The Foreign Service Journal - October 2017

30 OCTOBER 2017 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL George W. Bush’s recess-appointee ambassador to the United Nations whom a Republican-majority Senate refused to con- firm, chipped in at least $825,000. Thanks to Citizens United and other decisions by the con- servative majority on the Supreme Court, the floodgates have been opened wider than ever before, and there is no longer any real limit on what the wealthy can spend on elections in the hope of influencing policy. As Trevor Potter, a former chairman of the Federal Election Commission, described it in a New Yorker article: “A single billionaire can write an eight- figure check and put not just their thumb but their whole hand on the scale—and we often have no idea who they are. Suddenly, a random billionaire can change politics and public policy—to sweep everything else off the table—even if they don’t speak publicly, and even if there’s almost no public awareness of his or her views.” One such billionaire, who makes no secret of his policy preferences, is casino owner Sheldon Adelson. He once sug- gested detonating a nuclear weapon in the desert in Iran, just to show them America means business. He is a major funder of a number of groups like United Against Nuclear Iran, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and the Founda- tion for Defense of Democracies that dedicated themselves to defeating the Iran deal. AIPAC spent between $20 million and $40 million in the effort, and a good bit of that was Adelson’s money. Whether driven by ideology, money or both, the debate over the Iran nuclear issue marked a new low in relations between the Republican majorities in Congress and the Obama administration. It also prompted a remarkable, per- haps unprecedented, level of involvement by groups outside of government. Think-tanks, political advocacy organiza- tions, pro-Israel and religious groups, nonprofit associations, veterans’ groups, media outlets, arms control organizations and others weighed in on both sides of the debate. It was a foreign affairs food fight, with positions both for and against the agreement argued with great passion and intensity. In an open letter to Congress in April 2015, more than 70 national organizations implored representatives and senators to support the Iran nuclear deal. Three months later, just after the deal was signed, a large rally was held by dozens of other organizations in New York City, to argue the opposite. Esti- mated at between 10,000 and 15,000, the crowd urged Con- gress to vote the deal down. The turnout at the rally was large because the organizers used social media and other means to support the effort. In addition to the rally and the open letter, tens of thousands of people contacted their members of Con- gress and hundreds of thousands signed petitions to express their support or opposition to the agreement. Technology and Truth The involvement of so many organizations and individuals demonstrates that foreign policy is not limited to diplomats holding quiet discussions behind closed doors. Apparently the Founding Fathers did not anticipate the creation of the internet and the spread of social media. They didn’t plan for the tens of thou- sands of lobbyists engaged in that multibillion-dollar industry and the thou- sands of nongovernmen- tal, nonprofit and religious organizations, think-tanks and business associations that have also set up shop in Wash- ington to have an impact on government policy. When a policy attains a high profile, it attracts the atten- tion of a broad range of actors, assuring the debate about what direction to take will be vigorous. These kinds of debates are usually orchestrated by the Washington establishment—those who live in and around the nation’s capital and who are in government or the business of influencing it. But occasionally, as the general public becomes aware of and concerned about a particular foreign policy, any number of individuals can join in. That is easier to do today, with email, the internet, social media and other technologies enabling those who want to broaden participation in the debate to do so. Thanks to tech- nology, connecting with like-minded people takes just a few keystrokes. And all those means of connecting came into play in the making of the Iran nuclear agreement, as those who favored it and those who opposed it attempted to influence the outcome. The range of information sources made possible by technol- ogy also means that, in effect, everyone can have his or her own version of the truth. Whatever one wants to believe, a justifi- cation for it can be found online. Back when people got their television news from NBC, CBS and ABC, there was not much As the general public becomes aware of and concerned about a particular foreign policy, any number of individuals can join in.