Contrary to the Walt-and-Mearsheimer fantasy that there’s some all-powerful “Israeli lobby” pulling puppet strings behind the scenes, Senator Chuck Schumer always had much more of a political incentive to support the administration’s nominee. The only surprise here is how early Schumer caved on Hagel–why not wait until the confirmation hearings started? It sounds like the administration must have made him a pretty persuasive offer:
After a 90-minute meeting in the West Wing of the White House on Monday, Mr. Schumer appeared to be mollified on a number of concerns he has with some votes Mr. Hagel made while serving in the Senate and myriad comments he has subsequently made regarding the nuclear threat of Iran and other matters.
“Based on several key assurances provided by Senator Hagel,” Mr. Schumer said in a prepared statement, “I am currently prepared to vote for his confirmation. I encourage my Senate colleagues who have shared my previous concerns to also support him.” Mr. Schumer is likely to have influence over many of his Senate colleagues, particularly Democrats, who have been fretting over the nomination. He called Mr. Hagel Tuesday morning to let him know he was prepared to support him.
Can’t beat the timing, either. The Emergency Committee for Israel put out a full-page ad in the New York Times this morning, asking readers to call Schumer and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s offices to voice their concerns about Hagel. I’m sure the White House wanted to lock down Schumer before there was any real backlash from his constituents. It would have been too much of a gamble otherwise.
Now what happens? The best prediction is that Gillibrand and other “pro-Israel” Democrats follow Schumer, which means a filibuster and unified GOP opposition is the only path left for blocking Hagel. Whether that’s effective largely depends on how much political capital the Republicans want to spend opposing him. With the debt ceiling, immigration, and gun control debates heating up, it’s hard to say.
This fight hasn’t been a total loss so far. The one victory here for the pro-Israel community–if you can call it that–is that Hagel was forced to renounce all of his lunatic policy positions–the same positions that attracted his most fervent supporters in the first place. In a mea culpa letter this morning, he endorsed sanctions against Iran, condemned Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, apologized for his “Jewish lobby” comment, and acknowledged that it came off as anti-Israel. In other words, he renounced almost everything that attracted the anti-Israel lobby that’s been defending his nomination for the past month.
Does he really believe any of it? Probably not. But at least it’s an acknowledgement, by the administration and by Hagel himself, that the “old Chuck Hagel” positions were far outside the mainstream and unacceptable in a defense secretary.