by Philip Weiss
MJ Rosenberg at media matters lays out the power an American president can exercise over Israel, and the lobby’s fear of his doing just that. Rosenberg doesn’t fully explore the hidden dimension here– of course it’s our national interest and of course Obama has power, why hasn’t he exercised it? My answer is that Rahm Emanuel wasn’t chief of staff in ‘80; the lobby is stronger today than in Reagan’s day. It’s in its late classical period and verging on decadence, but it’s got Obama hoodooed re 2012:

When I worked at AIPAC the first time, its founder and executive director, I.L. Kenen, told me this:  “My worst fear is that a President of the United States will get on television and say to the American people, ‘I have made the following request to the Israeli government.’ He then describes it and says that Israel’s refusal to accept it would harm US interests.  At that point, the Israeli government would fold and so would AIPAC….it would be a demand to get out of the occupied territories or divide Jerusalem or something like that.  Life or death it would never be. Still, it’s my biggest fear.”
That theory was tested a few years later when conflict came and even Begin backed down in the face of a resolute President.
In 1982, the Israeli air force was bombing Beirut relentlessly.  President Ronald Reagan saw the destruction and carnage on television and, on his own initiative, picked up the phone and called Begin. Reagan National Security Council staffer Geoffrey Kemp remembers the call:
“’Menachem, this is a holocaust’ Reagan said.
‘Mr. President, I think I know what a holocaust is’ Begin replied, in a voice that Kemp would recall as ‘dripping with sarcasm.’ According to [Deputy Chief-Of-Staff Michael] Deaver, Reagan continued ‘in the plainest of language’ to tell Begin what he thought about the bombing of Beirut, concluding by saying, ‘It has gone too far. You must stop it’
Twenty-minutes later Begin called back and said he had issued the order to [General Ariel] Sharon to stop the bombings. After he had hung up the phone Reagan said to Deaver, ‘I didn’t know I had that kind of power.’”
But he did.  And so does Obama.  And that was at a time, not quite two years into his Presidency, when Reagan’s poll numbers were so low that it was thought he might quit after one term. Two years later he won 49 states.
…If the Israelis had listened to President Nixon in 1971, who told them to withdraw from the banks of the Suez Canal and accept President Sadat’s peace offer, there would have been no Yom Kippur War.  Israel would have given up a fraction of the Egyptian territory that it ended up yielding in peace negotiations five years later. Instead, Israel said no, lost all the Egyptian territory it held, along with 3,000 young men.
Naturally, the lobby in this country backed Israel in that refusal.
The lobby wants to paper over the differences the United States has with Israel – especially before the big AIPAC rally this weekend and certainly before the President meets with Prime Minister Netanyahu.
I know, from my years at AIPAC, that it wants Obama to back down.  I also know that even the slightest retreat from our demands will be presented by AIPAC as a great victory. “All is back to normal,” AIPAC will say.  And the whole world – especially Israelis and Palestinians – will see us as chumps. 
The latest polls show Obama’s position favored (by a 2-1 margin) over Netanyahu’s here.  In Israel, they are pretty much tied, with Obama far more popular than previously believed.
The shift in US opinion – from seemingly solid support for Israeli positions to a 2-1 support for Obama’s hard line on settlements – indicates that General David Petraeus’ statements have had a powerful effect.  Once Petraeus said that perceptions of American one-sidedness put American lives in Afghanistan and Iraq at risk, the game was essentially over.
Unless the United States blinks.

Related posts:

  1. …And Obama’s Like Reagan, Not Stevenson
  2. Reagan Enters Bipartisan Pantheon, Joining FDR, HST, JFK
  3. Reagan Revolution, Meet Obama Revolution
  4. Obama Is Brilliantly Marketing Leftwing Answers to an American Majority (as Reagan Marketed the Right)
  5. AIPAC’s racial politics reflect Obama era

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