How lobbies in US sway American policy - GulfToday

How lobbies in US sway American policy

Michael Jansen

The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Supporters of Ukraine and members of the Ukrainian community hold a rally to mark the one-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, near Lincoln Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, DC, on Saturday.  Agence France-Presse

Supporters of Ukraine and members of the Ukrainian community hold a rally to mark the one-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, near Lincoln Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, DC, on Saturday. AFP

To mark the one-year anniversary of Russia’s war on Ukraine, people around the world were subjected to a barrage of speeches by politicians extolling Kyiv’s brave stand against Moscow and a media blitz of coverage from bombed and blasted Ukrainian cities, towns and villages. US President Joe Biden made a secret journey to Kyiv to demonstrate his country’s “unwavering” support for Ukraine “for as long as it takes” to win the war. This has been portrayed as the “war for freedom and democracy” by Biden and the collection of mainly Western leaders involved.

“It’s not just about freedom in Ukraine... It’s about freedom of democracy at large,” Biden declared.

What did he mean? The word “democracy, the rule of the people, comes from ancient Greek which also gave to the modern world, “theocracy,” which has devolved to mean the rule of clerics, and autocracy, used to refer to rule by a powerful individual or clique. I mention these three forms of governance as I would like to propose a fourth: “lobbocracy,” the rule of lobbies or political interest groups. The origin of the word lobby appears to have emerged from old German or French not Greek.

While preaching “democracy,” the US has not been a functioning democracy for decades. The US is, in fact, a lobbocracy, a country where lobbies, both domestic and foreign, have prevailed over policies serving US citizens and the country’s national interests. Unlike parliaments elsewhere where members serve from three to five years, the US House of Representatives is the only elected legislature in the world with a two-year term. This makes US lawmakers highly vulnerable to pressure as they must begin campaigning for another term as soon as they win a seat. Campaigns can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. The Senate, White House, the Supreme Court, and high ranking civil servants are also targeted by lobbyists and corporations to protect special interests, often at the expense of the populace.

“Big Pharma” in collaboration with insurance firms, and the American Medical Association (AMA) have combined their resources to make the US the world’s only advanced industrial country without national health insurance covering all citizens.

One of the biggest spenders, the pharmaceutical industry, hired 1,750 lobbyists in 2021 at a cost of $30.4 million. According to Open Secrets, the industry’s chief aims were to secure contracts for Covid vaccinations, prevent the government from capping drug prices, and opposing government-run health care. Insurance allies spent $152.9 million on lobbying and campaign contributions. AMA advocates health coverage for all but opposes a national health system as this would deny US citizens the right to choose as well as individual freedoms accorded by the free market. Many ideological opponents claim a national health system would be “socialised medicine.” Although the federal government has policies for the elderly and the poor, at least 20 per cent of citizens have no health insurance at all and many have high cost policies which limit their options at the risk of illness and lives.

The other lobby which deals in life and death is the National Rifle Association (NRA) One of the most powerful lobby groups, the NRA was established in 1871 by veterans of the US Civil War to promote “rifle shooting on a scientific basis,” whatever that meant. A century later, the NRA formed a lobbying section to influence legislators, and in 1975, the NRA established as political action committee to provide campaign funds for lawmakers who adopted the association’s agenda. In 2020, the NRA, which has a membership of three million, spent some $250 million on blocking legislation on gun control.

The NRA claims more guns provide greater security and presses for the right of citizens to carry guns freely in public. According to a 2022 Gallup poll, 57 per cent of US citizens favours more strict control of guns, 32 per cent is satisfied with current regulations (such as they are), and around 5 per cent wants less control. Despite the solid majority which wants more control, legislators refuse to tackle calls for bans on the semi-automatic rifles and large capacity magazines which are commonly used in US mass shootings. Through February 25th, 2023, the Gun Violence Archive reports 6,468 shootings of which 2,772 were homicides and 3,696 were suicides. There were 85 mass shootings.

As the global hyper-power the US is, naturally, the main target of influencers with foreign agendas.

Among those with the greatest clout are lobbies created by domestic Chinese, Jewish, Arab, Irish, Greek, Italian, Indian, Armenians, Ukrainian, Polish, and Turkish ethnic communities. I will give only two examples.

The “China Lobby,” was founded and funded by right-wing “nationalist” Chinese based on the island of Taiwan, which had a population of six million in the 1940s. The lobby mounted a successful decades-long campaign to ensure that the US recognised Taiwan as the government of China rather than the Communist government on the vast mainland which then had a population of 545,000,000. US President Richard Nixon put an end to this fiction when he paid a dramatic visit to Beijing in 1972. This led to US recognition of the Communist People’s Republic of China in 1979.

The most well organised and powerful of these lobbies are those representing Israel which have followed the dictum of the state’s founding father Theodor Herzl to “capture the communities” across the globe with the aim of promoting Zionism and Israel. The evangelical Christians United for Israel is the largest in terms of members while the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) is the most powerful. AIPAC focuses on the White House and Congress, where it enjoys overwhelming support from both Democrats and Republicans.

There are also a host of highly influential national and local organisations involved in this effort. While many have, to one extent or another, been captured by the Israel’s right-wing Likud party, centre left JStreet adopts a “pro- peace, pro-democracy” line as does Americans for Peace Now, the US branch of Israel’s Peace Now movement.

The majority of these organisations play a crucial role in shaping US policy toward this region and countering efforts by less influential Arab lobbies and US activists and human rights organisations to censure Israel for its treatment of Palestinians in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza and for mounting attacks on neighbouring states.

In addition to lobby groups formed by different US ethnic communities there are professional US firms which legally and overtly promote the interests of foreign countries in the US and are obliged to register under the “Foreign Agents Registration Act.” These firms, known as “Foreign Principals,” are well established and widely advertise their services in promoting tourism, trade, and specific policies in the US as well as the European Union and dozens of other countries.

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