Give Me An I

Give Me An I

Whaddya got? You got the Israel 2009 pep rally, more formally known as the “AIPAC Policy Conference: The pro-Israel community”s preeminent annual gathering, with world leaders and activists, Policy Conference 2009, May 3-5, Washington, D.C.”

AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee calls itself America”s Pro-Israel Lobby. The annual Israel pep rally is unique. There is no other country that has a promotional pep rally like this. Imagine, Israel is only about the size of New Jersey, with a million less people than New Jersey, and yet the American Israel Public Affairs Committee has such clout. I”m guessing that there”s money involved. Lots of money.

The 2009 Israel Pep Rally promises to a blockbuster. If it”s anything like previous years it”ll feature 7,000 people, paying $499 each, including half the US Senate and many House members. It”ll be followed by 500 meetings with lawmakers in furtherance of policies and programs friendly to Israel.

To get a real feeling of the content and energy level, view the video here.

Talk about clout — we all remember the 2008 rally with its stellar lineup: Clinton, McCain, Obama, Pelosi, Reid, and Rice.

The big news from that pep rally was not the speakers — particularly Obama, Clinton, Pelosi and Reid — praising Israel to the hills and dumping on Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran, and of course keeping the threat of military action on the table, those were expected. Obama and Clinton, in particular, not only provided the required fulsome praise for Israel but also, after being in a tough campaign, praised each other. Their mutual love for Israel apparently healed all the campaign wounds.

Obama, after dissing Clinton in the nominating campaign for bad judgment on Iraq and a lack of foreign policy experience (shared with Obama):

I want to publicly acknowledge Hillary Clinton for the outstanding race that she has run. She is a true friend of Israel; she is a great senator from New York; she is an extraordinary leader of the Democratic Party and she has made history alongside me over the last 16 months, so I’m very proud to have competed against her.

Clinton, after stressing Obama”s lack of experience, but now realizing she would not have a chance at the presidency but possiblty would get some other top job:

I know–I know Senator Obama understands what is at stake here; it has been an honor to contest these Primaries with him. It is an honor to call him my friend and let me be very clear. I know that Senator Obama will be a good friend to Israel. I know that Senator Obama shares my view that the next President must be ready to say to the world, America’s position is unchanging; our resolve unyielding; our stance non-negotiable. The United States stands with Israel now and forever.

Two political candidates who had had been (politically) ripping each others” throats out for six months were brought together in a (political) embrace by a common love for Israel, pledging their mutual (political) troth. The 2008 rally covered all the big Israeli issues, including Gaza and Iran, and this year will be no different. Palestine and Iran top the list.

The speakers lineup for the upcoming 2009 Israel pep rally is not so stellar. This year AIPAC will hear from Senators Durbin, Kyl and Kerry, Representatives Hoyer and Cantor, LA mayor Villaraigosa, Robert Satloff, as well as James Woolsey and Newt Gingrich.

That was the speakers” list in early April. In late April two more names were added: Maj. Gen. Ido Nechustan, commander of the Israeli Air Force, and Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA).

How interesting. It”s quite unusual to have a military speaker at the pep rally. General Nechustan (or Nehushtan) was appointed Commander of the Israel Air Force in February 2008. The next month he published: “How Will the IDF Confront Regional Threats? – A Strategic Overview.” extracts:

The three primary generators of Middle East radicalism and extremism are Iran”s “Shia Crescent,” the Muslim Brotherhood, and the Global Jihad. Having a nuclear weapon promotes its owner to membership in a top-tier club in the world and allows the possessor to promote its interests more easily. Iran is Persian, ideologically and historically different from the Arab world. Yet if Iran gets its hands on nuclear weapons in the future, the threatened pro-Western regimes of the Arab world may decide to join it and not fight it.

Iran”s nuclearization process is bringing a new dimension to the conflict. The process by itself is increasing regional fears. Having a nuclear weapon promotes its owner to membership in a top-tier club in the world. Having nuclear weapons is the ultimate insurance policy, and allows the possessor to promote its interests and negative policies (i.e., support of terror) more easily. This is the process we see now with Iran and that is why it”s so important to stop Iran from having a nuclear weapon.

So General Nechustan sees no danger in nuclear weapons themselves, but rather in their ability to national interests.

Congresswoman Harman, the other name recently added to the agenda, was recently outraged to learn from reports leaked to the media over the last several days that the FBI or NSA secretly wiretapped her conversations in 2005 or 2006 while she was Ranking Member on the House Intelligence Committee. Harman”s views on Iran have changed over the past several years. In 2006 the view was hazy:

I continue to believe that our sources are stale and our case is thin on the weapons programs and internal politics of Iran, Ms. Harman of California, said.

In 2007 it improved:

it [the NIE] very clearly states the case, which is pretty persuasive as you read it, that Iran stopped its development of nuclear weapons in 2003 and at least at present has no intention to resume the development of nuclear weapons. . .It”s hard to penetrate Iran; a fair criticism which I am making is our government makes it harder because we don”t talk to Iran.

And in 2008 Harman saw more clearly, if not truthfully:

the dangers posed by unsupervised, weapons-grade material in the hands of a regime that has threatened to “wipe Israel off the map” [all untrue] are unacceptable . . .Iran”s unsupervised [untrue] nuclear program poses an existential threat to Israel and possibly other nations.

An interesting nugget came out of a PBS interview of Harman on April 21, 2009.

I just came back from a second trip to Israel in this calendar year.

It”s interesting because there is no report on Harman”s official website on why a Congresswoman on the House Homeland Security Committee (Pelosi had removed Harman from Intelligence) found it necessary to visit Israel twice in less than four months. Perhaps the facts that Harman has become more hawkish on Iran and is Jewish have something to do with it? Or did it fit in with the addition of Harman”s name to the rally agenda as an AIPAC ploy to force the administration”s hand on the charges against Harman (I like that one)?
UPDATE: Israeli President Shimon Peres is confirmed for the 2009 AIPAC Policy Conference. In addition, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will speak to conference delegates via satellite.

The speaker that is most important on this list is Senator Kerry because, as Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, his words will no doubt reflect the Obama/Clinton positions. Before we conjecture as to what Kerry might say, let”s quickly look at what the other speakers have said about Israe”s concerns.

Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin (D-IL):

Comprehensive legislation aimed at discouraging Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons was recently introduced on both the U.S. House and Senate floors, and now the bill’s proponents, including lead sponsor U. S. Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin, are asking for support from their fellow congressmen. . .The best way to deal with Iran is to aggressively pursue sanctions regimes such as the proposed legislation and not to fight through military action, Durbin said. “If any president of the U.S., be it this one or any president in the future, suggested military invasions or military operations involving Iran, I don’t think the American population would support it,” he said, noting that the current situation in Iraq has “poisoned the wells.” . .”I would have thought this time that the Israelis would have gone into Lebanon hard enough to destroy Hezbollah.”

more Durbin:

“The Israeli people, of course, have been the victims of the terrorist attacks by these Hamas rockets, which are now capable of longer ranges and more damage and bloodshed, and the Israelis want to bring an end to this. When they left the Gaza strip, it was to try to bring peace to this area, return it to the hands of the Palestinians. And sadly, the Palestinian people have been victimized by incompetent and corrupt leadership, and at this point in time, I think the Israelis have said we have to put an end to these attacks from Gaza into Israel.”

Republican Whip Jon Kyl (R-AZ):

“I have long believed that the American-Israeli strategic relationship is very important to both countries and that Israel is a beacon of democracy and tolerance in a troubled region. I am proud of my long record of working with Israel and my role as co-chairman of the U.S.-Israel Joint Parliamentary Committee on National Security, a group consisting of members of Congress and the Knesset that continues to meet and explore ways our two legislatures can work together to advance our common security interests. . .I have always tried to hold a comprehensive view of extremism that includes terrorist groups and their state sponsors, as well. It is not just Hamas and other Islamist terrorist groups, then, but also their sponsors—Iran and Syria—that the U.S. and our allies must confront. . .The most serious threat is Iran, with the lesser threat from Syria.”

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD):

“Today this House stands united in support of Israel as it faces enemies bent on its destruction. For eight years, Hamas, aided by Iran and others, has sent deadly rockets and mortars into Israel. In 2005, Israel dismantled its settlements and withdrew its military from Gaza—and still the rockets came, more than 6,000 since Israel’s withdrawal. Each one of them—intended to kill the maximum number of civilians, and falling indiscriminately on southern Israel’s cities and towns—was a war crime, by definition. Their harm is undeniable, and I have seen it firsthand; when I travelled to the southern Israeli town of Sderot, I met families whose children had lost the ability to speak, who no longer had control of their bodily functions. That is the profound and ever-present fear that covers much of Israel today.

Hoyer on Iran:

Iran with nuclear weapons is unacceptable, new House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told The Jerusalem Post hours after entering the party leadership position. The Maryland Democrat said the view is shared by his party, rejecting assertions that the Democrats would be weaker than the Republicans on Iran. He also said that the use of force against Teheran remained an option.

House Republican Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA), (from an article co-authored with Steny Hoyer):

During this difficult war in the Gaza Strip, we stand with Israel. Why? Because we have been to Israel. We have seen Sderot. . .Like most Americans, we identify strongly with Israel”s ongoing, elusive quest to achieve peace and security in a dangerous part of the world. We recognize that by arming and training Hamas, Iran has made this latest Israel-Hamas war a key front in its effort to remake the region in its own radical image.

more on Cantor:

A stalwart conservative who happens to be the only Jewish Republican in the House of Representatives, Mr. Cantor, a fourth-term Congressman, represents Virginia’s seventh district, a mixture of state capital and western Virginia conservatism. His views on Israel and its struggle against Palestinian terror are among the most hawkish in Congress. He has sponsored legislation that would cut off all US taxpayer aid to the PA until they put a halt to unauthorized excavations on the Temple Mount.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa recently added his voice in support of Israeli military operations in Gaza.

In a statement, Villaraigosa said “every country has a right to defend itself against attacks from a foreign enemy. Every nation is obligated to beat back forces dedicated to its destruction. And Israel cannot sit silently while innocent civilians are attacked.”

Los Angeles Muslim leaders have been deeply disappointed with the Mayor”s stand on Gaza, but what have their financial contributions anounted to? Villaraigosa has made the obligatory visit to Sderotand has also adorned the LA City Hall with an exhibition of drawings by Israeli children from that Israeli city.

Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich is focusing on Iran:

The Israeli people are facing the threat of a nuclear Holocaust, former US Speaker of the House of Representatives Newt Gingrich warned the Herzliya Conference held by the Institute for Policy and Strategy at IDC Herzliya on Tuesday afternoon. . .”Israel is in the greatest danger it has been in since 1967. Prior to “67, many wondered if Israel would survive. After “67, Israel seemed military dominant, despite the “73 war. I would say we are (now) back to question of survival,” Gingrich said. . . “Three nuclear weapons are a second Holocaust,” Gingrich declared, adding: “People are greatly underestimating how dangerous the world is becoming. I”ll repeat it, three nuclear weapons are a second Holocaust. Our enemies are quite explicit in their desire to destroy us. They say it publicly? We are sleepwalking through this process as though it”s only a problem of communication,” Gingrich said.

Gingrich again:

“I oppose a military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities because I think it is inadequate. I am for achieving more than a military strike, not less than one. Our goal has to be to replace the current dictatorship. We should begin with a Reaganite strategy of helping organize every dissident group in Iran, dramatically expanding our information campaign into the country, applying diplomatic and economic pressure, but we cannot stop there. We certainly have to be prepared to use military force if necessary but only if these earlier efforts fail.”

James Woolsey, a former CIA director, will also be a speaker at the rally.

from an article by John Taylor: James Woolsey. . . “If you don”t think Iran is interested in nuclear weapons … I”ve got a bridge in Brooklyn I”d be happy to offer you. Of course it”s a nuclear weapons program.” . . Not satisfied with the overthrow of the Iraqi regime, Woolsey has argued vehemently that Syria, Iran, the Palestinian Authority, Saudi Arabia, and even the U.S.-allied military dictatorship in Egypt all represent major threats to the United States. . . As part of his argument for radical and violent change, Woolsey asserts that the hostility of many Arab and Muslim societies to the West and Western ideas is rooted in the nature of their autocratic, Islam-influenced governments. . .Woolsey claims that in the 1960s he and his wife Sue actually saw a UFO.

Woolsey has more red meat to throw at the conferees:

“We have a situation where democracies in the west such as Israel and the US, and Japan and others too, are at war with a group of Islamist totalitarianism ideologies and movements – very loosely analogous to the movements of the 20s and 30s – Fascism, Nazism, Communism, and Japanese imperialism…” Asked his opinion on the establishment of a Palestinian state, the former CIA director recommended that it not happen in the coming decades. He said that though the Jewish presence in this region precedes the Moslem claim – “for some Muslims like Arafat to deny that Jews were ever present here is idiotic” . . .Openly avoiding the question of the nature or borders of a Palestinian state, he emphasized his opinion that “the Palestinians should not be granted the right to statehood until they start to treat Israeli Jews who settle in the West Bank as fairly as Israel treats its Muslim citizens.”

Robert Satloff, executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, will offer some more red meat.

“You [Israel] control the territory. You will be the ones who make the calculations over the relative importance of geography, security, and demography. In broad strokes, you are masters of your own fate. Almost every other actor is reactive. Historically, the Palestinians are reactive. . .My government is essentially reactive, too. And this is a good thing. The basic approach of the United States, including leaders of both parties and across administrations, is to try to be as helpful as they can to governments of Israel that seek ways to ensure peace and security for the people of Israel. . .if Israel defines its own roadmap as a unilateral path, America will support it too, despite its rhetorical commitment to that other Roadmap. “The key, in my view, is in the deciding. The rest, as the sages say, is commentary.”

Satloff again:

“Defeat for Israel–either on the battlefield or via coerced compromises to achieve flawed cease-fires–is a defeat for U.S. interests; it will inspire radicals of every stripe, release Iran and Syria to spread more mayhem inside Iraq, and make more likely our own eventual confrontation with this emboldened alliance of extremists. Victory–in the form of Hezbollah”s disarmament, the expulsion of the Iranian military presence from Lebanon, the eviction of Meshal and friends from Damascus, and the demise of the Hamas government in Gaza–is, by the same token, also a victory for U.S. (and Western) interests.”

Now the big gun, John Kerry (D-MA), Chairman of the Semate Foreign Relations Committee. Okay, he made even George Bush look good in 2004, an almost impossible task, but he”s not a bad legislator. This committee held hearings on Iran on March 5. But first, let”s look at Kerry”s stated position on Palestine. (Incidentally, Kerry has not only made the obligatory visit to Sderot but has also visited post-slaughter Gaza.)

So why do I believe we can succeed now where we have failed before?

I believe it because broader trends present an opening to make peace possible. In fact, I see four major causes for hope, which together comprise a case for action.

The first and most important is a tectonic shift in Middle East geopolitics. The rise of Iran has created an unprecedented willingness among the moderate Arab nations to work with Israel. This re-alignment can help lay the groundwork for progress towards peace.

Second, the Arab Peace Initiative has emerged as the basis on which to build a Regional Road Map that enlists moderate Arab nations to play a more active role in peacemaking and to paint a clearer picture than ever before of the rewards peace would bring to all parties.

Third, the outlines of a final status agreement are in fact clearer than ever. The challenge is how we get there. I believe the answer is to move simultaneously on capacity-building in the West Bank and final status talks.

Fourth, the Obama Administration presents an extraordinary opportunity for a new beginning where America reclaims the role of an active and creative agent for peace. We can capitalize on this by charting a new path that will empower moderates on all sides who have been lacking political cover and losing political ground.

The recent Senate Iran hearing featured a statement (excerpt) from Kerry:

I have long said that, following consultations with our allies and partners, we must engage directly with Iran, and I’m glad that this idea’s day is coming. But as I said on Tuesday, we must be honest with ourselves: we will not solve this problem just by talking directly to Tehran. While Iran was just talking to the IAEA and the Europeans, it deftly sidestepped every supposed red-line laid down by the international community. While Iran was just talking to the world, it moved to the threshold of becoming a nuclear-capable state.

Iran’s leaders need to understand that the full weight of the international community will come down on them if Iran continues to defy the United Nations Security Council and the International Atomic Energy Agency. It also needs to understand that talks will not be a substitute for Iran meeting its international obligations.

In short, we need to act boldly, wisely, and quickly with our allies and partners to win agreement on the way forward, and to engage Iran backed by real consequences for its continued non-compliance. I am hopeful that a solution to this problem may yet lie within our reach, and I am looking forward to today’s discussion and our witnesses’ guidance and recommendations on how to actually do that.

It is not just an American problem, and it cannot be just an American solution.

Among those testifying before the committee were Zbigniew Brzezinski, national security adviser for President Jimmy Carter, and Gen. Brent Scowcroft, national security adviser for presidents Gerald Ford and George H. W. Bush.

Brzezinski (excerpt):

Current U.S. policy toward the regime in Tehran will almost certainly result in an Iran with nuclear weapons. The seemingly clever combination of the use of “sticks” and “carrots,” including the frequent official hints of an American military option “remaining on the table,” simply intensifies Iran”s desire to have its own nuclear arsenal. Alas, such a heavy-handed “sticks” and “carrots” policy may work with donkeys but not with serious countries. The United States would have a better chance of success if the White House abandoned its threats of military action and its calls for regime change.

and Scowcroft:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – If Iran is allowed to pursue a nuclear weapons capability, countries around the world might feel compelled to take the same path, Brent Scowcroft, who advised two U.S. presidents on national security, said on Thursday.

“We”re on the cusp of an explosion of proliferation and Iran is now the poster child,” said Scowcroft, who served under former President Gerald Ford and President George Bush, the father of former President George W. Bush.

“If Iran is allowed to go forward, in self-defense or for a variety of reasons we could have half-a-dozen countries in the region and 20 or 30 more around the world, doing the same thing, just in case,” he told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Finally, this from a Kerry letter to a constituent:

I believe we must deliver a strong message to the Iranians as part of a comprehensive approach that imposes effective, multilateral sanctions should they continue to defy the will of the world. As part of our multilateral diplomatic efforts, the U.S. and our allies must offer real incentives for verifiable nuclear cooperation.

NOTE: The “will of the world” consists of a demand by the United Nations that Iran cease doing what it is legally entitled to do under international law, which is to pursue the benefits of nuclear power. The UN Atomic Energy Agency has continually determined that Iran is in compliance with its legal obligations, i.e. that it is not diverting fuel from its intended purpose.

It should be quite an event. Will Harman show up, and if she does will she get the best welcome? Will the general announce “bombs away” as he speaks? Will anyone take any notice of the other boring on-message speakers? Will Kerry come up with something new? Stay tuned.

Don Bacon is a retired army officer who founded the Smedley Butler Society several years ago because, as General Butler said, war is a racket. Other articles by Don Bacon may be found here and here.

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