How the Anti-Iran Lobby Machine Dominates Capitol Hill
If there were any doubts about the danger that such a bill posed to an agreement, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif laid them to rest when he was asked by Time what would happen if Washington enacted new sanctions—even those with a delayed trigger—during the talks. “The entire deal is dead,” Zarif responded.
With the wind in its sails, the White House got help from dovish groups like the Friends Committee on National Legislation and J Street, which rallied their supporters against the Menendez-Kirk-Schumer bill. Gould, the FCNL lobbyist, says members of Congress received more than 10,000 calls about it—“overwhelmingly pro-diplomacy,” she adds. Crucially, Senate majority leader Harry Reid refused to bring the bill to the floor for a vote.
Spooked, some of the sixteen Democratic co-sponsors begged off their initial support. As Senator Jeff Merkley put it in a letter to constituents, “At this time I do not support additional sanctions legislation because I share the views of many foreign policy experts that it could undermine the ongoing negotiations.” By February, AIPAC had also backed off, deploying influential constituents and donors to urge against a Senate vote, according to the Daily Beast. Even Menendez suggested that the time was not right to vote on his own bill. “While AIPAC is very powerful, it doesn’t win all the time,” says a former Obama administration official. “And because it’s misstepping so frequently, it’s losing quietly.”
With Democratic leaders averse to passing further legislation now, sanctions hawks are left with an increasingly partisan congressional base. But they remain undeterred. Should the P5+1 strike a deal with Iran, the hardliners are preparing new tactics to limit sanctions relief. Key to this strategy is shifting the goal posts. Right now, the White House is demanding that Iran reduce its uranium enrichment and allow inspectors greater access. The hawks would like to shift conventional wisdom—if not explicit policy—toward the goal of regime change. As Dubowitz put it bluntly at the FDD’s conference this spring, “The strategic problem here is the nature of the regime.”
At the end of June, Foreign Policy acquired an FDD document that it characterized as a “playbook for opposing an Obama nuclear deal with Iran.” The paper, written by Dubowitz and Senator Kirk’s recently departed deputy chief of staff, Richard Goldberg, calls on Congress to oppose the rollback of sanctions until Iran proves that its entire financial sector has no involvement in terrorism, money laundering or proliferation. By broadening the scope of requirements for sanctions relief, these demands would quickly render an otherwise historic deal into no deal at all. In July, Congress dutifully obliged: Royce, along with Democrat Eliot Engel, spearheaded a letter—signed by 342 of his colleagues—demanding a larger congressional role in talks and raising requirements on lifting sanctions to the FDD’s expansive standards. “Iran’s permanent and verifiable termination of all of these activities—not just some—is a prerequisite for permanently lifting most congressionally-mandated sanctions,” the letter stated.
The stakes, of course, are high. An agreement could open the door to a new era of improved relations with Iran and lead to desperately needed cooperation in solving what has become a regional sectarian war. The alternative is deepening confrontation—fueled by the same impulse that gave rise to the disastrous war in Iraq.
The Money Behind the Lobby
Chairman and CEO, Las Vegas Sands Corporation
Estimated worth: $36.8 billion
Over $1.5 million to the FDD between 2008 and 2011;
at least $1.04 million to AIPAC since 2007
• In October 2013, Adelson—who along with his wife, Miriam, was the GOP’s biggest donor during the 2012 presidential campaign—said the United States should drop a nuclear bomb in the Iranian desert to persuade Tehran to abandon its nuclear program.
Founder, Elliot Management hedge fund
Estimated worth: $1.5 billion.
$3.6 million to the FDD between 2008 and 2011;
$1.5 million to AIPAC between 2010 and 2011
• Singer was listed as the American Enterprise Institute’s second-largest donor in 2009, giving $2.31 million to the organization between 2009 and 2011. He was also a major fundraiser for Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign.
Co-founder, Home Depot
Estimated worth: $3.6 billion
$10.7 million to the FDD between 2008 and 2011,
making him its biggest donor in that period;
$2.1 million to the FDD in 2012;
$650,000 to the AEI between 2007 and 2012;
$2.45 million to AIPAC between 2007 and 2012
• In the 2012 presidential campaign, Marcus contributed $60,000 to the Republican National Committee and $20,000 to a Mitt Romney Super PAC; he also maxed out his personal contributions to the Romney campaign.
The contributions to AIPAC from all three donors were directed to the American Israel Education Foundation, which calls itself “the charitable organization affiliated with AIPAC.”
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