Friday, February 15, 2013

Ted Cruz and the Hagel Fight

Twitter back-and-forth caught my eye:
Philip Klein: Imagine how differently the Hagel vote would have turned out had Dewhurst won TX Sen primary.

Dan Drezner: Not an iota's worth.

Philip Klein: Disagree. Cruz was the leader of the opposition publicly & privately & his presence is has moved Cornyn to the right.

Dan Drezner: Cruz has alienated as many as he impressed. And in yesterday's vote, wavering GOP senators followed McCain's lead, not Cruz.
If the honest answer is probably "we don't know," it's still worth a bit of speculation.

Would Republicans in general decided to target Hagel if Cruz wasn't a public and private leader of the opposition? It seems fairly likely to me that they would have. Republicans really love the theme of accusing people of abandoning Israel. It works for them on many levels. Not just the almost certainly futile effort to win Jewish votes, and not just currying favor with pro-Israel Christians. It's also a rare area of foreign policy in which they can advance a plausibly popular position that doesn't actually involve advocating war or the threat of war. Without, that is, alienating the party's hawks. In other words, considering both unity within the party and popularity outside of it, ultrafanatical support of Israel may be the best possible issue within foreign policy and national security for the GOP. The only real drawback is that it doesn't actually involve differences with anyone, but that's made up by exaggerating or inventing any deviation from standard American political support for Israel. Thus, the enthusiasm of the GOP in opposing Hagel.

What Drezner says about wavering Senators following McCain's lead is probably correct, although that doesn't answer the question of why McCain supported cloture. Suppose that without Cruz we still get basically the same anti-Hagel sentiment among Republicans, perhaps with someone else grandstanding (and, as Drezner hints, perhaps in a less irresponsible way). Would McCain still have stuck with the opponents through the first cloture vote? Possibly! On the other hand -- maybe better leadership for Hagel opponents would have put McCain solidly on board with the filibuster, thus putting Hagel in far more trouble than he currently appears to be (McCain and several other Republicans who voted against cloture yesterday have said that they plan to flip and vote for cloture after the Senate recess next week).

What we do know is that he's certainly impressed parts of the GOP-aligned press -- and that he's annoyed enough Senators to have generated, say, an item by Elspeth Reeve today reporting on public and private GOP rebukes to Cruz. Careful, however: those kinds of stories are almost always meaningful, but can be tricky to interpret (that is, some Senators are almost certainly annoyed by Cruz's behavior, but that doesn't necessarily mean he isn't influencing them).

My best guess would be that Cruz himself didn't make a lot of difference on Hagel. The idea that there was a norm against cabinet filibusters followed by Republicans the last few years, in my view, doesn't hold up at all. All that's happened is that for a variety of reasons we haven't had a nomination come to the floor with solid GOP opposition, so it hasn't really been put to the test. But I'll fully admit that's a best guess, not fact.


  1. Not just the almost certainly futile effort to win Jewish votes,


    Do you really think the Republicans attacks on people for abandoning Israel are really about trying to get Jewish votes? I don't.

    Off the top of my head, I think American Jews are roughly 3% of the voting population and are not a fast growing population group. A massive percentage of American Jews are located in solidly Democratic states. Furthermore, every opinion poll I've seen of the political views of American Jews indicate (i) they mostly vote on the same issues as other, that is Israel really isn't a huge issue for most American Jews, and (ii) Americans Jews are significantly more liberal than the average American and are probably the most liberal ethnic/religious group in the U.S.

    Republican strategists are familiar with this information. In the case of Latinos Republicans are engaging in outreach right now on the immigration issue because they have no choice due to the growing percentage of the population that is Latino even though they know Latinos . By contrast that demographic pressure doesn't exist in the case of American Jews.

    I think a better way of looking at Republicans attack on Democrats for allegedly abandoning Israel is to look at it as part of the larger Republican strategy of de-funding the Democratic Party. Republicans hate unions in part because of business lobbying but it is also because they know unions in every country inevitably line up behind the center-left party. That is why Republicans want to make it harder to unionize. Tort reform is also about de-funding the Democratic Party because so many trial lawyers give money to the Democratic Party.

    Many American Jews give significant sums of money to the Democratic Party in large part because of their support for Israel. As an example Haim Saban is one of the largest individual donors to the Democratic Party and he admits that a big issue for him is Israel (unlike most American Jews who as said before generally vote for the same reasons as the rest of the population). The goal of the Republicans, IMO, is to get men like Haim Saban to abandon the Democratic Party over the Israel issue and as a result weaken the economic foundations of the Democratic Party.

    Doesn't that seem like a more reasonable hypothesis for the GOP attacks on abandoning Israel than trying to target the Jewish vote.

  2. Yes, this seems like a very reasonable hypothesis to me but it is still, IMO, the smaller part of the story. I think the Lobby is the prime motivator for people like Cruz (by which I do not just mean AIPAC but also pressure groups like the ADL et al.) As much as politicians may be looking for donations from pro-Israel billionaires on either side (Saban or Adelson) I believe the bigger concern for both sides is the power of the lobby to make or break careers. Cruz is just currying favor with the lobby through his Mccarthy impression.

  3. Is it possible that republicans attack a potential defense secretary for abandoning Israel because they truly believe that this is a reckless position for someone in such a role?

  4. Not my bailiwick, but this conversation always fascinates in the sense that "politics makes strange bedfellows" is thrown out the window. For perspective, I think everyone realizes that a long-term viable Israel needs to be interconnected with a long-term viable (if certainly weaker) Palestinian state. The only real argument is when and how that should come to pass.

    So when a commenter like Andrew Sullivan urges Israel to move more quickly toward that end, arguing that the hour is later than it seems, he's disparaged as an anti-semite, even if there's nothing otherwise particularly anti-semitic about him. By contrast, an evangelical American, let's say related to SS henchmen, can nevertheless urge "Bomb, Bibi, bomb!" and immediately earn a stripe as a friend of the Jews.

    To the politics making strange bedfellows meme: if Andrew Sullivan is correct, and the winds may soon shift against Israel, such that its increasingly empowered neighbors cause the state to collapse, and another two-millenia Diaspora begins, would the evangelical find that a fair trade for 50 extra years of Israel fighting the evangelical's anti-Muslim Crusade?

    Would any Jewish person find that a reasonable trade?

    1. Do you really believe that Palestine will uphold peaceful relations with Israel just because of a piece of paper that validates a two-state solution? No offense, but I think that view is naive because it fails to acknowledge the history between these two cultures. See my response to Scott below for more context.

  5. I openly come at this from the perspective of someone who believe the U.S. strong alliance with Israel is a grave strategic mistake for the U.S. that significantly weakens our standing in the Muslim world and place American lives in danger but I hope my post above did not give the wrong impression that I think there is anything illegitimate about making Israel's security something to consider when voting.

    Presidents should be entitled to broad deference when it comes to picking Cabinet members and I am basically a filibuster abolitionist at this point. Furthermore the behavior of Hagel critics has been disgraceful at this point with their blatant McCarthite tactics of making up groups, twisting speeches, and trying to create a culture of fear.

  6. SP6R, on your position around our close ties with Israel - well I respect where you are coming from. I used to share in that same belief. When you think it through, however, that type of thinking could lead to another which we'd be pressured to defend anyway. Even if we allowed Israel to be destroyed, Europe and the U.S. would be the next target. And at the very least, that type of thinking could embolden Israeli enemies and attribute to more instability in the region which will have a downstream effect on Europe and the U.S. economically and politically.

    Your point about Hagel critics being disgraceful, I argue that there's nothing disgraceful about drawing attention to Hagel's language regarding Israel, Iran and Iraq......even if some of it is overstated or exaggerated. His language raises a lot of valid questions around his true positions on foreign policy. Since when is it wrong for some members of a party to challenge a potential cabinet member? It seems to me, that this is only viewed as deplorable by those buying into the media hype, or when the opposition simply doesn't agree with your world view. Republicans might be guilty of being overzealous (as if Democrats have never been guilty of that), but fact remains that there are legitimate concerns about Hagel's judgement on foreign policy matters.

    I tend to agree with your filibuster stance, but warn that filibusters work for both parties. So while they seem to be a way to game the system, both parties use them equally. As inefficient as that may seem, it ultimately balances out. If your party were filibustering a policy which you vehemently opposed, would you feel the same way?

  7. A big part of the problem with the attacks against Hagel as anti-Israel is that he is not anti-Israel. Part of the polity has come to the position that you're anti-Israel if you don't ritualistically support the preferred policies of Netanyahu and the Likud party. Groups like AIPAC support this interpretation (and, I suspect, they like to be thought of as the "Jewish lobby"--I've been told they occasionally use the term themselves--because it implies that all Jews, or all Jewish Americans, support their positions, which is not true). Much of the rest of the polity, it appears, has decided that it's easier to go with the flow and avoid being the target of loose accusations that can never be disproved. As a consequence, it is much more difficult to criticize the Israeli government in the United States than it is in Israel, where most people don't actually vote for Likud (though they do have a plurality). In a sense, this meshes with a U.S. polity in which it is often easier or more effective or just politically safer to rely on simplistic, bumper-sticker slogans than to try to develop nuanced reasoned positions on any issue, but it does seem to be more thorough when the issue is Israel.

    As CSH suggests, it has long been assumed that we know what the future of the Middle East will look like if we could just get the participants to agree to it: the two-state solution. At the moment, however, there seems to be a growing number of people on the Israeli right (likely to be in the new Netanyahu coalition, but that is not decided yet) who openly advocate the annexation of the West Bank. That would cause a world of trouble. As it is, Netanyahu insists on continuing the building of Jewish settlements on the West Bank, which the Palestinians see as gradual de facto annexation, and it is hard to see how that is not the intention. Such policies, and life under the realities of perpetual military occupation, fuel the ongoing dispute. Add to that the Palestinians who view the Israelis as European interlopers who stole their land after World War II, and you really don't have to resort to arguments like "they hate all non-Muslims" to explain the turmoil (though there are probably some of those as well).

    1. Scott, I appreciate your sentiment because it is representative of many. Most are like you, in that they are uninformed about the Israel-Palestine conflict. So let me share some information which is rarely taught in U.S. schools or universities. Palestinians often claim that Israel stole their land after WWII, but they have no legitimate claim to any of that land. Yes, Jews settled there after WWII. But what most scholars fail to mention is that Jews had been occupying that territory all along....for over 2,000 years. One could argue that Israeli borders established after WWII created the conflict. But historical evidence doesn't support that theory. Israel has often given-in to political pressure and forfeited much of their land, even oil-rich areas like the Sinai Peninsula. They did this in the spirit of peace, and their neighboring countries promised peace in return. Yet all of these peace agreements have been broken with violent attacks against Israel and their people. Not one peace agreement has been honored. So the problem has little to do with land, and anyone that believes it does, well they are buying into a complete and obvious farce. The problem is that radical Islam is intolerant of, and ultimately incompatible with, our culture in the western world. Even a two-state solution does not resolve the hatred and intolerance of non-Muslim societies or governments that do not accept sharia law.

      Once this conflict is better understood, it becomes more difficult to use or even accept language which puts Israel on equal moral ground with their enemies. And that is where most of the criticism of Hagel is coming from. His language used in relations to Israel suggests that he does not recognize the real heart of the problem.

    2. I really can't imagine what your definition of "legitimate claim" is or what made the Sinai Peninsula "their land." It's true that Jews have lived in the area for a long time, but they were a minority and they didn't make any exclusive claim to it. Nor am I aware of any peace agreements being broken, much less all of them. They haven't been attacked by Egypt or Jordan since before their treaties were signed, and those are the only peace treaties I can think of. As much as they dislike Assad, and they have very good reasons to do so, Syria hasn't attacked them in 40 years either, and now they're worried that Assad will be overthrown by someone less predictable. I suspect your version of events is rarely taught in schools and universities because it's built on fantasies.

    3. Over the last 2,000 years, Jews were not a minority in most parts of that region. But more importantly, they governed in that region for thousands of years. And no one created a state there because the concept of a state is relatively new, and wasn't a fully established standard in this world until the 20th century. Regardless, the borders aren't at the heart of the problem. The conflict is centered around a cultural world view (or cultural incompatibility). When I speak of peace agreements, I am referring primarily to Palestinian agreements. While Jordan and Egypt have not attacked, Palestine, Syria and Lebanon have.....or at least terrorist organizations within have, ones that carry a lot of political/social weight. After the recent Arab Spring, it's difficult to expect Palestine or Egypt to remain as peaceful towards Israel now that they are governed by a terrorist organization. The simple fact that these terror groups have sworn to the ultimate destruction of Israel is far from think otherwise is more so the fantasy.

    4. (continued)......over the years, the left (even many on the right) have adopted this fantasy that democracy and diplomacy will prevent regional conflicts with Israel. The Arab Spring is clear evidence that this is not the case. Yet, this belief in diplomacy and democracy is still a popular notion in U.S. academia. It's an idea based on appeasement which, today more than ever, legitimizes and emboldens the horrific objectives of anti-western terrorist organizations while minimizing the desire for peace held by most Jews and peaceful Muslims in that region.

      I am not suggesting we antagonize enemies of the western world. I am just suggesting that we recognize the reasons why many of us are concerned with the language used by potential leaders like Hagel. Language which places Israel on the same moral ground as their/our enemies does nothing to preserve peace......quite the contrary. It's important that we openly and outwardly condemn the intentions of our radical adversaries. Otherwise, we are legitimizing their cause and indirectly contributing to their global political support. And if not us, who will rebuke this inhumane agenda held by radical Muslims governing much of the mid-east?

    5. As has been illustrated by the ANC (among countless others) 'terrorist' organizations tend to become civilized when they obtain power. This is because terrorism is a strategy of the marginalized; it's no way to govern a country. Will Hamas, ultimately, follow that pattern? I don't know, but neither do you.

      But it kind of doesn't matter. Because the notion of turning Palestine/extremist Muslims regions into a "parking lot" is a much bigger fantasy than those of which you accuse others. Even if a package of sanctions and "shock and awe" military actions turn those lands into rubble, here's what would inevitably happen next:

      MNCs, in their endless quest to find new, underdeveloped markets to exploit and grow profits, will look at what you call "rubble" and see "a low base for profit growth". Once the middle east is the new China as the market driving global growth (which is an inevitable outcome of the parking-lot-ization of that region), the game is up. No government on the planet is strong enough to keep those regions down if lifting them up is essential to MNC profitability. So lifted up, they will be.

      So you're saying that, unlike the ANC and other formerly terrorist organizations, once lifted up Hamas will not renounce their violent past?

      You might be right. But that seems a silly thing to bet on, because Israelis might as well start making plans for the next extended Diaspora, if that's the case.

    6. Following on CSH's comment the ANC and the range of possibilities, I'd also point out that former Israeli prime minsters Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir were both widely considered terrorists in the 1940s. Again, it doesn't prove anything about the future, but these are two more data points worth considering.

    7. I clearly stated that I am not suggesting we antagonize our enemies (read my last full paragraph). In fact, I don't even know of ANYONE on the right or left suggesting that we become aggressive towards Palestine, or even the radicals within - sanctions aren't even on the table at this time.

      The only ones talking about aggression are the radical Muslims, and this includes the ones in governing control of Palestine and Egypt.

      What I am suggesting, however, is that we recognize the strong position of our adversaries, and stop defending those that don't see this. If we turn a blind eye to this aggressive culture, we are likely to be caught flat-footed if/when they turn to violence (much like Europe did when Hitler invaded Poland).....and violence is a very likely scenario that we cannot afford to dismiss.

      So instead of defending potential leaders that fail to openly acknowledge and condemn this growing radical movement, perhaps we should consider defending our more humane friends living in the center of all this tension?

      And to expect that terrorist organizations become more civilized when they obtain power, well that's quite a reach. Reading about the rise of Nazi power is evidence that this type of wishful thinking can be very dangerous, especially if it bleeds into policy.

      IMO, trade and commerce might be an alternative strategy worth pursuing, but it must be under the condition of peace towards the western world - and this must be a nonnegotiable requirement. But wisely, we must be prepared for the worst. In the mean time, we should make it clear that violent anti-western threats are unacceptable (why would we do otherwise?).

    8. I don't know if you were exactly arguing this, GSpence, but it seems to me that pessimism about a two-state solution is driven by a fundamental misreading of human nature, viz, that certain people are just terrorists by nature.

      The only thing any of us is "by nature" is motivated to do what we think is best for ourselves and our families. Sometimes that maps onto terrorism. Sometimes it doesn't. As the ANC, among many others down through history, have proven: once you no longer perceive terrorism to be in your interest, you tend to stop engaging in it.

      Your point is certainly well-taken that it is a tricky path to get from here to there, one that will require Israel to hold its collective breath and stay its hand on an uncomfortable number of occasions.

      But if that bridge can somehow be crossed, such that the sons and daughters of Hamas are making a reasonably comfortable living selling tchotchkes to Israeli Jews, do you really believe Hamas would still want to bomb their kids' best customers?

  8. TO CSH: Yes, I am realistic (or pessimistic, if you prefer) about a two state solution. And for good reason. Borders and global status are not at the root of the problem. Terrorism and Israeli hatred is a generational issue. Children of Palestine and Egypt (and elsewhere) are still being taught to hate Jews, Christians and westerners. A two state solution does little or nothing to stop this growing trend.

    And you are supporting my earlier point about trade and commerce being a plausible strategy long term. We've seen evidence of this working briefly on the Gaza strip where Arabs and Jews worked together building communities without conflict (lasted about 10 years, if I recall). And keep in mind the trade and commerce does not require a two state can be boosted today.

    My main point, however, is that we don't have to play the middle on heinous radical policy. There's no reason why we cannot condemn death-to-Israel sentiment, and require that peace with Israel and the West be a requisite for opening up trade (or stopping sanctions if war breaks out). And we have some leverage to broker this type of arrangement being the largest consumer market in the world (Israel now has a booming economy too).

    But instead, we are squandering our leverage by sending A1 Abrams tanks to Egypt with no strings attached. So not only are we getting nothing in return for billions of dollars worth of military equipment, we are arming the enemy of our best ally, and doing so in the wake of a terrorist group gaining control of their government. That's a provocative approach to say the least, and counter to the more intelligent ideas that are being shared here on this blog.


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