THE BLOG
01/17/2014 09:44 pm ET | Updated Mar 19, 2014

Obama Starts To Turn Tide Against Lobby's Sanctions Bill

It's the weekend and the tide may have turned President Obama's way in his battle to prevent Congress from enacting new Iran sanctions, sanctions that would almost surely kill the agreement the P5+1 reached with Iran to restrict its nuclear program.

According to National Journal, Majority Leader Harry Reid is strongly resisting demands from AIPAC Senators to bring its sanctions bill to the floor for a vote. It reports that Sen. John McCain's plan will be to get local Jewish communities to put the pressure on their senators and, if Reid resists, to keep bringing the bill up and forcing Reid to block it.

That way the Democrats will be exposed as anti-Israel and the Republicans will benefit in November. AIPAC and Sen. Chuck Schumer are, no doubt, giving Reid the same message: if we don't do this, AIPAC donors will boycott us and will lose our majority. But Reid is good at standing up to special interest pressure. So the old boxer may very well stand tough. We'll see. But so far, so good. Especially with some in the media finally addressing this bum rush to war.

Exposure is never good news for the lobby, which is why it operates behind closed doors. And successfully. It has managed to create a situation where any American can say or write anything about the United States and its leaders but not about Israel. You won't lose your job if you write that President Obama was born in Kenya or is a secret terrorist, but suggest that Netanyahu is a stinker and you are in serious trouble. This is perverse.

Back in September 1982, I began a four year-stint as a senior staffer at AIPAC. My politics have obviously evolved since then. I left that job still in synch with AIPAC's worldview and on good terms with the place. In fact, I continued fundraising for the organization after I left. I didn't come around to seeing AIPAC as an enemy of peace until years later.

But back to 1982. In my very first day on the job, AIPAC's then research director, Steve Rosen (later indicted under the Espionage Act but never tried) left a memo on my desk. It said this: "A lobby is a night flower. It thrives in the dark and dies in the sun." Then, in a postscript, "Remember, the walls have ears." The Rosen memo became famous, appearing both in the Washington Post and the New Yorker. (Yes, I leaked it years after leaving the organization).

The reason it is so widely published is that Rosen's warning sums up AIPAC's operating philosophy. If it is to successfully manipulate U.S. foreign policy on behalf of the Israeli government, it must do so surreptitiously. Otherwise, the sheer inappropriateness of its behavior could lead to its demise. Of course, that is unlikely. Members of Congress collecting money from AIPAC donors are not likely to call for it to register as a foreign agent (like the lobbies of every other foreign government) because foreign agents are banned by law from donating to candidates. Hence, no more AIPAC money. Say what you will about the Saudi or Japan lobby, but they are registered with the Justice Department and must report on every dollar they spend to influence Congress. AIPAC can do whatever it wants and it does.

The night flower thrives in the shade and the media has permitted it to stay there.

But it appears that AIPAC's effort to overturn the agreement that the P5+1 reached with Iran may be a bridge too far. The agreement, one that President Obama signed on behalf of the United States, will lift sanctions on Iran in exchange for Iran freezing certain of its nuclear activities. Prime Minister Netanyahu doesn't like that. He wants the United States to either bomb Iran's nuclear facilities or allow Israel to do the job (with U.S. help). And so he has AIPAC lining up Congress to enact new sanctions and cause the deal to collapse.

What would likely happen then. War, as is spelled out in the AIPAC bill. Here is the bill's language referring to what would happen if Israel felt "compelled" to attack Iran:

The United States Government should stand with Israel and provide, in accordance with the law of the United States and the constitutional responsibility of Congress to authorize the use of military force, diplomatic, military, and economic support to the Government of Israel...

Not only U.S. "military force" but also "military support." So nice, they say it twice.

How incredible! The U.S. Congress would never have passed such a resolution promising to go to war for the United Kingdom in 1940. Even after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, Roosevelt could not declare war on Nazi Germany (Japan's ally) but had to wait until Germany declared war on us. But then the United Kingdom did not have a lobby promising to elect or threatening to defeat Members of Congress based on their support of Britain. AIPAC is entirely unique.

And so it must operate in the dark. If Congress passes a resolution imposing sanctions, following by an Obama veto, that is overturned by a Congress acting at AIPAC's behest, how will that look? Imagine, destroying a presidency and the credibility of our diplomatic commitments to please a foreign government's lobby.

But suddenly this week, elements within the media including the New York Times, Washington Post and MSNBC have found their flash lights. They are shining a light on what AIPAC is doing and the word is that AIPAC is getting scared. Although they would like to defeat President Obama and the Iran treaty in time to celebrate at their annual policy extravaganza in March, they are beginning to wonder if doing so would expose them once and for all.

There is no way to know how this will end. People have gone broke betting that AIPAC will ultimately do the right thing. But it might if it starts feeling frightened of what it will mean if it actually sinks both U.S. credibility and a president. No lobby has ever done that. And its unimaginable that the first one to pull it off will be acting at the behest of a foreign government.

Then there are the Democrats in Congress. As Chris Hayes pointed out in his commentary, killing an Iran agreement and thereby ensuring U.S. involvement in another Middle East war would be a career-killer. Senators Cory Booker, Chuck Schumer, Kirsten Gillibrand, Rep. Steny Hoyer and the other AIPAC faithful may think they are immune from primary challenges owing to all the special interest money that they have in their coffers. But let them get us involved in another war and they will learn that money isn't everything -- not after Iraq where 4,500 Americans (and countless Iraqis) died for absolutely nothing. Yes, the pro-war neocon Democrats got away with it once. That won't happen again.

This time we have flashlights.