And the Dawn Comes Up Like Thunder: The Rise and Fall of AIPAC

Dr. Robert D. Crane

Posted Mar 15, 2009      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
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And the Dawn Comes Up Like Thunder: The Rise and Fall of AIPAC

by Dr. Robert D. Crane

Director for Global Strategy, The Abraham Federation:
A Global Center for Peace through Compassionate Justice

  The biggest battle in American foreign policy since the creation of the State of Israel more than sixty years ago did not end this week with the elimination of Ambassador Charles Freeman as head of the National Intelligence Council.  In fact, it may have just begun, because the battle in the past over Israeli control of American foreign policy has thrived on being at least semi-covert.  This is no longer possible.  Stephen Walt of Walt/Meersheimer fame has this to say:

“Yet to those who defended Freeman’s appointment and challenged the lobby’s smear campaign, I offer a fifth observation: do not lose heart. The silver lining in this sorry episode is that it was abundantly clear to everyone what was going on and who was behind it. In the past, the lobby was able to derail appointments quietly—even pre-emptively—but this fight took place in broad daylight. And Steve Rosen, one of Freeman’s chief tormentors, once admitted: “a lobby is like a night flower. It thrives in the dark and dies in the sun.” Slowly, the light is dawning and the lobby’s negative influence is becoming more and more apparent, even if relatively few people have the guts to say so out loud. But history will not be kind to the likes of Charles Schumer, Jonathan Chait, Steve Rosen et al, whose hidebound views are unintentionally undermining both U.S. and Israeli security.”

  This assessment may be Pollyanish, i.e. naively optimistic, but the probability is that President Obama will reach the right conclusion, namely, that his leadership and political future will rest on whether he shows guts in pursuing his foreign policy goals in order to have any credibility in winning support for his domestic policies. 

  In the middle of the civil rights wars of the early 1960s, at a time when Everett Dirksen was the most powerful single person in the U.S. Senate, I asked him, “How come you have so much power?  How did you get to where you are today?”  He laughed and replied, “It’s very simple.  When I first won my Senate seat, I watched to see who was on the winning side in pitched battles.  I soon figured out who they were and I always backed them.  After awhile the other senators observed that Dirksen ‘won’ every battle.  Soon many others started watching me and supported me every time.  This was a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Soon few people ever dared oppose me.  And here I am today.”  This, incidentally, is how the “Fair Housing” battle was won, which turned the tide in favor of the civil rights revolution under Martin Luther King.

  This is how power and money work in the world.  The Israeli lobbyists are masters of the art.  Barack Obama’s success in Chicago must have taught him how the system functions.  The only question is whether he will work the system or let the system work him.  His future presidency will rise or fall on the answer.  He would never have reached the presidency if he did know this.

  I have worked with the most successful people in American life, including three presidents and some cabinet officers, and they all attribute their success to the same principles.  When Admiral Arleigh Burke asked me to become one of the four founding principals of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (then the much more aptly named Center for Strategic Studies), I asked him the same question.  He answered, “It’s simple.  Pick your battles carefully.  When you decide to fight, leave no quarter, because hesitation can kill you.  I rose to the top in the Pentagon because I dared to go over the head of the Secretary of Defense directly to the President in defending the Polaris submarine, which I was convinced was essential to deter any Soviet attack.  Such a move was a sure career killer and I knew it.  But, I won.  Only three times in my life have I ever done anything like that.  Each time my intelligence assessment was correct and my operational strategy for success, like at the Battle of Midway, was perfectly designed for victory.  Avoid unessential combat as a matter principle, pick your battles carefully, and fight to the death.”

  I have never followed this advice in my life and never intend to, because for me principle not power is my only concern.  Nevertheless, I know how the system operates, and I surmise that AIPAC may have shot itself in the mouth in its first battle with Barack Obama over American foreign policy.  It called in all its chits and may at least temporarily have shot its wad.  At least for awhile it now has a big bow with an empty quiver. 

  The final upshot will be determined on how strongly President Obama asserts his independence as representative of the American people from here on out.  The Freeman stand-off could be seen as a lure.  Israel bit the bait, chomped down hard, and thinks it can swim off with a big fish, whereas, in fact, it has become bait for even bigger fish, including some hungry sharks, that have been lying in wait for many years. They are still cautious, but they know that their prey now has no place to hide, and they now smell blood.


Freeman discusses Israel lobby on CNN
Israel lobby humiliates Obama Administration, Uri Avnery
Obama Caves to Israel Lobby, Ray McGovern
On Chas Freeman’s withdrawal, Stephen Walt
What the Chas Freeman Fight Was Really About, Peter Lee