by Jim Lobe
As an update to the post I wrote Thursday, it appears the White House is toughening its rhetoric against the Kirk-Menendez Wag the Dog Act, as more Republicans have signed on as co-sponsors. There are now a total of 59 co-sponsors, including 43 of the 45 Republicans (Sens. Jeff Flake and Ron Paul are the hold-outs), and 16 of 55 Democrats and Independents. These latest developments come amidst word from Geneva that an agreement on the implementation of the Nov. 24 accord between Iran and the P5+1 could be announced this weekend.
The White House issued its strongest statement to date Friday via a statement provided by National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan to the Huffington Post:
This bill is in direct contradiction to the Administration’s work to peacefully resolve the international community’s concerns with Iran’s nuclear program. We know that this proposed legislation would divide the international community, drive the Iranians to take a harder line, and possibly end negotiations. This bill would have a negative bearing on the sanctions regime too. Let us not forget: sanctions work because we convinced our partners to take the steps that we seek. If our partners no longer believe that we are serious about finding a negotiated solution, then our sanctions regime would suffer.
If Congress passes this bill, it will be proactively taking an action that will make diplomacy less likely to succeed. The American people have been clear that they prefer a peaceful resolution to this issue. If certain members of Congress want the United States to take military action, they should be up front with the American public and say so. Otherwise, it’s not clear why any member of Congress would support a bill that possibly closes the door on diplomacy and makes it more likely that the United States will have to choose between military options or allowing Iran’s nuclear program to proceed [Emphasis added].
The President has been clear that he has a responsibility to fully test whether we can achieve a comprehensive solution through diplomatic means, before he pursues alternatives. Passing new sanctions legislation right now will undermine our efforts to achieve a peaceful resolution.
The question now is whether the White House can hold nervous Democrats, particularly Majority Leader Harry Reid who controls the calendar for floor votes, in line. As I suggested yesterday, the fact that the co-sponsorship has become so heavily and conspicuously Republican — and is now, thanks to the Foreign Policy Initiative (AKA the Project for the New American Century) so closely associated with neoconservatives and other Iraq war advocates — could make that work easier. That may be one reason why anonymous Hill staffers linked to AIPAC are claiming to CNN and other outlets that the lobby group has rounded up 77 commitments to vote for the bill if it comes to the floor, making it immune to a promised White House veto if Reid lets it come to a vote.
The stakes involved were made manifest by an extraordinary statement to JTA’s Ron Kampeas by the head of the National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC), which yesterday issued a much more ambiguous statement on the pending bill. Rabbi Jack Moline charged that AIPAC and the American Jewish Committee were using “strong-arm tactics, essentially threatening people that if they don’t vote a particular way, that somehow that makes them anti-Israel or means the abandonment of the Jewish community.” The NJDC ordinarily follow AIPAC’s line without question, so for its executive director to make such a charge publicly underlines the degree to which the current fight over the Kirk-Menendez bill could have huge political ramifications, especially for AIPAC, the two parties, and the U.S. Jewish community. For an interesting take on this, please see this op-ed by Lara Friedman, the very savvy director of Policy and Government Relations at Americans for Peace now.
And, with respect to those “strong-arm tactics,” it’s also worth remembering that Menendez and Kirk were the biggest Senate beneficiaries of “pro-Israel PAC” campaign cash in their 2010 and 2012 election races, respectively, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. If you don’t believe money — and the threat of withholding it — is playing a role in the calculations of members of “the world’s greatest deliberative body,” you need to reconsider.