“An agent of influence is an agent of some stature who uses his or her position to influence public opinion or decision making to produce results beneficial to the country whose intelligence service operates the agent.” So goes the book definition but any experienced intelligence officer will note that there are degrees of cooperation and direction in such a relationship. The agent might be fully controlled and on a salary or he or she might be very loosely guided, ideologically motivated but cautious and reluctant to receive any favors in return. The key is that the agent has to be acting on behalf of the interests of the foreign government, which will at least some of the time mean working directly against the interests of his own.
I thought of how an agent of influence operates on the morning of September 9th when I opened the Washington Post and read two letters to the editor, both written by constituents, regarding Maryland Senator Benjamin Cardin’s refusal to support President Barack Obama’s Iran deal.
The first, from Carole Anderson of Bethesda said that “my U.S. senator, Benjamin L. Cardin, has forgotten that he represents Maryland — not the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, not a portion of the Jewish community, not Israel. His constituents expect him to vote based on the best interests of the United States, which in this case also is in Israel’s long-term interest, not based on what his rabbi says. He has demonstrated that he is incapable of doing his job.”
The second, from Stephen O. Dean of Gaithersburg observed that “Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin’s plan to oppose the Iran nuclear deal is an embarrassment to the people of Maryland. Though a Democrat, he allied himself with the Republicans in Congress, the Republican presidential contenders, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the powerful pro-Israel lobby. He turned his back on President Obama and rejected the long, difficult work of Secretary of State John F. Kerry and his counterparts from five other major countries. The alternative he offered is a bill he will introduce to send more U.S. taxpayer money to Israel. One wishes he took the path to peace with Iran, instead of to potential war.”
Cardin’s position was not unexpected even though he is reliably liberal on any issue but Palestine and a solid Democratic Party water boy. As an elected official, Cardin has frequently framed himself as being personally responsible for delivering benefits to his Jewish constituents. He sponsors the Senator Ben Cardin Jewish Scholars Program and also has been active in steering Department of Homeland Security (DHS) grants to what he calls “high risk” Jewish organizations in Baltimore. Due to the assiduous efforts of Congressmen like Cardin fully 97% of all DHS grants go to Jewish groups.
But as complete deference to Israel is all too common inside the beltway, I was, to put it mildly, shocked that two letters expressing such dissident views regarding Cardin actually appeared in the Post, a haven of neoconservatism on its editorial page. One might enthuse that it is perhaps a welcome sign that popular views on the extremely damaging Israel relationship really have begun to shift.
I have previously written that the so-called Corker-Cardin bill that reportedly gave Congress a chance to safely vent over the Iran deal was actually a Trojan horse in that it was intended to lead to eventual defeat of the agreement. I noted at the time that Cardin was the snake in the woodpile as he was pretending to give a lifeline to his party and president while all the time intending to vote no and do everything in his power to overturn any rapprochement with Iran.
Now what I predicted has come about. And Cardin has even admitted that he discussed with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) how he should vote. AIPAC, for all its posturing about American interests, is not a source of objective information on the Middle East as it often pretends to be. It actively and aggressively lobbies on behalf of the Israeli government and would be listed under the Foreign Agent Registration Act of 1938 but for the fact that it is politically powerful and no White House has been willing to take it on. Cardin was also heavily lobbied by his rabbi, who called him repeatedly.
Cardin justified his opposition to the agreement based on alarmist talking points that could have been, and maybe were, written by AIPAC to include, “…there cannot be respect for a country that actively foments regional instability, advocates for Israel’s destruction, kills the innocent and shouts ‘Death to America.’” And Cardin has also gone on record pledging to back up his “no” vote by introducing legislation that he is already working on that will allow congress to overturn the agreement while also sending 30,000 pound penetrator bombs to Israel that will enable Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to attack Iran, which would clearly not be in America’s interest.
The Cardin supported initiative to undermine the Iran agreement through further congressional meddling and delaying tactics is being referred to in some circles as “Plan B.” There are a number of aspects to it, but it involves creating new legislation and imposing other conditions that will permit additional congressional review of both the deal itself and, more particularly, Iran’s compliance. It has become axiomatic to refer to Iranians as “liars and cheaters,” setting the stage for any number of contrived revelations about their behavior.
As has often been the case in the past where friends of Israel have sought either military action or other punitive measures, the planned new congressional initiatives will likely seek to create red lines or tripwires that will mandate congressional or presidential action. In the past, these red lines have been described in a way that permits them to be interpreted subjectively, meaning that there will be a push to find fault with Tehran and that evidence might easily be manufactured to suit or even provided by Israel. Cardin appears to be the driving force behind this effort if one is to go by his own words and the praise that has been heaped upon him by organizations like Christians United for Israel.
So who does Cardin actually represent? I would suggest that he fits the mold of the classic agent of influence in that his allegiance to the United States is constrained by his greater loyalty to a foreign nation. I do not believe that he does it for money or other material favors and I would not imagine that Mossad actually gives him his marching orders, but I would bet that his contact with the Israeli Embassy and AIPAC to both obtain and synchronize with their views is frequent and ongoing. One has to hope that Cardin will both fail in his new legislative efforts on behalf of Israel and also that he will be turned out of office in the next cycle by his constituents for his failure to support actual American and Marylander interests.
The question of what to do about the Cardins of this world is, of course, clouded by the broader issue of “dual loyalty,” a label that has rightly been of particular concern for many diaspora Jews because it often is employed as a classic anti-Semitic canard. Those who promote it think that some or even most Jews can never be truly loyal to the country that they reside in, that they will always have a higher allegiance to their tribe. Since the founding of Israel that alleged supranational allegiance has also embraced the Jewish state, with questions raised regarding whether it is possible to actively promote all-too-often uncritical support for a foreign nation while living and working in another country that will inevitably have quite different national and international interests.
In reality, of course, it is not so simple. Some Jews will relate to their “tribe” more than to their non-Jewish fellow citizens but most will not and many will even regard that kind of sentiment as completely unacceptable. But all of that given, the issue of where one’s loyalty as a citizen of a nation should lie and to what degree is something that just will not go away. Nearly all of the neoconservatives who cajoled Americans into the disastrous war against Iraq were Jews and they were at least in part motivated by perceived Israeli interests. Bush Administration senior official Philip Zelikow subsequently even claimed that the Iraq war was primarily fought to eliminate a threat to Israel. And if that is not convincing enough, there is the “Clean Break” policy document that was presented to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 1996 recommending inter alia the systematic break-up of Israel’s Arab neighbors into tribal groups to “secure the realm” of Israel. Many of the signatories were the very same American Jews who later promoted the war with Iraq and are now orchestrating the agitation vis-a-vis Iran, which itself is being overwhelmingly funded by Jewish groups.
Because of the potential problem posed by divided loyalty, many Americans now believe that no citizen should hold any foreign passport in addition to that of the United States. An increasing number are beginning to understand that competing parochial loyalties of various kinds have been detrimental to the viability of the United States as a nation and destructive of Teddy Roosevelt’s once proud assertion that it doesn’t matter where we came from but “we are all Americans.”
The dual loyalty question becomes more serious when one is considering the roles of government officials, both elected and as members of the federal bureaucracy, as they are in a position where they can actually do damage. The United States is currently wrestling with problems posed by Christian officials who believe that what they are told by God preempts what they are obligated to do as bureaucrats. This type of deference to tribe and culture is also where Cardin is both tone deaf and dissimulating. He is the stereotype of what has frequently been disparagingly described as an “Israel firster.” There is absolutely no reasonable argument to be made against the Iran agreement from a U.S. perspective and the mere fact that it is opposed by Israel should have no weight, but Cardin clearly does not see things that way.
One might reasonably object that Cardin is far from unique and to be sure there are many in Washington that are feckless in their relationships with Israel’s government. Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, who has declared himself to be the “shomer” or guardian of Israel in the U.S. Senate, is a case in point and undoubtedly many of the criticisms leveled against Cardin would fit just as well with Schumer. One might also note the unanimous Republican opposition to the Iran deal but that is a bit of a red herring. In many cases the attachment is more likely than not based more on politics than on any genuine affinity towards Israel. A frequently cynical kowtowing to perceived Zionist and evangelical demands is coupled with the expectation that Israel’s most powerful and wealthy backer in the U.S. Sheldon Adelson will shower his billions on the GOP and its preferred presidential candidate as long as the whole campaign is in key areas subordinate to Israeli interests. The Republican hard line is also a reflexive rejection of Obama foreign policy to create a wedge issue for 2016 and is not linked to any rational assessment of the merits of the Iran agreement.
On balance, Senator Ben Cardin in his apparent collusion with both the Israeli government and its powerful domestic Lobby appears to cross lines that should not be crossed by any American elected official. My contention that he may be a de facto agent of influence for Israel is, of course, somewhat conjectural. I would imagine that Cardin rationalizes his behavior by choosing to believe that Israeli and American interests are identical, which is, of course, not true. If he claims that he is not in fact preemptively guided by Israeli interests it would be interesting to have him reveal full details of the frequency and nature of his encounters with Israeli officials and also with the components of the Israel Lobby, most particularly AIPAC, which are established conduits for relaying Israeli perspectives to accomplices in the U.S. government. I would also be interested in hearing Cardin’s views on how a war with Iran would possibly benefit the people of Maryland.