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Schumer the Shomer

After 45 years of winning elections, the Senate majority leader should have enough confidence in himself to oppose Biden’s Iran deal. Why doesn’t he?

Martin Peretz
July 09, 2021
Original images: Drew Angerer/Getty Images; Majid Saeedi/Getty Images
Original images: Drew Angerer/Getty Images; Majid Saeedi/Getty Images
Original images: Drew Angerer/Getty Images; Majid Saeedi/Getty Images
Original images: Drew Angerer/Getty Images; Majid Saeedi/Getty Images

I just received an email from Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. No, not a private one. So maybe you received it as well. It was sent to registered Democrats and to other folks who’ve contributed to Democratic candidates, which I used to do quite abundantly.

Now I do so only sparingly. I suppose I’m still a Democrat, though a picky one. Still, I’m happy to tell you whom I’ve given to in this Congress: Rep. Ritchie Torres from the Bronx, in the 15th District where I lived when I was young (about 75 years ago), and one congressman from New Jersey, Rep. Josh Gottheimer. Both smart and brave men, devoted friends of Israel. (I’ve also given against a few candidates, and they lost. Believe me, this can also be quite satisfying.)

Now, Chuck (who was a student of mine at Harvard College) ran for the New York State Assembly when he was still at Harvard Law School, and won. He’s been winning ever since, making for a political career of over 45 years. The last time he asked me for a donation to his reelection campaign I gave him $10,000, not enormous but certainly not meaningless. Is he liked? I don’t really know, even for myself. Still, his Democratic senatorial colleagues respect him, at least to the point of putting him in charge of their communal business. But rumors ruminate. Will someone from or near the squad challenge him in 2022, which realistically means starting this year? Is there someone out there, high-reaching and impatient, feeling that nearly a half-century of Schumer is quite enough?

All of this Schumeriana is a prelude to calling him to account on Iran. He has been eerily still on whether the United States should reenter the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)that anodyne-sounding agreement from which Donald Trump had the temerity (or maybe it was gumption) to withdraw, but which is now on President Biden’s plate.

I have a sense that my younger and brilliant former colleague from The New Republic (yes, our secretary of state), Antony Blinken, does not want to reenter this tarraram: There are other and simpler means of forcing Tehran out of the nuclear arms business. But the fact is that the Iranians are deeply reluctant to return to the present and generous restrictions of the deal, whatever they think those may be.

I grasp that the Iranians just elected as President Ebrahim Raisi, an almost nutsy hardliner, a judicial murderer, in fact, with thousands of corpses to his account, and that this grotesque choice is of course being translated into very hawkish general politics. But not many voters actually voted, many fewer than in recent years. As for Americans, I suspect that most of us also don’t really know what the old deal really entailed or might entail when Robert Malley—the very lefty, “almost anything goes” chief negotiator, trained by his communist father and bankrolled by George Soros, alas—puts his finishing touches to the new document.

Americans’ lack of knowledge about the nuclear deal is not an accident. Years ago Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser and the man in charge of selling the Iran deal to the public, admitted that, far from wanting Americans to know the details of it, “We created an echo chamber [in which the experts and reporters] were saying things that validated what we had given them to say … I mean, I’d prefer a sober, reasoned public debate, after which members of Congress reflect and take a vote. But that’s impossible.”

A “sober, reasoned public debate” on the Iran deal might have pointed to the mitigating factors that argued against it: Iran has been the main belligerent in the Middle East for 15 years; it funds violent Iraqi militias that bring disorder to the country; it backs both Hezbollah and Hamas, using the latter to attack Israel, the one democratic state in the region; it supports the genocidal dictator Bashar Assad in Syria; it receives support from Russia in exchange for helping disrupt American interests in the Middle East; it signs energy deals with an aggrandizing China; and it extends its support to repressive regimes like Venezuela, to which it tried sending weapons by boat only last month.

These are the facts, plain and simple. Still, facts have a habit of fading when put against ideology. So most Democrats will probably support the new deal, because in a soft ideological way, Democrats are, more or less, for “international obligations” of almost any type, which of course the Republicans are against, also more than a bit thoughtlessly.

If a treaty ever came before the Senate, it would almost certainly fail to secure a majority, so Biden’s deal will likely take the form of another nonbinding “political commitment.” In that event, Sen. Schumer could, if he has the courage of his convictions—and these are his convictions—stand up to the proliferation of nukes to the one Middle Eastern power that would actually use them, and bring a few Senate Democrats with him. After all, Schumer does not stand alone but has two self-determined senatorial colleagues, Democrats Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin of West Virginia. And who knows? Maybe there are others.

So, back to my Schumerania: The question will be, will Chuck be willing to risk the wrath of the squad and high-up Democratic donors and operatives deeply invested in the Iran deal’s success by taking a stand? After all these years of winning, will he show us what winning is for?

Martin Peretz was Editor-in-Chief of The New Republic for 36 years and taught social theory at Harvard University for nearly half a century.

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