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Top US Negotiator Reports: The “Israel Lobby” Isn’t In Charge

One of the most experienced observers of Israel and Palestine, longtime American negotiator Aaron David Miller, has taken a hammer to the myth that a pernicious pro-Israel cabal controls US foreign policy and is pushing President Obama and the country towards war with Iran. Writing in the NY Times, Miller observes that

The notion that 5.5 million American Jews in tight alliance with the country’s evangelical Christians hold America’s Middle East policy hostage is one of the most dangerous yet enduring myths of American politics and foreign policy.

It is particularly strong in Europe and in the Arab world, where the inability to understand either how American politics actually works or the depth of the U.S.-Israeli relationship lead to a cardboard conspiracy theory whereby an Israeli prime minister turns the White House and Congress into Israeli occupied territory.

But the truth, Miller notes–speaking from experience–is quite different:

The pro-Israel constituency has a powerful voice, to be sure, particularly in Congress, where politics dominate. But that community doesn’t have a veto, or anything close to one. And there’s little historical evidence to the contrary. Presidents don’t seek out fights with an important domestic constituency, particularly in an election year; but when a smart and determined president chooses to follow the national interest rather than a narrow political one — from arms sales to the Arabs to the peace process, the White House prevails. Sometimes the fight is messy; but willful presidents with the national interest at their back usually win out.

The same holds true for America’s current Iran policy, which does not reflect the insidious designs of a shadowy circle of Zionists, but rather a predictable balancing of US political interests:

The reality is that if this were 2011, and not an election year, and the current tensions were as high as they are now, the president’s policy would be very much the same — buy time to determine if nonmilitary pressure against Iran can work (oil sanctions will kick in this summer); reassure Israel of his seriousness but don’t give ironclad commitments (yet) that America will take care of the Iranian nuclear problem if Israel will stay its hand. The president isn’t there yet.

This is hardly pandering. Obama is trying to square a circle on Iran which for the time being can’t be conclusively squared. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will seek a green light to take military action if he deems it necessary; the president wants a red light — for now — to give nonmilitary means more time to work. Neither will get what he wants. But what will emerge — and what should emerge — is enough of a consensus to ratchet up pressure and avoid war for now. The notion that Obama is conceding the playing field to a trigger-happy Israel just doesn’t add up.

It’s a long piece that should be read in its entirety by anyone seeking to understand this perpetually misunderstood topic. Via Meadia, for our part, will continue to highlight the ever-growing pile of counter-evidence to the absurd and dangerous notion that the Israel Lobby is secretly responsible for US foreign policy — rather than Americans themselves. Miller has at times been strongly critical of the positions advocated both by groups like Aipac and the Israeli right; he has also been at the heart of US policy making on this subject.

You can support US policy toward Israel or you can oppose it; to do either effectively you need to understand that the “Israel Lobby” isn’t in charge.

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  • Anthony

    Myths and facts conflate…an Israeli strike on Iran carries many risks and uncertainties…

    Aaron Miller soberly intimates the above in his NYT’s article; further, he implies that President Obama, vis-a-vis Foreign Policy (Iran/Israel), is executing “Great Power” Balancing without discounting depth of U.S.-Israeli relationship. In effect, Miller intimates that the President is more than willing to draw a line in the (proverbial) sand while cognizant of national interests.

  • Bob

    Well, when we dump Obama our boys will be in charge again.

  • Stephen

    If the “pro-Israel Lobby” were as all-powerful as some claim, Joe Lieberman would have become President long before Barack Obama.

  • Kris

    “the absurd and dangerous notion that the Israel Lobby is secretly responsible for US foreign policy — rather than Americans themselves. ”

    Ordinary Americans being responsible for foreign policy? That’s just as bad! FP is a job best left to the oh-so-disinterested Foggy Bottom experts.

    Bob@2: The eagles will push the wheelbarrow at dawn.

  • Jacksonian Libertarian

    Israel is the only western culture built on Free Enterprise, Democracy, and the Rule of Law, in the middle-east. With all the other nations surrounding it built on the vastly inferior Islamic culture built on crony capitalism, autocracy, and might makes right.

    “There is no arguing with success”

    The US generally supports Israel, because Israel has a similar superior western culture and is always more in the right in its conflicts with the inferior Islamic cultures surrounding it, and not because of the Israeli lobby. The mistakes Israel makes are those of a civilized culture giving the benefit of the doubt to the uncivilized Islamic culture, and the uncivilized making them pay for it. If the present situation was reversed, the Israeli’s would have long since have been raped, looted, and murdered, in hideous atrocities that would turn a civilized westerner’s stomach.

  • Fred

    Very clever Professor Mead, covering up the conspiracy by trying to convince us it doesn’t exist. But you’re not fooling us. We know those eeeeevil jooos are at the bottom of everything we don’t like.

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