by Eli Clifton
Following the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in 1961, John F. Kennedy famously told the gathered press corps that “victory has a hundred fathers and defeat is an orphan.” Judging by the pushback against President Obama’s comment yesterday that the same people who created the “drumbeat of war” preceding the invasion of Iraq are now working to kill the nuclear deal between six world powers and Iran, the Iraq war is both a failure and an orphan.
Surprisingly, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), which plans to spend between $20 and $40 million to advocate against the Iran deal, came out swinging, denying having taken any position on the invasion of Iraq, in comments to The New York Times’ Julie Hirschfeld Davis.
Marshall Wittmann, AIPAC’s communications director, told Davis, “To remove any misinformation or confusion, AIPAC took no position whatsoever on the Iraq war, nor did we lobby on this issue — this is an entirely false and misleading argument.”
But according to numerous reports following the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, AIPAC quietly supported the Iraq War and celebrated its own role in lobbying for the war resolution that passed Congress in October 2002.
The best source for this, and standing in direct contradiction to Wittmann’s assertion that AIPAC took no position, is Howard Kohr, AIPAC’s executive director since 1996.
In January 2003, The New York Sun’s David Twersky reported:
According to Mr. Kohr, AIPAC’s successes over the past year also include guaranteeing Israel’s annual aid package and “quietly” lobbying Congress to approve the use of force in Iraq.”
And that’s not the only instance in which AIPAC’s support of the Iraq War has been reported.
In April 2003, Nathan Guttman reported for Haaretz:
AIPAC is wont to support whatever is good for Israel, and so long as Israel supports the war, so too do the thousands of the AIPAC lobbyists who convened in the American capital.
That same April, The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank reported that AIPAC’s Steve Rosen, serving as a panel moderator during the group’s annual conference, exclaimed, “God willing, we’re going to have a great victory in Iraq.”
In 2007, then-Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA), told Tikkun Magazine that AIPAC
has pushed [the Iraq war] from the beginning. I don’t think they represent the mainstream of American Jewish thinking at all, but because they are so well organized, and their members are extraordinarily powerful—most of them are quite wealthy—they have been able to exert power.”
And Guttman, now writing for The Forward, reported last March that former Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) riled attendees at a closed-doors AIPAC meeting preceding Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s address to Congress by mentioning AIPAC’s role in lobbying for the Iraq War. According to two meeting participants:
Tempers flared even more, they said, when Frank claimed that Israel and AIPAC had lobbied members of Congress a decade ago to support the war in Iraq. Similar arguments in the past have been hurled at the lobby by anti-war activists from the left and have always been vehemently denied. Frank, faced with vocal resistance from AIPAC members in the room, clarified that while calling for war was not the lobby’s official position, some of its top members advocated for it personally in their meetings with him and other members of Congress.
Indeed, AIPAC took no official position on the invasion of Iraq, but a lot of people, including two members of Congress, report that they were lobbied by AIPAC and/or its membership to support the war.
AIPAC can continue to deny its role in lobbying for the Iraq War, as much of the alleged lobbying occurred behind closed doors with members of Congress and few witnesses.
But Obama may have had a more limited audience in mind when he warned that “many of the same people who argued for the war in Iraq are now making the case against the Iran nuclear deal.”
Members of Congress who are currently being lobbied by AIPAC to reject the nuclear deal with Iran might look back and remember meetings they had 13 years ago when AIPAC members came to their offices. Obama is betting that congressional approval for the use of force against Iraq came up in those meetings, even if AIPAC chose to wash its hands of responsibility for what came next.