Insight and foresight from the global frontlines

Inside AIPAC and out, Obama's opponents turn up the heat

Attack ads from lobbying groups, warnings of nuclear doom from GOP hopefuls, and saber-rattling from the punditocracy surround AIPAC's annual meeting.

President Obama promised the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) to do everything in his power to stop Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon yesterday while simultaneously complaining there has been too much "loose talk" about war with the Islamic Republic.

Later today he meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who in turn will give a keynote address to AIPAC's annual meeting tonight. Iran's nuclear program will be front and center in both events, count on it.

War fever around Iran has all but obscured the quest for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, traditionally a focus of these conferences.

But a lot of the comments around the AIPAC meeting and Netanyahu's visit to Washington this week seems as much about defeating Obama in November as about Iran. Former Republican Vice President Dick Cheney's daughter, Liz Cheney, told the meeting "There is no president who has done more to delegitimize and destabilize the state of Israel in recent history than President Obama."

As Obama spoke at AIPAC yesterday, Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney told supporters at a pancake brunch in Georgia that "it's pretty straight forward in my view. If Barack Obama gets reelected, Iran will have a nuclear weapon and the world will change."

Another barb came from a paper owned by Sheldon Adelson, the Jewish-American casino magnate who has poured millions of dollars into the super PAC of Newt Gingrich. A commentary in Israel Hayom responds to an interview that Obama gave last week to The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg, in which the president promised "We’ve got Israel’s back." David Weinberg writes that the "gentleman doth protest too much" and seeks to lay out a case why Obama is dangerous for Israel.

"The US on Obama’s watch seems to be a confused and unpredictable superpower and a fair-weather friend," writes Mr. Weinberg. "This ranges from the strange burst of military activism in Libya to a lack of activism against Bashar al-Assad in Syria. From the abandonment of Hosni Mubarak to the coddling of Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan. From obsequiousness toward the king of Saudi Arabia to brutishness toward Netanyahu."

Mr. Adelson is a supporter of settlement expansion in the West Bank, something that the Obama administration (like most of its recent predecessors) opposes. The current crop of Republican candidates have promised a much softer line on settlements.

Put simply, doing political damage to Obama has been as much on the agenda of some pro-Israel groups' efforts around this AIPAC meeting as highlighting Iran's nuclear program, or making an Israeli case about what US policy should be towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In 2004, Democratic presidential hopeful John Kerry was prevented from speaking at AIPAC because the group said it had a policy against allowing challengers to a sitting president from speaking.

This year, Republican presidential candidates Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, and Rick Santorum have all been given speaking slots.

Suspicion of Obama does not appear to be confined to pro-Israel activists. Barak Ravid wrote in Haaretz over the weekend that "Netanyahu and his associates have been conveying discomfort in recent weeks about the conduct of the American government on the Iran issue. It is not clear if this is a tactic or if this is an actual feeling that Obama cannot be trusted on Iran."

The Emergency Committee for Israel, a group run by the hawkish Bill Kristol, makes no bones about its distaste for the US president. The lobbying group released an ad over the weekend attacking Obama.

The soundtrack is alarming and emotional (think poor man's Carmina Burana), the graphics menacing (metaphor alert: gathering storm clouds), and the commentary and editing are designed to frighten friends of Israel about Obama. A talking head says Obama may be "the most pro-Palestinian" president in history and another says of Obama "this is not the way you treat an ally." The video (embedded below) ends with Obama speaking to an Arab forum. He says, "I want to make sure we end before the call to prayer" and then a hard edit cuts off whatever he said next.

A nod and a wink toward the canard that Obama is secretly a Muslim? It sure seems like it.

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