AIPAC to go all-out on Syria
By MANU RAJU
The powerful pro-Israel lobby AIPAC is planning to launch a major lobbying campaign to push wayward lawmakers to back the resolution authorizing U.S. strikes against Syria, sources said Thursday.
Officials say that some 250 Jewish leaders and AIPAC activists will storm the halls on Capitol Hill beginning next week to persuade lawmakers that Congress must adopt the resolution or risk emboldening Iran’s efforts to build a nuclear weapon. They are expected to lobby virtually every member of Congress, arguing that “barbarism” by the Assad regime cannot be tolerated, and that failing to act would “send a message” to Tehran that the U.S. won’t stand up to hostile countries’ efforts to develop weapons of mass destruction, according to a source with the group.
“History tells us that ambiguity [in U.S. actions] invites aggression,” said the AIPAC source who asked not to be named. The source added the group will now be engaged in a “major mobilization” over the issue.
Despite the group’s political muscle, it often doesn’t get involved in congressional fights over authorizing military action, and it had been mum about intervening in Syria as recently as last week.
But the stepped-up involvement comes at a welcome time for the White House, which is struggling to muster the votes in both chambers for a resolution that would give President Barack Obama the authority to engage in “limited” military action in Syria for 60 days, with one 30-day extension possible. The hawkish group also has ties to many Republicans, including ones who have been critical of the Obama administration’s handling of U.S.-Israeli affairs.
The top two Senate GOP leaders — Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Minority Whip John Cornyn of Texas — both have already been urged by top Jewish donors and AIPAC allies to back the Syria resolution, sources say. Unlike their House GOP counterparts who endorsed the measure, McConnell and Cornyn have withheld their support.
A Cornyn aide said Thursday that the senator currently opposes the Syria resolution, which will be debated on the Senate floor next week.
“If the vote were held today, Sen. Cornyn would vote no,” said Megan Mitchell, a spokeswoman for Cornyn. “What he is waiting to see is a credible plan from the administration that will achieve our national security objectives. Specifically, a plan to keep chemical weapons out of the hands of terrorists.”
Don Stewart, a spokesman for McConnell, said that his boss had yet to announce his position on the resolution. McConnell said earlier this week: “While we are learning more about his plans, Congress and our constituents would all benefit from knowing more about what it is he thinks needs to be done — and can be accomplished — in Syria and the region.”
Indeed, AIPAC and the White House also have their work cut out for them in the House — and among Democrats.
Leaving a classified briefing on Syria Thursday, Rep. Niki Tsongas (D-Mass.) said she was undecided on the issue.
“For me, it’s about what makes sense for this country,” Tsongas said when asked how the security of Israel was playing into her deliberations.