Iran is sure giving headaches to the presidential candidates for 2008. The problem is not as much the country as a whole as it is their leadership that denies the existence of the Shoah and calls for Israel's destruction.
The political tightrope has been on prominent display in recent weeks, as liberal insiders denounced former senator John Edwards, a prominent critic of the war in Iraq, for his hawkish address before an Israeli security forum. At the same time, Jewish communal leaders have criticized former general Wesley Clark for implying that pro-Israel activists were pushing the Bush administration toward confrontation with Iran.Kosovo is seeking their independence and would like American support.
Edwards’s speech, delivered via satellite to the high-powered Herzliya Conference on January 22, seemed designed to convey unwavering resolve without committing to any particular course of action that might come back to haunt his campaign or a future presidency. “Under no circumstances can Iran be allowed to have nuclear weapons,” Edwards insisted. “As to what we should do,” he said in response to a question, “we should not take anything off the table… I would not want to say in advance what we would do, and what I would do as president.”
Clark landed in hot water in early January when he reportedly told liberal blogger Arianna Huffington that he feared Bush might strike against Iran. “The Jewish community is divided, but there is so much pressure being channeled from the New York money people to the office seekers,” he said, according to Huffington. Clark later wrote in a letter to the Anti-Defamation League insisting that he rejected any antisemitic conspiracies, and explaining that he backed dialogue with Tehran, while keeping the military option on the table.
Both recent tussles, several Democratic insiders told the Forward, demonstrate the pressures driving Democratic contenders to calibrate carefully their public statements on Iran as they aim to please an array of constituencies that includes hawkish pro-Israel donors; the party’s liberal, anti-war base, and, ultimately, general election voters, who must envision candidates in the role of commander in chief.
“It’s so awkward for Democrats on an issue like Iran,” said Steve Rabinowitz, a Democratic strategist who served in the Clinton administration and is backing Hillary Clinton in the 2008 race. “I can’t believe that there’s a Democratic presidential candidate who wants to go to war… but especially for Democrats — and especially, regretably, for a woman Democrat or Democrats without a lot of experience — there is a very tough foreign policy, national security, military threshold that they have to meet in order to be deemed qualified by the electorate.”
Like Edwards, Senator Clinton has recently echoed the alarm that some Jewish constituencies are voicing over Iran. Last December, she sent a letter to be read at a press conference, held by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and by the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, in response to Tehran’s Holocaust denial conference. “We cannot and should not — must not — permit Iran to build or acquire nuclear weapons,” the letter concluded. This week, on Thursday, Clinton was slated to deliver the keynote address at the Northeast regional dinner for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
Other contenders have recently spoken out against any rush to widen the Iraq War through a confrontation with Iran. Senator Barack Obama, an Illinois Democrat who opposed the 2002 resolution granting President Bush the right to use force in Iraq, has rebuked the administration in recent days over the escalation of fighting with Iranian operatives. So has the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Delaware Democrat Joseph Biden, who has long spoken out about the dangers of a nuclear Iran. Like Edwards and Clinton, Biden backed the 2002 resolution but went on to become a vocal critic of the administration’s conduct of the war.
Lenny Ben-David writes about the congressional trips to Israel.
Regarding Jim Abourezk's Jan. 26 Opinion piece, "The hidden cost of free congressional trips to Israel": I suppose I am one whom Mr. Abourezk would take to task for hosting members of the US Congress in Israel and exposing the members to "only [one] side of the story." As head of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee's Jerusalem office for 15 years, I oversaw the scheduling of congressional missions in Israel.It appears that Iranian leadership is failing their own country.
Members met with Israel's leadership, visited sites holy to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and viewed Israel's vulnerable borders. And on every trip, we scheduled meetings with Palestinian leaders such as Mahmoud Abbas, Ahmed Queria, and Sari Nusseibeh.
Congressional support for Israel doesn't come about because of fear or arm-twisting, as Abourezk charges. It derives from the American people's support for Israel. There are polls showing that Americans support Israel over the Palestinians, and Americans have told pollsters that they view Israel as a friend to the US.
The failures of Arab lobbying organizations over the years are not because of some money conspiracy. It's because, in the best democratic tradition, Congress reflects the spirit of the American people.