Hard-liners Are Paving the Way for Their Increased Irrelevance
Dan McCarthy observes that “pro-Israel” hard-liners have succeeded in making themselves increasingly irrelevant:
What Adelson and Kristol and their friends in the Senate have done is to make Israel a more partisan issue than it has been hitherto—and what’s worse, the party the ultras have aligned with is the one that looks set to be out of power for some time to come.
One of the stranger aspects of Republican foreign policy arguments for the last four or five years is how eager “pro-Israel” hard-liners in the party have been to narrow the definition of “pro-Israel” so much that almost no one except for them fully qualifies. Thus it has become standard for these hard-liners to assert that Obama’s mostly conventional Israel policy decisions make him the “most hostile” or “worst” president on matters relating to Israel since the latter’s founding, and we have seen Hagel accorded the same treatment in recent months. These are inherently absurd allegations, but the hard-liners and their movement conservative echoes consider them to be obvious, incontrovertible facts. It doesn’t matter whether they “really” believe what they’re saying. They are identifying everyone not committed to maximalist hawkish positions as their bitter enemies, and that means that they are badly outnumbered and getting more so all the time.
The problem for the hard-liners is that their rhetoric depends on constant escalation of what is required to pass the test: today’s acceptable and conventional “pro-Israel” hawk becomes tomorrow’s “anti-Israel” villain, because at some point most conventionally “pro-Israel” people aren’t going to adhere to the hard-liners’ maximalist and dangerous definition of what it is to be “pro-Israel.” Dan writes that the hard-liners have been successful in policing debate inside the GOP, so that there “won’t be any more Hagels in the future,” but the escalating demands that hard-liners make of politicians ensures that there will be. If Hagel’s mostly conventional record on issues relating to Israel can be suddenly erased or ignored because he appealed for an end to conflict in Lebanon and didn’t sign a few pointless letters, then there is almost no one who cannot be subjected to the same treatment when hard-liners choose to attack. Because of this, there are actually fewer incentives for politicians to listen to hard-liners’ demands, which are increasingly so divorced from reality that they become a liability for anyone not in a safe seat. There may eventually be more incentives to adopt more unconventional views on the grounds that the hard-liners will never be satisfied no matter what one does.
Just as Hagel was pilloried for failing to pass ridiculous litmus tests regarding meaningless resolutions and letters, we should expect to see anyone that voted for cloture today attacked in a similarly ridiculous way for their “anti-Israel” vote. Almost three-quarters of the Senate ignored what “pro-Israel” hard-liners wanted today. That is a modestly encouraging sign that hard-liners are gradually losing ground in terms of overall influence even if that influence remains depressingly great inside the GOP.