The irony could not be greater, but the administration that employs Chuck Hagel, who previously lambasted the “Israel lobby” as too influential and as strong-arming senators, has now reached out in desperation to pro-Israel groups.
The events of the last couple of weeks have sent a tremor through American pro-Israel leaders and organizations. For the first time in my memory, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee has put out a statement on a major national security issue:
AIPAC urges Congress to grant the president the authority he has requested to protect America’s national security interests and dissuade the Syrian regime’s further use of unconventional weapons. The civilized world cannot tolerate the use of these barbaric weapons, particularly against an innocent civilian population including hundreds of children.
Simply put, barbarism on a mass scale must not be given a free pass.
This is a critical moment when America must also send a forceful message of resolve to Iran and Hezbollah — both of whom have provided direct and extensive military support to Assad. The Syrian regime and its Iranian ally have repeatedly demonstrated that they will not respect civilized norms. That is why America must act, and why we must prevent further proliferation of unconventional weapons in this region.
America’s allies and adversaries are closely watching the outcome of this momentous vote. This critical decision comes at a time when Iran is racing toward obtaining nuclear capability. Failure to approve this resolution would weaken our country’s credibility to prevent the use and proliferation of unconventional weapons and thereby greatly endanger our country’s security and interests and those of our regional allies. AIPAC maintains that it is imperative to adopt the resolution to authorize the use of force, and take a firm stand that the world’s most dangerous regimes cannot obtain and use the most dangerous weapons.
Likewise the Republican Jewish Committee has sent out an “action alert” email that argued, “There is much debate and discussion as to the merits of various strategies going forward, as well as how the U.S. got to this juncture. However, for Congress, there is only one question that must be answered: Is it in our national interest to respond to the violation by Syria of the international norm against the use of chemical weapons?” It called on pro-Israel Americans to overlook party affiliation. (“The RJC believes that this not a Republican or Democrat issue. We encouraged our members to reach out in a bipartisan fashion to Republican and Democrat officials to ask for their support of the resolution.”) This is simply unprecedented for the RJC, which is a Republican group exceptionally critical of President Obama, to go to bat for him in this fashion.
What is going on here? I spoke to a representative of a pro-Israel group who was authorized only to speak on background. “There are two issues, the moral dimension on a mass scale and the direct link to Iran,” he said. “Syria is a puppet for Iran. They will conclude that if cannot in the case of WMD’s being used, then we won’t ever act to prevent the obtaining of WMD’s.” He stressed, “We have no other option.” If the Congress votes “no” he fears the U.S. will be like Great Britain –irrelevant and powerless.
In short, as much as observers bemoan how we got to where we are and the disagreeable choices in Syria this is not about Syria for pro-Israel groups. “Assad and Syria are franchise of Tehran, ” he said. “You cannot be against this if you are concerned about Iran.”
The pro-Israeli official believes in the end Democrats will not abandon their president and essentially ruin his presidency. (“His presidency is at stake.”) Republicans, he cautioned, should remember an authorization for use of force has never been defeated and it should not happen on the GOP’s watch, as it were. He praised the House leadership’s action today and warned that if Republicans defeated the resolution it would haunt the country and the party.
I was, to be honest, surprised at the intensity of the concern expressed. From this I can only conclude that the White House is at real risk of losing this vote, and that there is consensus in the mostly-Democratic pro-Israel community that the Syria vote and Iran are inextricably linked. If so, a “no” vote would be catastrophic.
The question for Republicans is how to move beyond their disdain for Obama and use their voice and leverage to push for a viable foreign policy that, for once, has bipartisan support.