional duty to act against my best judgment simply because it causes temporary friction with a dear friend and ally.  I do not believe that would be the right thing to do for the United States.

Four Democratic senators voted against the Iran deal, and Chuck Schumer said he did so because of “the threat to Israel.”

The “threat against Israel” was also the reason that the U.S. got into the Iraq war, according to 911 Commission director Philip Zelikow. But that threat was one you couldn’t talk about.

this is the threat that dare not speak its name, because the Europeans don’t care deeply about that threat, I will tell you frankly. And the American government doesn’t want to lean too hard on it rhetorically, because it is not a popular sell

The media are still not speaking its name, but Trump’s climbdown represents a real defeat for the Israel lobby. Clearly Israel and its rightwing supporters wanted an attack on Iran and they did not get it.

And yes, one reason that the lobby has lost power is because it is divided. The liberal branch of the Israel lobby, J Street, was firmly against any hostilities with Iran and firmly supportive of the Iran deal, and they rallied Democrats against Trump’s provocation. The lobby wasn’t divided before the Iraq war; then liberals went along with neocons, or didn’t put up much opposition. This is yet another argument for politicizing U.S. support for Israel. An open debate over the militant and discriminatory policies of our closest ally can only improve U.S. foreign policy.

 

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Bret Stephens will say, write, and do anything for the country he is loyal to first, the one that his son has fought for, and the one he puts above his own. A refined Hasbara perhaps?

> “Trump’s climbdown on Iran …”

is there no better term than “climbdown”? I would have thought the image ought to be positive.

“It’s a mystery why news organizations don’t bring this up.”

Very mysterious.

Anybody here read the Brookings Institute paper, “Which Path to Persia” which describes in 170 pages how a war with Iran can be justified? It’s sickening. First we make a “good deal” with Iran. We look good to the world. After a time, when Iran breaks the deal, that will… Read more »

thanks phil.. good overview on the situation…