This nation’s foreign policy is, for this weekend at least, in the pious hands of John Hagee, a Christian fundamentalist preacher from Texas.
To be sure, Hagee is not the only policy-shaker whose minions are roaming the hallowed halls of the nation’s capitol. But he is certainly the most conspicuous and overt religionist participating in the US senate battle over President Obama’s nominee for defense secretary, former Senator Chuck Hagel.
Hagee created Christians United for Israel (CUFI) in February, 2006. Seven years later (a divine period which in biblical years led to the release of slaves), CUFI is buying television ads in four states, each of which has a Democratic senator who could be vulnerable to defeat in 2014.
That reads more like the creation of, rather than the release of, slaves, but then, divine commands may more often than not, be in the minds and hearts of the divine command transmitters.
At any rate, it is not seven years, but six years (the term of office for a US senator), which John Hagee assumes is on the minds of four Democratic senators who are up for reelection in 2014. The states and the senators are Arkansas (Mark Pryor), Louisiana (Mary Landrieu), Colorado (Mark Udall) and North Carolina (Kay Hagan).
The goal of CUFI’s ads running in those states, and the strong Christian fundamentalist religious pressure behind them, is quite simple: Threaten, intimidate and warn these four Democrats that they could pay a price for voting in favor of Hagel.
And, it must also be noted, the ads let other senators know CUFI is watching.
JTA, the Global News Service of the Jewish People, describes the Washington political/religious scene this week:
CUFI’s affiliated Action Fund also has rallied hundreds of Christian pastors and leaders to Washington this week to lobby against the former Nebraska senator’s bid to succeed Leon Panetta.
And on Tuesday, as the pastors were swarming Senate offices, CUFI published four ads in states where Democratic senators are thought to be vulnerable in 2014: Arkansas, Louisiana, Colorado and North Carolina.
“We pray you vote against confirming Senator Hagel,” said the ads, addressed to each state’s senators.
CUFI is not targeting Republican senators with prayers and threats. No need, prayers and threats have long since done their work.
No CUFI ads ran in Texas, for example, a state already safely in CUFI’s clutches. Indeed, the Lone Star state, which has sent two Bushes to the White House, has two Republican senators now leading the vitriolic political/religious charge against Hagel.
Sen. John Cornyn, the senior Texas senator, was the first senator to come out against Hagel’s nomination. He did so, he acknowledged, at John Hagee’s behest during a meeting this Monday.
Cornyn set the tone for the Hagel hearing with his egregious declaration, “I cannot support a nominee for defense secretary who suggests we should be tougher on Israel and more lenient on Iran.”
The second Texas senator, Ted Cruz, now beginning his first term, is shown in the picture above, talking to Democratic Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Carl Levin, right (with Hagel behind them). During Thursday’s hearings, Cruz fired a series of prosecutorial questions at Hagel in the eight hours the nominee endured in his grilling before the committee.
Some Democrats on the Armed Services committee were supportive of Hagel, but they were careful not to give any hint that they had any doubts about their love and devotion to Israel.
They are, after all, fully aware of the leitmotif (an anglicization of the German Leitmotiv, literally meaning “leading motif”, or perhaps more accurately, “guiding motif) constantly ringing in their political ears back home through media, donors, voters and alas, religious groups from mainline Protestants to the right wing fundamentalist CUFI crowd.
From the Republican side in the Senate committee hearings, there was only polite deference displayed for Hagel’s Vietnam military and senate service. Instead, adopting the style of another prosecutorial senator, Arizona’s Republican Senator John McCain, Cruz demanded yes or no answers, or the order of “do you or do you not stand behind this quote from 1999 (or 2002, or whenever)”.
It was, over all, an ugly scene in the nation’s capitol as Republican senators bolstered their Israeli bona fides to demonstrate just how much they love the Zionist program that occupies a Palestinian population and elevates Israel above criticism or blame.
If there has been any senatorial concern that Israel became the first country to boycott a UN Human Rights Council review of its rights situation this week, it did not surface in any format I could locate.
During the Hagel hearings, Republicans focused exclusively on loving Israel as they leveled blistering attacks on a former senate colleague, forcing him to explain, clarify and at times, appear to reverse statements made over the past decade. The senators tried to get him to give yes or no questions to some of the more complex issues this nation will confront during his term as defense secretary.
In spite of these highly personal attacks, Hagel remained cool, maintaining his composure to such a degree that, if you are pulling for him, he succeeded in making his attackers look both nasty and petty.
In preparation for the hearings, Hagel did his political homework. He bolstered his support among pro-Israel Democratic senators. Once he convinced Chuck Schumer of New York, that he (Hagel) was not anti-Israel, he passed the Schumer litmus test.
Here is JTA’s reading of the groundwork Hagel and his White House counselors, laid prior to the hearings:
In his efforts to tamp down the pro-Israel opposition to his nomination, Hagel has won support from some of the leading Jewish pro-Israel Democrats in the Senate: Carl Levin (D-Mich.), who chairs the Armed Services Committee, as well as Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.).
The Vietnam War hero also has the support of liberal Jewish groups, including Americans for Peace Now, the Israel Policy Forum and J Street. On Wednesday, J Street was set to join Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), a veteran and a member of the Armed Services Committee, on a conference call backing Hagel.
Hagel also has met with leaders of centrist pro-Israel groups, several of which had expressed concerns about his candidacy, including the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. The groups described the meeting as “an important opportunity for a serious and thorough discussion.”
In his fight against Hagel, John Hagee’s CUFI had the support of co-religionist groups in the Jewish community, none of which, however, to my knowledge, ran ads “praying” for senatorial votes
The Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) did contribute a web video which the JTA describes as “featuring Democrats and Jewish organizational leaders expressing concern about Hagel.
“Expressing concern” is Zionist polite parlor talk for “we don’t like you or what you stand for”.
No prayer talk either from the Emergency Committee for Israel which ran a full-page ad in the New York Times, January 15, joining the Zionist Organization of America in opposing Hagel.
And of course, it would not be a pro-Israel alley fight without the presence of casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, described by JTA as “one of the GOP’s most generous donors and an RJC board member”. Adelson made his pitch directly by calling senators who appreciate his fondness for Israel as well as his generous deep pockets.
Matt Brooks, the RJC’s executive director, went all down-home-like on us with his comment, “We’ve made a strategic decision to gin up as much support among our leaders to reach out to the folks.”
As was to be expected, the progressive political left was harshly critical of Hagel’s testimony. Philip Weiss, major domo of Mondoweiss, reacted to the Thursday hearings:
The first few hours of Chuck Hagel’s confirmation hearing have been sickening. I thought he was named to be United States Secretary of Defense, not Israel’s defense. The most urgent questions were about Israel, and many came from liberal Democrats insisting that Hagel is pledged to going to war against Iran if it acquires a nuclear weapon.
Hagel was suitably craven. “I’ve said that I’m a strong supporter of Israel… I’ve said that we have a special relationship with Israel… Ive never voted against Israel in my career… I’ve been to Israel many times,” he told Jack Reed of Rhode Island.
David Weigel writing for Slate, saw something bogus in the questions thrown at Hagel by Senator Ted Cruz, who came to the hearings with
three—count ‘em—visual aids to his interrogation of Defense Secretary nominee Chuck Hagel. He played two clips from Hagel’s interviews on Arab-language media, attempting to prove that Hagel agreed with callers who accused Israel of “war crimes” and the United States of “bullying,” because he quickly agreed with the questions and moved on. The third aid was a chart blowing up a July 31, 2006 quote from Hagel, during Israel’s conflict with Hezbollah.
“In a speech on the floor of the Senate you referred to Israel’s military campaign against the terrorist group Hezbollah as a, quote, ‘sickening slaughter,'” said Cruz. “Do you think it’s right that Israel was committing, quote, a ‘sickening slaughter,’ as you said on the floor of the Senate?”
As with so much else today, Hagel was caught short, and tried to explain why “slaughter” might occur if “war crimes” didn’t. It was another hit he should have seen coming; the Weekly Standard, in a morning cheat sheet of Hagel quotes, reported that Hagel “accused Israel of carrying out a ‘sickening slaughter’ in Lebanon.”
But it’s misleading. Hagel’s full speech is available on C-SPAN.
The larger context of the quote, Weigel reports, is here:
“How do we realistically believe that a continuation of the systematic destruction of an American friend, the country and people of Lebanon, is going to enhance America’s image and give us the trust and credibility to lead a lasting and sustained peace effort in the Middle East?
The sickening slaughter on both sides must end, and it must end now.”
The final vote may come Monday. In spite of the hostile hearings, it still appears Hagel will win confirmation. That vote will end yet another political episode when the ambiguity of democracy is put on full display.
It is not always pretty; at times it is downright ugly. But it is what we get when flawed political leaders struggle to govern.
The picture above is by Chip Somodeville/Getty Images, from Slate.