For all it has done to promote confrontation between the United States and Iran, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee has worked to avoid the public perception that AIPAC is openly promoting war. In AIPAC's public documents, the emphasis has always been on tougher sanctions. (If you make sanctions "tough" enough - an effective embargo - that is an act of war, but it is still at one remove from saying that the U.S. should start bombing.)
But a new Senate effort to move the goalposts of U.S. policy to declare it "unacceptable" for Iran to develop a nuclear weapons capability - not a nuclear weapon, but the technical capacity to create one - gives AIPAC the opportunity to make a choice which all can observe. If the Lieberman resolution becomes an ask for AIPAC lobbyists at the March AIPAC policy conference, then the world will know: AIPAC is lobbying Congress for war with Iran.
Sponsors of the Lieberman resolution deny that it is an "authorization for military force," and in a legal, technical sense, they are absolutely correct: it is not a legal authorization for military force. But it is an attempt to enact a political authorization for military force. It is an attempt to pressure the Administration politically to move forward the tripwire for war, to a place indistinguishable from the status quo that exists today. If successful, this political move would make it impossible for the Administration to pursue meaningful diplomatic engagement with Iran, shutting down the most plausible alternative to war.
Many Americans don't realize that although it might be true that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee can get seventy Senators to sign a napkin, that doesn't mean AIPAC can stop Members of Congress from taking actions to improve U.S. policy towards the Palestinians - actions that could have a real impact in improving living conditions for Palestinians on the ground. This week two such measures are being considered by Members of the House.
Representatives Jim McDermott [D-WA-7] and Keith Ellison [D-MN-5] are circulating a letter that calls on President Obama to press for an easing in the Israeli blockade of Gaza by making it easier for Palestinians, aid workers, and journalists to enter and leave Gaza and by improving the access of Palestinian civilians to necessities such as clean water, food, fuel and medicine.
The McDermott-Ellison letter asks for "immediate improvement" in the following areas:
- Movement of people, especially students, the ill, aid workers, journalists, and those with family concerns, into and out of Gaza;
- Access to clean water, including water infrastructure materials,
- Access to plentiful and varied food and agricultural materials;
- Access to medicine and health care products and suppliers;
- Access to sanitation supplies, including sanitation infrastructure materials;
- Access to construction materials for repairs and rebuilding;
- Access to fuel;
- Access to spare parts;
- Prompt passage into and out of Gaza for commercial and agricultural goods; and
- Publication and review of the list of items prohibited to the people of Gaza.
It's interesting to observe when some Democratic Congressional leaders say Democrats have to be "loyal" to President Obama and when it's apparently OK to join Republicans in undermining him.
Earlier this week, Speaker Pelosi said progressive House Democrats said had to be "loyal" to President Obama in supporting more money to escalate war in Afghanistan, despite the lack of any strategy for how we are going to get out. And they had to be "loyal" to President Obama in supporting $108 billion for the International Monetary Fund, widely expected to be used largely to bail out European banks, even though modest Congressional demands for reforms at the IMF (the Fed publishes minutes of its meetings, why not the IMF?) had been rebuffed.
But when President Obama said, quite sensibly, that the U.S. should avoid the appearance of meddling in Iran's election dispute, Howard Berman and Nancy Pelosi decided to join with Republicans in undermining Obama's policy.
CQ Politics reports:
When House Republicans pushed a resolution supporting Iranian protestors Tuesday, critics said they were seeking political points against a circumspect President Obama. But when House Democrats signed onto the resolution (H Res 560) Thursday night, getting a green light for a Friday morning vote under suspension of the rules from Speaker Nancy Pelosi, critics said it seemed they were taking political cover. Backed by Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard L.
Economists have a concept they call "revealed preferences." The basic idea is that it's one thing to ask someone how much they value something. It's another thing to watch the economic choices that they make, from which you can draw inferences about what their true preferences are, regardless of what they say.
A lot of ink has been spilled about the question of to what degree the Israeli government has the ability to make the U.S. Congress do things. The exact truth is hard to know, partly because U.S. foreign policy is also awful in areas of the world where the Israel Lobby is presumably not weighing in as much, so it's assess exactly what the Israel Lobby's specific contribution is to the particular awfulness of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. And because there are particular reasons that have nothing to do with Israel for U.S. policy to be worse in the Middle East than it is in other areas. And also because a lot of folks clearly have incentives to overstate or understate the influence of the Lobby.
What I find most fascinating about the Jane Harman-AIPAC-Gonzales-FISA scandal is
what it suggests Representative Jane Harman's actual working model was of how Congress works.
Senator McCain, President Bush, and some of their oil industry friends are urging Americans to support overturning a 26-year ban on offshore drilling as a way to bring down gas prices. Of course, it’s snake oil designed for what the Joe Lieberman campaign affectionately called “low information voters.”
As Dean Baker and Nichole Szembrot of the Center for Economic and Policy Research noted in a June 2008 paper,
the Energy Information Agency (EIA) projects that Senator McCain’s proposal would have no impact in the near-term since it will be close to a decade before the first oil can be extracted from the currently protected offshore areas. The EIA projects that production will reach 200,000 barrels a day (0.2 percent of projected world production) at peak production in close to twenty years. It describes this amount as too small to have any significant effect on oil prices.
In contrast, if the United States had continued raising auto fuel efficiency standards annually between 1985-2005 by a quarter of the amount it raised them annually from 1980-1985 — instead of leaving them virtually unchanged — the result would have roughly been the equivalent of 3.3 million barrels of oil per day in new production in 2008 — 16 times the impact of McCain’s Offshore Drilling [MOD], CEPR reports.
What about the impact of lifting sanctions on Iran?