AIPAC 2010: Listen to the applause, Mr. President


All eyes are on this year’s AIPAC’s policy conference after two weeks of tensions between the Obama and Netanyahu administrations.

Tomorrow, Hillary Clinton, the secretary of state who upbraided the Netanyahu government for its "insult" of a building announcement in eastern Jerusalem during Vice President Joe Biden’s Israel visit, is addressing the conference. There is, inevitably, lots of speculation about how she will be received.

The opening panel provides clues. Ostensibly, it’s bipartisan, or kind of: Dan Senor, its moderator, was a Bush White House adviser on Iraq; Robert Kagan, a historian, was a Reagan administration state department official, an Iraq War booster and an adviser to John McCain’s 2008 presidential candidacy; Evan Bayh is the Indiana Democrat who just announced that he is not running this year to keep his U.S. Senate seat; Robert Satloff runs the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a think tank that trends from center to right (and he trends right); Tal Becker was an adviser to Tzipi Livni when she was foreign minister.

In fact — and this is not atypical of AIPAC’s conferences, past and present — the debate ranges from "engage with the world outside the U.S.-Israel nexus with a great deal of skepticism" to "engage with the world outside the U.S.-Israel nexus with absolute skepticism." There are some exceptions — a few true blue doves, including Daniel Kurtzer and Ned Walker (both former U.S. ambassadors to Israel) and Scott Lasensky of the U.S. Institute of Peace — are scattered throughout the program.

But President Obama’s policy of outreach to the Iran, to the Arab and Muslim world? This just ain’t the venue for it.

Applause for Kagan’s punchy digs at Obama this morning made for an interesting metric: He was applauded for calling on the Obama administration to "reset" its relationship with Israel and other allies, and when asked how the Obama administration could make its Middle East policy case in Europe, he said: "It can start by not creating a bilateral crisis over a faux settlements dispute."

Satloff and Bayh — a pronounced centrist in his party — earned applause for insisting on making the military option with Iran clear. "We have to contemplate the final option, the use of force to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon," Bayh said.

Any note of skepticism of Israel’s role in the matter was left to the Israeli, Becker, who spoke of a generic need for "leadership" to advance the U.S.-Israel relationship and Israeli security, suggesting that the crisis was not entirely generated on one side of the Atlantic.

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