How Not To Influence Friends In Congress
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How Not To Influence Friends In Congress

Editor & Publisher of The NY Jewish Week.

‘Senator Schumer, I’m looking at you,” conservative talk radio personality Monica Crowley announced defiantly during last Wednesday’s grassroots “Stop Iran Now” rally in Times Square. She was figuratively addressing Chuck Schumer, the key New York politician who could help reverse U.S. approval of the nuclear agreement with Iran.

“We all know you would walk over your grandmother to be Senate Democratic leader,” she said. “Here’s your chance to earn the leadership that you so definitely desire” by voting against the deal.

The crowd of thousands, scattered over several blocks in the midst of rush-hour traffic and, by appearance, largely Orthodox, cheered mightily. I had a fleeting thought that Dale Carnegie, the 20th century behavioral guru and author of “How To Win Friends and Influence People,” would have winced at Crowley’s approach: Persuasion through public humiliation.

She was not alone, though, among the many rally speakers in both demonizing and demanding.

Although the organizers of the rally told me in advance that the speakers had been warned against personal attacks on President Obama and were urged to emphasize a bipartisan message, they didn’t seem to get the message. Whenever the names of President Obama, John Kerry or Hillary Clinton were mentioned, boos rang out for blocks.

Calling these Democratic officials cowards, charlatans and fools may have been emotionally satisfying for the orators — and red meat for the right-wing crowd. But if the practical goal was to convince at least 13 Democratic senators to put principle over politics and resist the president by striking down the Iran deal as immoral, ineffective and a clear danger to the values and security of the United States, mocking our national leaders was not the way to go.

In truth, the approach mirrored that of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu earlier this year when he chose to defy Obama and publicly attack the president’s Iran policy in the halls of Congress. Great theater, but it had the opposite of its intended effect. Rather than drawing enough congressional Democrats — especially Jewish ones — to block the president, it drove them to defend him instead. And in the process they blamed Netanyahu for forcing them to choose between their commitment to Israel and loyalty to their own country and commander in chief.

Although I oppose the Iran deal, as I’ve written often in these pages, I was disappointed — but not surprised — by the highly partisan tone of the rally, which was primarily sponsored by right-of-center and Orthodox groups. This was an event for venting, not for convincing.

Maybe that’s just human nature. It takes time to get past the frustration over this Iran nuclear deal and reach the point of facing reality, deciding how best to live with it. Maybe I’m not there yet either.

The most frustrating aspect of the president’s deal is that its strongest point — that Tehran might only be a few months away from a nuclear bomb if Congress rejects the agreement — is the direct result of America’s infuriatingly weak negotiating tactics.

It didn’t have to be this way. There could have been a diplomatic resolution that reflected the muscle of the United States in confronting the revolutionary regime in Iran, the world’s leading exporter of terrorism. Coercive diplomacy lets your enemy know that you are prepared to take military action if the negotiations don’t meet your goals. In addition, the Iran talks should have focused on, rather than ignored, the fact that the nuclear issue was part of a broader and deeper concern about Iran’s murderous behavior across the Middle East, and beyond — part of a religious and ideological mandate to spread its Islamic hegemony.

The White House decision to narrow the negotiations to the nuclear issue, and no other, while Iran’s supreme leader and Revolutionary Guard remain intent on defeating our way of life, is still galling to me. What if the U.S. had made a deal with Hitler during World War II that added to his war chest and allowed the crematoriums to burn on, in return for, say, staying out of the rest of Western Europe?

Immoral? Pragmatic? Both?

Once President Obama removed the stick but kept the carrot in the Iran negotiations and indicated over and over again that he wanted this deal more than our Iranian enemies, we were left with an agreement that legitimizes and guarantees Iran as a nuclear threshold state. It also unfreezes up to $150 billion to enable Tehran to accelerate its murderous goals, made clear through its chants: “Death to America and Death to Israel.”

Freeing an aging and ill Jonathan Pollard after 30 years in jail doesn’t begin to compensate for putting the Middle East, and ultimately America, in grave danger. And the plan to offer more arms to Israel so it can protect itself from the missiles of Hezbollah and Hamas — the very proxies of Iran whose arsenals the U.S. is helping to boost — seems like a cross between chutzpah and Chelm.

While Bibi Netanyahu is locked into continuing his condemnation of the deal so as not to betray the Republicans he revved up to oppose it, and while our national Jewish leaders contemplate the risks of sponsoring a major protest in Washington in September, fearful that not enough of us will show up, it’s time to step back and re-evaluate the situation.

Yes, the president promised us “no containment,” and now we face containing rather than preventing a nuclear Iran. Yes, the U.S. negotiators backed away from many of their red lines along the way. But we have to get past the emotional frustration of what could have/should have been in negotiating with Iran, and deal with the new reality in two distinct ways.

For the next six weeks that means keeping the spotlight and pressure on our local senators and other key Democratic leaders in Congress. Let them know our future support depends on their actions now, that it’s not too late to insist on a tougher deal, and that we’re watching closely.

But for ethical, political and practical reasons, let’s do it with dignity.

At the same time, though, we need to prepare for the likely outcome that the Iran deal, approved by America’s five world-power partners, is already done. That makes it all the more important for Jerusalem to lick its wounds, repair its relations with the U.S. and work together to respond when — not if — Iran violates the agreement.  

gary@jewishweek.org

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