President Barack Obama invoked the Iraq War to rally liberal organizers to make their voices heard in favor of the Iran nuclear deal.
During a 22-minute phone call last Thursday evening with thousands of primarily Jewish organizers, Obama said, “One of the frustrations that I’ve always had about the run-up to the Iraq War is that everybody got really loud and really active after it was too late.”
Obama issued a challenge to listeners to “get more active and loud and involved and informed and start making your voices heard with respect to members of Congress because the lobbying that’s taking place on the other side is fierce, it is well financed, it is relentless.”
The president specifically drew attention to “the $20 million that’s being spent lobbying against the deal on TV ads that are already running” and linked those opposition groups to columnists and “former administration officials that were responsible for us getting into the Iraq War.”
Obama’s comments were a thinly veiled swipe at Citizens for a Nuclear Free Iran, a new action group backed by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which has reportedly raised between $20 million and $40 million to shore up opposition to the agreement.
J Street, the liberal self-described pro-Israel, pro-peace lobbying group, has raised $5 million dollars to promote the deal and continues to fundraise, according to Jessica Rosenblum, director of communications for J Street.
Matt Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, shot back at the president’s comments, particularly in reference to lobbyists.
“Apparently, the president’s claim that he ‘welcomes a robust debate’ was just rhetoric — like his administration’s repeated pledges to make Iran submit to ‘anytime, anywhere inspections,” Brooks said in a statement. “President Obama should stick to the facts and stop demonizing Americans who are rightly skeptical of his dubious deal with the Tehran regime.”
Greg Rosenbaum, chair of the National Jewish Democratic Council, dismissed the RJC’s criticism.
“I listened to those words and heard, ‘This is what’s lining up against you on the other side of the line… get organized and be able to play the game with equal force,” said Rosenbaum. “I view those comments as nothing more than a locker room speech.”
According to Rosenbaum, the NJDC will use resources, both monetary and people, to support the agreement, which the organization concluded was “a good deal for the U.S. and for Israel, and more broadly, for the world as a whole.”
Patrick Dorton, a spokesperson with CNFI, declined to comment on the specific allegation by the president that the opposition is composed of “billionaires who happily finance superPACs.”
“We hope that Americans and members of Congress take a close look at all the details,” said Dorton. “This is a very important decision. This isn’t just a so-so deal. It’s a terrible deal for the United States. Our campaign is a public education effort and we want members of Congress to look at the fine print.”
Currently, Congress is within the 60-day review period. Members could vote in September to scuttle the deal. Detractors and supporters of the Iran nuclear agreement are using the August recess to ratchet up pressure.
With the clock ticking down, Obama urged supporters of the deal to act, particularly as congressional offices are being flooded with phone calls from the opposition. Lawmakers, the president said, are starting to get “squishy” from the “political heat.”
The president reiterated that he has “never been more certain about a policy decision … than this one right here. But the politics are going to be tough if you all don’t get involved and don’t get active.”
Much of the phone call was spent refuting criticisms levied by deal opponents and reiterating his support for “friends and allies” in the region.
Most Republicans have declared themselves opposed to the deal, which means increased pressure is being placed on undecided Democrats, most notably the Jewish Democrat from New York, Sen. Chuck Schumer.
Obama called 20 House Democrats to the White House on July 29 to sell them on the deal. Also in attendance were Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew.
Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who has come out in support of the deal, last Thursday said that Democrats who vote to override a promised presidential veto would face political consequences. Like Obama would do later that day, she cast this summer’s events as a fight against well-funded opposition.
“In the absence of your voices,” said Obama, “you’re going to see the same array of forces that got us into the Iraq War leading to a situation in which we forgo a historic opportunity and we are back on the path of potential military conflict.”