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Issue #1535      15 February 2012

Iran War: What is AIPAC planning?

These are strange times for those of us who follow the debate about a possible war with Iran. It is clear that the Israeli government and its neoconservative camp followers here in the United States are increasing pressure on President Obama to either attack Iran or let Israel do it (in which case, we would be forced to join in). But the idea of another Middle East war is so outlandish that it seems inconceivable it could actually occur.

Still the conventional wisdom holds that it can, and the main reason is that this is an election year and no one will say no to Binyamin Netanyahu in an election year.

War enthusiasm will rise to a fever pitch by March, when the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) holds its annual policy conference. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will, if past example holds, bring the crowd of 10,000 to its feet by depicting Iran as the new Nazi Germany and by coming very close to stating that only war can stop these new Nazis. Other speakers will say the same. The few who mention the idea of diplomacy will be met by stony silence.

From the convention centre, 10,000 delegates will be dispatched to Capitol Hill with two or three “asks” for Members of Congress. One will, no doubt, be that “containment” of a nuclearised Iran be ruled off the table (leaving war as the only remaining option should Iran get the bomb). Another will likely be that the US stop all dealings with the Palestinian Authority should Hamas and Fatah permanently reconcile.

A third could apply either to Iran or Palestine and will, no doubt, demand fealty to whatever Netanyahu’s policy of the moment happens to be. I’ve sat in those meetings where the AIPAC “asks” are developed and it was always clear that the substance didn’t matter all that much.

The goal of the “asks” is ensuring that Congress follow the script. Invariably at least one of these AIPAC goals will be put into legislative language and quickly pass both chambers of Congress. In fact, usually the “ask” is already in legislative form, so that the AIPAC citizen lobbyists can simply demand that their legislators sign on as co-sponsors (if they haven’t already done so). Once the AIPAC bill has the requisite number of co-sponsors, the House and Senate leadership brings it to the floor where it passes with few dissenters.

All hell breaks loose if a member of Congress objects.

One Member of Congress has actually described what happened when she voted “no” on an AIPAC “ask.” Democrat Representative Betty McCollum refused to support a bill (opposed by the State Department) that would have essentially banned all US contacts with Palestinians. AIPAC was not pleased with her recalcitrance.

In a letter to AIPAC executive director, Howard Kohr, McCollum described what happened next. In short, she was threatened by an AIPAC official from her district, called a terrorist supporter and warned that her behaviour “would not be tolerated.” In response, McCollum told AIPAC not to come near her office again until it apologised.

McCollum was not, of course, the only legislator threatened that way. She is, however, the only one in memory who went public.

Among staff, AIPAC’s arrival in their offices during the conference is a source of dread. Capitol Hill staff, much like legislators themselves, like to think they are perhaps a little important. AIPAC eliminates that illusion. Although AIPAC calls its requests “asks,” they are, in fact, “tells” and “no” is not a permissible response.

So here’s a theory. Netanyahu and his camp followers here do not really want a war now. They just want it understood that they can dictate whether there is one or not. And when.

If Netanyahu gets the president he wants in November, a Republican who will fight the war Netanyahu wants but isn’t eager to fight himself. Surely Mitt or Rick or Newt will do it for him.

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