By Aaron David Miller

Myths and facts conflate all too easily in our opinion-driven politics. One of the most dangerous these days is that President Obama’s Iran policy has been taken hostage by election year pandering to Israel and the pro-Israel community in America.

It’s a pernicious trope that runs counter to reality. If anything, election year uncertainties will work far more to make Obama a cautious warrior when it comes to green lighting an Israeli attack against Iran or launching one of his own.

The notion that 5.5 million American Jews in tight alliance with the country’s evangelical Christians hold America’s Middle East policy hostage is one of the most dangerous yet enduring myths of American politics and foreign policy.

It is particularly strong in Europe and in the Arab world, where the inability to understand either how American politics actually works or the depth of the U.S.-Israeli relationship lead to a cardboard conspiracy theory whereby an Israeli prime minister turns the White House and Congress into Israeli occupied territory.

Israel’s supporters and detractors further cloud the debate by willful or unintentional distortions. For too many pro-Israel advocates, American support for Israel has little to do with domestic politics and everything to do with the deep value- affinity and common interests that bind the two countries; for too many of Israel’s detractors and critics, politics is all there is; without the influence of American Jews, the argument goes, the president would have a much freer hand when it comes to protecting the national interest.

Both sides have it wrong. The pro-Israel constituency has a powerful voice, to be sure, particularly in Congress, where politics dominate. But that community doesn’t have a veto, or anything close to one. And there’s little historical evidence to the contrary. Presidents don’t seek out fights with an important domestic constituency, particularly in an election year; but when a smart and determined president chooses to follow the national interest rather than a narrow political one — from arms sales to the Arabs to the peace process, the White House prevails. Sometimes the fight is messy; but willful presidents with the national interest at their back usually win out.

Given the tone and tenor of the conversation on Iran in Washington these days, you wouldn’t think so. Read more…

Aaron David Miller is a public policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and the author of “The Much Too Promised Land: America’s Elusive Search for Arab-Israeli Peace.”

As published in www.nytimes.com on March 7, 2012 (a version of this op-ed appeared in print on March 8, 2012, in The International Herald Tribune).


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