On March 12, the Democratic majority in the House of Representatives voted to take out of the war spending bill a provision that would, with some exceptions, require the president to seek congressional approval before using military force in Iran.
According to Congressman David Obey, the provision was dropped because it was drawing enough opposition to endanger the whole effort for Congress to set a date for ending the Iraq War.
But why were so many Congressmembers ready to oppose an effort to uphold their own Constitutional powers against a runaway President?
On March 8, CQ Today reported that "Hawkish pro-Israel lawmakers are pushing [to strike out that provision]. The influential American Israel Public Affairs Committee also is working to keep the language out, said an aide to a pro- Israel lawmaker."
CQ Today is a daily offshoot of the Congressional Quarterly. It has a long and excellent reputation for getting its facts right.
Why was AIPAC trying to eliminate this provision?
No question, we're a free country. AIPAC has the legal right as a matter of free speech to urge any cockamamie idea that floats into its head. People who view with special horror the idea of an "Israel lobby" sometimes seem to think that using energy and money to affect Congress is undemocratic. (Or is it Jewish energy and money that's the problem? I recall much less venom when the "Irish lobby" was urging US support for terrorists against the British Empire.) This kind of criticism is nonsense.
The legal right -- sure. But -- wisdom? Concern for decency, liberty, justice and the rule of law? That's another thing.
First of all, there's that small matter of the Constitution. One of the things that keeps us a "free country" is that presidents don't have the authority to run off to war without Congressional approval. Some Presidents need to be reminded -- and this one leads the list.
Secondly, when have we ever had a President whose competence to start a war and succeed in it has less credibility than this one?
One of the wisest passages of Torah warns us not to give a ruler power over an aggressive army with offensive weapons (horse-chariots) and unaccountable gold and silver -- lest he lift up his heart above the citizenry. (Deut. 17:14-20 )
When have we suffered a President more arrogant than this one?
After the last four years, who would want to trust the lives, limbs, eyes, genitals, minds, and souls of their sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, to the discretion of this president -- to fling if he chooses into the furnace of a war?
But AIPAC does not concoct its policies by wrestling seriously with Jewish wisdom, Jewish values.
Its sole criterion is "friendship" between the US government and any transient government of Israel. (Though it seems far more comfortable with right-wing Israeli governments, as Yitzhak Rabin found.)
So AIPAC thinks letting the President choose to attack Iran would benefit Israel? Four years ago, the only two nations in the world where both the government and the majority of the public supported the US invasion of Iraq were the US -- and Israel.
Now the Israeli security "experts" acknowledge it was a terrible error -- because it has greatly strengthened the hand of Iran, which they think poses worse problems that Saddam's Iraq did; because the invasion has BOTH stirred many more Arabs to more rage against the West, and given them more experience about turning their rage into violence; and because the Iraq war has drastically weakened the US, Israel's chief protector.
Such a catastrophic misjudgment four years ago -- and yet AIPAC should lobby to make an even worse misjudgment easier today?
Of course Iran's policies and proclamations make for serious problems and concerns. But they are not yet dangerous enough to make legitimate -- or wise -- an extremely dangerous recourse to preventive or aggressive war, instead of diplomacy.
Perhaps the American Jewish community -- even AIPAC -- should be drawing on the multigenerational wisdom of Torah for shaping its policy: "When you approach a city to make war, first proclaim peace to it."
And on the wisdom of insisting that the ruler, the President, get permission from Congress and the American people before lifting up his heart in arrogance and daring to make war.