Neo-cons and AIPAC.
(note: This from an email I sent to two friends in the Colorado mountains…slightly altered).
It is difficult to accurately assess who has the upper hand on policy.
I don’t think AIPAC was the driving force for getting the US into Iraq – it was the neo-cons with their plan of pre-emptive world domination, control of ME energy resources and their plan to bring the region democracy with F-22s and Abrams tanks that dominated that decision. The Israelis and their US supporters like AIPAC were actually divided on whether to attack Iraq not being sure it was in Israel’s interest. What they had hoped was that the US would attack Iran early on which Israel and AIPAC feared more. Remember that by 2003 when Bush invaded that Iraq had already suffered 12 years of punishing sanctions – mostly the policy of Clinton Democrats, including Madelaine Albright who graced Colorado with her presence recently – that had exhausted the country and left it easy picking for military intervention. It wasn’t necessary for the US to attack Iraq as Iraq was at that point already terribly weak and essentially deflated as an effective regional power. Bush went in to establish military bases and control the oil. The point here is that it is not likely that AIPAC `drove’ US policy on that one. I have some very conservative Jewish friends who were as much against the U.S. invasion as I was (and I suppose you both were).
On Iran, however, all that opposition disappears. Iran was and is seen as a rising regional power (in part because it was strengthened by the US invasion of its regional enemy Iraq) that the US will not tolerate in the oil producing region as a counterforce to US policy there. Israel sees Iran today pretty much the way it saw Egypt in the 1960s – as a regional competitor for political and economic strength in the region. so US and Israeli strategic interests merge around countering Iran, exagerating its `strength’ (it is pretty weak itself from what I can tell), and its `threat’.
As for which is stronger, the neo-cons or AIPAC..
I believe that the neo-cons are far stronger than AIPAC, even now. They, the neo-cons, control the state apparatus, US military policy and they have the backing of powerful strategic interests (without which they could not have gone down the road they have) in the country including an important element of finance capital looking to pry open yet more sources of profit in an era of declining domestic profitability, major parts of the military (air force in particular), some corporations but whose importance cannot be minimized (defense contractors, multinational constructrion companies, the new security for profit folks) among others.
AIPAC is strong. no doubt. But its strength comes from hitching is star to different administration strategic goals and blending what it understands to be Israel’s strategic interests with those of US foreign policy in the Middle east. No doubt this last AIPAC meeting was mostly muscle flexing…when you get congress to vote 412 to 0 in favor of Israel (I think that is what the vote was) that does say something. and watching the entire US political class grovel before the AIPAC altar really makes one (one = me) nauseous, but still, the very fact that they have to try harder, that they have put on such a public display of power suggests that they perhaps in the end, they do not have quite as much as they seem. Theirs is a more open, blatant, `in-your-face’ type of power, the very fact that they have to impress suggests their limits.
I know this is controversial…and I’m not even saying AIPAC doesn’t have power – it does have inordinate influence on US policy towards Israel, but there are limits to their influence, they do not `run the show’ although they are extremely politically savvy, flexible and have learned to how to push their issues in Congress as well as or better than any other lobby I can think of (many of which have more financial resources than AIPAC).
Keep in mind that I consider them thoroughly reactionary and have been openly critical of them for years (to no avail) and will continue to be. If the US attacks Iran, as it is becoming more and more likely, much of the responsibility for whipping up the political climate for going to war will fall at their feet . There are a few – to date – feeble efforts to build more liberal, less over-the-top pro-Israel lobbying efforts, that are more moderate, but they are in an `incipient’ stage and for the moment no match for the AIPAC types.