AIPAC’s 2001-2004 ‘Briefing Book’ Made Case for Regime Change In Iraq

by Eli Clifton

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) is effectively at war with the White House over the Obama administration’s signature second-term foreign-policy initiative: a nuclear deal to constrain Iran’s nuclear program.  But AIPAC, having already committed $20 to 40 million to a public relations campaign to defeat the Joint Comprehensive Program of Action (JCPOA), took offense at Obama’s assertion that the same people who created the “drumbeat of war” in the run-up to the Iraq invasion are now working to scuttle the P5+1 deal with Tehran.

On August 5, the group’s spokesman, Marshall Wittmann, assured The New York Times’s Julie Hirschfeld Davis that “Aipac took no position whatsoever on the Iraq war.” Three days later, Wittmann, in an apparent reference to Obama’s assertion, told Davis, “We hope that all those who are engaged in this debate will avoid questioning motives and employing any ad hominem attacks.” On Monday, AIPAC President Robert A. Cohen issued a lengthy statement denouncing “multiple” inaccuracies in The New York Times’ coverage of AIPAC, including:

AIPAC’s Role in the Iraq War: Leading up to the start of the Iraq War in March 2003, AIPAC took no position whatsoever, nor did we lobby on the issue.

Last week, I published a number of accounts, including those appearing in The New Yorker, Haaretz, The New York Sun, and The Forward, which appeared to contradict Wittmann’s and Cohen’s assertions about AIPAC’s purported non-position.

But two documents distributed by AIPAC in 2002 suggest that Wittmann and Cohen’s claim that “AIPAC took no position whatsoever,” might be off the mark. While the documents don’t explicitly stake out a lobby position on military action, they state views that parroted the Bush administration’s rationale for the Iraq war, including a controversial justification for the war that turned out to be false.

A “briefing book” for its membership and Congressional offices, viewable on in snapshots from December, 22, 2001, until December, 2004— the period in which the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution was approved by Congress and the Iraq War began—appears to argue in favor of regime change in Baghdad.

The briefing book, accessible here, states:

As long as Saddam Hussein is in power, any containment of Iraq will only be temporary until the next crisis or act of aggression.

I’ve reached out to Wittmann to ask if there is another interpretation of this statement than an endorsement of military action leading to regime change. He did not respond.

And that’s not the only interesting AIPAC statement published on the group’s website as the Iraq AUMF was being debated. AIPAC’s newsletter, Near East Report, led with a lengthy “editor’s comments” on October 7, 2002. It concluded by promoting the Bush administration’s erroneous charges that Saddam Hussein was somehow involved with the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.

Finally, in meetings with the Bush administration late last month, senior Israeli intelligence officials shared evidence about contacts between al-Qaeda and top members of Saddam’s Ba’ath Party

These revelations point to Saddam’s deep involvement in Palestinian terrorism and alliance with Arafat for the purpose of aborting U.S. military action against Iraq while boosting Palestinian terrorist attacks against Israel. They also indicate that Iraq is maintaining contact with the vile perpetrators of 9/11.

The 9/11 Commission Report reviewed the allegations of Saddam Hussein collaborating with Al-Qaeda and concluded:

… to date we have seen no evidence that these or the earlier contacts ever developed into a collaborative operational relationship. Nor have we seen evidence indicating that Iraq cooperated with al Qaeda in developing or carrying out any attacks against the United States.

Eli Clifton

Eli Clifton reports on money in politics and US foreign policy. He is a co-founder of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. Eli previously reported for the American Independent News Network, ThinkProgress, and Inter Press Service.