The paradox is that by giving personnel a pass, AIPAC has lost the policy debate. Policy is made by people who believe in certain ideas, principles, and even fantasies. What Hagel seems to have learned from his tours of combat in Vietnam is that it is a fantasy to imagine that you can bomb a country into submitting to the will of the United States. Presumably, this is why he also opposed the war in Iraq. The problem is that deconstructing such a fantasy does not necessarily leave you with reality. In Hagel’s case it has left him only with an equally dangerous fantasy: that instead of waging war, it is possible to reach an accommodation, if not an amicable understanding, with nations that have clearly identified themselves as adversaries.

This fantasy is shared by much of the U.S. policymaking elite, including Obama. Indeed, since the 1979 Islamic Revolution every White House has sought comity with the Iranians. The fact that all, including Obama, have failed, is proof that the endeavor is not possible. From this perspective, it is also clear that Western sanctions against Iran and the secret war conducted against Iranian scientists and installations are intended less to destroy the nuclear program than to prolong the fantasy that at some point the Iranians will come to their senses and abandon their search for a bomb. It is noteworthy that the majority of the American electorate does not share this fantasy, with a Pew poll last year showing that 58 percent support U.S. military action against the Iranian nuclear weapons program.

But AIPAC—and this 58 percent majority—lost the debate to a host of adversaries. Some on the winning side argued for engagement. Among these were the stars of the policy pantheon, like former Secretary of State Jim Baker, and former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who argued that a combination of incentives and pressures might get the Iranians to the table.