Why the Hawks Are Winning the Iran Debate

by Eli Clifton

Last week, my colleague Ali Gharib and I published an article in The Nation in which we explored the influence of hawkish groups in shaping congressional legislation on Iran sanctions. One of the explanations we offered was the overwhelmingly large budgets enjoyed by hard line, pro-sanctions organizations such as the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD) and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). Another, perhaps related, explanation lies in the frequency with which hawkish groups advise members of Congress at House and Senate committee hearings.

We wrote:

Since November 2012, eleven separate hearings on Iran policy have considered a total of thirty-six expert testimonies from outside groups. Of that number, two neoconservative organizations dominated: FDD fellows made five appearances, and those from the AEI had four. Neoconservative allies like David Albright, who co-chairs a nonproliferation group with Dubowitz and spoke before Congress four times in this period, also gave testimony. All told, people associated with groups taking a hard line on Iran sanctions accounted for twenty-two of the thirty-six testimonies solicited by House and Senate committees.

Centrist think tanks, on the other hand, were underrepresented. Employees of the Council on Foreign Relations testified twice, while the Brookings Institution, the RAND Corporation, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the Center for Strategic and International Studies fielded only one witness apiece over the period reviewed by The Nation. Experts from dovish think tanks hardly appeared at all: the only witness from such a group, Barak Barfi of the generally left-of-center New America Foundation, made one appearance.

A pie chart, shown below, illustrates the outsize influence enjoyed by hawkish groups at committee hearings. Simply stated, hard line, pro-sanctions, groups are the most frequent outside voices invited to advise Congress about the White House’s Iran policy.


*This article was first published by The Nation on July 24 and was reprinted here with permission. Copyright 2014, The Nation.

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.



  1. Not one to quibble here, but isn’t it a fact that money rules the congress, as in the more you feed it, the more you’re heard? Considering the Middle class has been decimated, the retired left seniors don’t have as much money to contribute, (as in feeding the life giving essentials needed to stay alive), along with the brainwashing since Reagan, this is not unusual. Perhaps if T.V. didn’t exist, the country wasn’t cowered into thinking what ever was best for the oligarchs in this country, oh hell, what’s the use? Just one more memory of what the country used to stand for.

  2. Great piece. Bravo. Extremist elements of the Israel lobby have gamed the system and they do so to facilitate Israel’s insane programme of illegal colonization of the West Bank and endless war or near-war.

  3. Money influences politics? That’s the great discovery? Forgive my under-appreciation of a common truism in politics. Wasn’t it Huey Long who said contributions was the mother’s milk of politics? Whether or not it comes from liberal Hollywood and labor unions to evangelical Christians and anti-tax business groups, both sides have exercised their First Amendment rights to lavish bundles of cash to promote their respective agendas. It’s a game played by everyone, even Russia, Iran, China and just about every other foreign country plays the same game by enlisting legions of K Street lobbying firms and hiring dozens of high powered PR and social media firms to fuel their outreach to Congressmen and their voters. It is over simplistic to single out Israel and AIPAC, when in fact the much larger and more significant issue is the overall corrosive influence of campaign cash throughout the whole system. When it takes war chests of over $5-10 million to wage a local Congressional race, it’s easy to see how both parties will flog for the highest bidder.

    You could do the exact same pie chart for Democrats on contraception and women’s groups in Obama Care or Republicans on IRS reform and businesses. It would be more worthwhile to focus on that topic and less on this small slice of a much, much larger and more important problem.

  4. @ Change – – I assume you concede Aipac has in fact gamed the system, to prevent a fair assessment of US foreign policy options in the Middle East by the US Congress.

  5. Of course AIPAC is a powerful lobby. Just as NARAL is a powerful lobby or the SEIU, or NRA. Take your pick of alphabet organizations. The entire US influence system runs on lobbyists. So this is a shock? And you don’t think foreign nations from Saudi Arabia, Iran, China, France and even Cuba don’t leverage the same system to gain their share of influence? That’s the good, bad and ugly of US government….ANYONE can buy a seat at the grown ups table.

Comments are closed.