In the second century B.C., Cato the Elder, a Roman Senator, would end every speech he made with the admonition "Delenda Est Carthago," meaning that the city of Carthage, Rome’s perennial rival, must be destroyed. Among other claims, the Romans accused the Carthaginians of engaging in human sacrifice to their god Ba’al Hammon, something that one might describe as the "red line" of that era as Greco-Roman culture abhorred the practice and condemned those who engaged in it. Even though Rome dominated the Mediterranean and Carthage was in decline, Cato believed that one day the ancient resentments would again rise to the surface and a resurgent Carthage would discover a new Hannibal and take revenge. In other words, the survival of Carthage was seen as a threat to the continued existence of the Roman Republic. Cato’s argument was convincing enough to many Romans that it resulted in the Third Punic War in which Carthage was indeed destroyed.
I mention Rome and Carthage to illustrate the fact that there is nothing new under the sun when it comes to making compelling arguments about what today might be termed national security. There is in today’s world no Carthage to serve as a counterpoint to America’s new Rome, but in a nation where corruption enabled by the art of lobbying has become so refined that interest groups are able to dominate the political discourse the real enemy is internal. It is plausible to argue that the nation’s legislature is only marginally answerable to the citizens that have elected it. This has nowhere been more evident than in the still ongoing debate over America going to war against Syria, which the White House intends to initiate to establish its "credibility" in spite of the clear evidence that Damascus poses no actual threat to the United States or its interests. Even if one considers a government killing its own citizens as humanitarian grounds for outside military intervention, which I do not, the White House has failed to produce any compelling evidence that the Syrian government actually used chemical weapons against its own people. Ordinary American citizens have responded to the mess of pottage they have been served by writing and calling their congressmen and, overwhelmingly, saying "no." Even normally bellicose evangelical Christians are surprisingly nearly two to one opposed. But still congress dithers.
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) has weighed into the debate big time, unleashing hundreds of its activists on Capitol Hill, buttonholing congressmen and staffers alike. This is how it works according to a congressional staffer: "First come the phone calls from constituents who are AIPAC members. They know the Congressman and are nice and friendly and just tell him, or whichever staffer the constituent knows, just how important this vote is to him and his friends back in the district. Then the donors call. The folks who have hosted fundraisers. They are usually not only from the district but from New York or LA or Chicago. They repeat the message: this vote is very important. Contrary to what you might expect, they do not mention campaign money. They don’t have to. Because these callers are people who only know the Congressman through their checks, the threat not to write any more of them is implicit. Like the constituents, the donors are using AIPAC talking points which are simple and forceful. You can argue with them but they keep going back to the script… Then there are the AIPAC lobbyists, the professional staffers. They come in, with or without appointments. If the Congressman is in, they expect to see him immediately. If not, they will see a staffer. If they don’t like what they hear, they will keep coming back. They are very aggressive, no other lobby comes close. They expect to see the Member, not mere staff. Then there are the emails driven by the AIPAC website…and then the ‘Dear Colleague’ letters from Jewish House members saying how important the vote is for Israel and America. They also will buttonhole the Members on the House floor… And, truth be told, all the senior Jewish Members of the House are tight with AIPAC. Also, the two biggest AIPAC enforcers, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and his Democratic counterpart, Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, are fierce AIPAC partisans, and they make sure to seek out Members on the floor to tell them how they must vote. On anything related to Israel, they speak in one voice: AIPAC’s. Obviously, there is no counterpart to this on the antiwar side. No anti-AIPAC to speak of. AIPAC owns this issue. It gets what it wants."
AIPAC carefully avoided naming Israel in its statement of support for Obama even though it prides itself on being America’s pro-Israel lobby, presumably because it wishes to avoid Syria being labeled as Israel’s war if the bombing turns out badly. Which it will. AIPAC cares nothing for the fate of Syrian civilians but it does fear that failing to attack Damascus could possibly strengthen noninterventionist sentiment when it comes time to confront Iran, which it regards as Israel’s principal enemy. Its statement asserts "America’s allies and adversaries are closely watching the outcome of this momentous vote. This critical decision comes at a time when Iran is racing toward obtaining nuclear capability. Failure to approve this resolution would weaken our country’s credibility to prevent the use and proliferation of unconventional weapons and thereby greatly endanger our country’s security and interests and those of our regional allies." The White House, for its part, is increasingly playing the Israel card to gain support, with the Israeli media even reporting that Obama has asked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to intervene directly in lobbying American Jews to support an attack.