Democrats Charles Schumer (N.Y.) and Robert Menendez (N.J.) have joined Republican Mark Kirk (Ill.) in placing a ticking bomb under President Obama’s Christmas tree. The bomb is an AIPAC-sponsored bill that commits the United States to stop Iran from enriching any uranium at all, and also requires the United States to “stand with Israel” in the event Netanyahu decides, for reasons of “self-defense,” to start a war with Iran. The purpose of the bill is transparent: to scuttle the P5+1 (U.S., Britain, France, Germany, Russia, and China) diplomacy with Tehran, because it is well known to everyone concerned that Iran is not going to abandon completely a nuclear energy program underway since the Shah was in power.
Gary Sick, the Columbia University Iran expert, has posted on his website an open letter to Schumer, noting that the bill seeks to “remove any negotiating authority from the U.S. government by specifying in advance the terms of an impossible settlement.” Further, Sick observes, the bill “outsources any decision about resort to military action to the government of Israel, by committing the United States in advance to support any military action by Israel.”
These are the two central points. Netanyahu wants war with Iran, but he doesn’t want to fight it by himself. Schumer, Menendez, and Kirk hope to compel the United States to step in and finish the job after Israel throws the first punch. But even if such a war were just (which it isn’t), or even if we had allies besides Israel (which we wouldn’t), the aftermath of such a war ends most likely (as the former hawk Kenneth Pollack argues in his exhaustive analysis “Unthinkable“) with an American occupation of Iran. At a cost in blood and treasure many times the invasion of Iraq.
There is no realistic scenario under which Iran’s government is going abandon entirely its nuclear program. Schumer, Kirk, and Menendez know this perfectly well. Their resolution is a backdoor to war. They just don’t have the courage, as yet, to say so.
Right now the bill has a fair number of cosponsors. Sanctions have always been an easy call for Congressmen—it’s a way of seeming tough, without actually supporting a war just now, while staying on the good side of the hawkish lobbies. But after serious diplomacy has begun, and the United States, Britain, France, China etc. have a signed international agreement that explicitly ruled out new sanctions, new Senate sanctions are not an innocent vote.
After the New Year, the Schumer-Menendez-Kirk bill’s fate will be at the top of the global political calendar. American senators will be under scrutiny in London, Moscow, and Beijing like never before. If it comes to the Senate floor and passes, not a certainty at this point, Obama would be compelled to veto it; failing to do so would be acknowledging that American diplomacy at the highest level is determined not in Washington, but in Israel, through AIPAC and its minions.
I have been following this subject closely for years, but I never thought a showdown between an American president and the Israel lobby would come so quickly, or be so naked. Israel has much to gain by keeping its role out of the public eye, not exposed to prolonged or divisive debate. AIPAC is accustomed to winning Senate votes by 99-0 scores, giving the impression that the policies it seeks are so obviously right that no reasonable person could oppose it. That may have almost never been true, but it is an awfully powerful impression to leave. But unless I am reading things very poorly, the Schumer-Menendez-Kirk bill will not pass without a vast public struggle, after which American politics will not be the same.