Dispute at foreign policy roundtable

Rick Cornfeld

A highlight of the opening Policy Conference session is always the panel discussion among foreign policy experts. Rarely, however, has it elicited disagreements like those today between Liz Cheney and former Rep. Jane Harman over the administration’s Iran policy.

Cheney, former Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, and Harmon, former chairwoman of the House Intelligence Committee, are both strong Israel supporters and long-time AIPAC favorites.

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But today they clashed over the administration’s policies and over whether it is appropriate to criticize them in a political season.

Cheney said that the sanctions are clearly having an economic effect on Iran but are not impeding Iran’s nuclear program. She also warned that the United States’ intelligence community has an abysmal track record in predicting the development of nuclear weapons by India, Pakistan and other countries and we shouldn’t expect that it will do better with Iran.

Harman rose to the defense of the U.S. intelligence community and said that Iran is a year away from nuclear capability and two years away from obtaining actual weapons. She said that the sanctions are “biting” and that President Obama had said he would act militarily if necessary to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.

Cheney responded that our goal — the “red line” — should be to prevent Iranian nuclear capability, a stage short of actually developing a nuclear weapon. She then said that the administration has spent the past few months trying to restrain Israel, not Iran.

Harman then reiterated something she had said earlier in the program — that it is a mistake to turn support for Israel into a “political football.”

I suppose that Cheney would have said that, in a democracy, it is not inappropriate to criticize a policy that you think is a mistake — but the program then ended.

Rick and Marcy Cornfeld are Co-Chairs of the St. Louis AIPAC Council and are blogging from AIPAC’s Policy Conference 2012 in Washington, D.C.