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Democrats’ dilemma on Iran debacle

What started out as a test of wills between the Obama administration and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, aggravated repeatedly by the administration’s insistence on making a federal case out of the House’s invitation to speak, has turned into yet another dilemma for Democrats. The latter have been called to defend a host of foreign policy debacles, including the rise of the Islamic State, the serial concessions to Iran at the bargaining table and the loss of part of Ukraine to what may become a new Russian empire. But now the question remains whether they will be dragged into a fight born of President Obama increasing hostility to our closest ally in the Middle East and his desperation to strike a deal that, in essence, will put Iran on a glide path to acquiring a nuclear weapon and set off a Middle East nuclear arms race.

Josh Rogin and Eli Lake report on whether Democrats will attend the speech:

Democrats cannot stay on the fence for long. They will have to soon decide whether to side with the White House or with many of their constituents and their own desires not to make the partisan divide over Netanyahu’s speech any worse than it has to be. If there are dozens of empty seats in the chamber on March 3, they risk shifting the blame for the partisanship in the U.S.-Israel relationship onto themselves.

It boils down to whether they want this to be a fight between Democrats and Israel, or leave it as a regrettable instance of bad blood between the president and Netanyahu.

Moreover, the fight over the speech does put the AIPAC annual policy conference, beginning Sunday, in a new light. The organization has prided itself on being bipartisan, and although it does not provide any partisan breakdown of its group, it is widely suspected that more than 60 percent is Democratic. This has worked well since, until now, presidents and a majority of lawmakers have remained pro-Israel. But when the administration intentionally picks fights and is trying to sell a snake oil deal that allows Iran to get a bomb at a time of its own choosing, does bipartisanship work? Pretending the administration is concerned about Israel’s existence and the U.S.-Israel relationship becomes a canard and has the effect of acceding to reprehensible positions. Would the group invite to speak to its own members lawmakers who chose partisanship over attendance at the prime minister’s address to Congress? What about Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who wouldn’t even bring a sanctions vote to the floor last year?

Fortunately, most key Democrats seem determined to show up for Netanyahu’s speech. (“[M]any Democratic leaders have signaled they will attend. The list includes House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer and, if he is physically able while recovering from surgery, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid. Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking Democrat Robert Menendez of New Jersey and Senate Armed Services Committee member Bill Nelson of Nebraska will also be there.”)

But really, the bigger dilemma is for pro-Israel Democrats — namely, how they are to deal with a president who has the worst Israel record in history and increasingly seems driven by personal animus rather than mutual security needs. Soon they are likely to be asked to meekly accept a P5+1 deal that, as Netanyahu put it, gives up on the idea of keeping Iran from going nuclear. If they can’t even oppose a deal that so blatantly undermines the interests of Israel, our Arab allies and the United States, then they should be prepared to take responsibility for the ensuing arms race and for inevitable Israeli military action (maybe with the tacit cooperation of its neighbors) against Iran. And as for AIPAC, under those circumstance it will have failed in its most important objective, preventing an existential threat to Israel and a breakdown in the U.S.-Israel relationship. At that point, it might as well scrap the group as currently constituted and figure out how to put pressure on Democrats to be as supportive of Israel as Republicans are.

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