National Security & Defense

Schumer Says the Right Thing on the Iran Deal — Now He Needs to Persuade Eleven More Senators

(Chip Somodevilla/Getty)

‘My name . . . comes from the word shomer, guardian, watcher. My ancestors were guardians of the ghetto wall in Chortkov, and I believe God actually gave me that name. One of my roles, which is very important in the United States Senate, is to be a shomer — to be Shomer Yisrael [guardian of Israel]. And I will continue to be that with every bone in my body.”

These are the words of Senator Charles Schumer, soon-to-be minority leader of the United States Senate, the most powerful Democrat in Congress. Senator Schumer has given this speech, or some iteration of it, hundreds of times at synagogues, Jewish community centers, and media outlets across the country. Many of my friends were at a similar gathering at the Aventura Turnberry synagogue in Miami in 2008, when Senator Schumer used his Hebrew name, shomer, to assure the congregants, many of whom were wary of voting for Senator Barack Obama, that President Barack Obama would be a friend to Israel. As he often is, Senator Schumer was persuasive and magnetic, leaving most of the voters who walked out of Turnberry that night feeling safe and secure — sensing themselves, in a word, shamur, that is, protected by their shomer.

Now, years later, Senator Schumer, self-proclaimed shomer of the Jewish people, is our only remaining hope to defeat a nuclear agreement with Iran that would, if ratified, alter the balance of power in the Middle East, condone the Islamic Republic’s nuclear-weapons program, infuse the Iranian terror machine with hundreds of billions of dollars with which to finance its proxies, and, for all practical purposes, prevent the United States from castigating the ayatollahs for future violations of their nuclear obligations.

On Thursday night, Senator Schumer boldly and resolutely declared that he would vote against the agreement, despite pressure from the administration. But his vote alone will not be enough. President Obama has promised to veto any bill rejecting the agreement — a move that would require Congress to override the veto by a two-thirds vote or else live with the consequences of an Iran deal that the president, in a show of brute force, has already submitted to the United Nations Security Council for approval. Two-thirds means 67 votes in the Senate, where there are now 53 Republicans, and 290 votes in the House, where there are 246 Republicans.

Many pro-Israel advocates believe that they can make up those 44 votes in the House. It is in the Senate where the math gets tricky. Both Senator Schumer and Senator Robert Menendez (D., N.J.) have committed to breaking ranks with the president and voting against the deal, and Senator Ben Cardin (D., Md.) seems increasingly likely to do the same. But rejection of the Iran agreement would still fall eleven votes short — eleven votes that only one man can deliver, the future minority leader, the man who would be shomer.

Leading a mutiny of Senate Democrats against the president on the Iran agreement would require our shomer to stand against a worldview the president has long embraced.

Leading a mutiny of Senate Democrats against the president on the Iran agreement would require our shomer to stand against a worldview the president has long embraced. President Obama sees the Iranian crisis as a problem of our own making. In many ways he subscribes to the Iranian narrative, made famous by Stephen Kinzer in his controversial book All the Shah’s Men (2003), that the ayatollahs are the direct and proximate result of the CIA’s overthrowing the democratically elected president of Iran in 1953 and installing, in his place, the now-reviled and since-deposed shah. Looking at the world in this light, President Obama has viewed the Iranians as victims more than aggressors, more in need of an apology than tough talk, and less deserving of punishment than assistance. To defeat a president of his own party on this signature piece of international diplomacy, our shomer, if he is up to the task, must reject this narrative unequivocally and without reservation. He needs to understand that the CIA, like other foreign intelligence services, has participated, whether we like it or not, in the overthrow of a number of democratically elected governments around the world, not one of which has, like Iran, metastasized into a radical religious autocracy bent on destroying America and its allies; not one of which has become the world’s most prolific state sponsor of terrorism; not one of which has brought itself to the brink of nuclear capacity.

To protect America and its allies from an Iran that has never lived up to its international agreements — from an Islamic Republic that has constructed its nuclear program precisely by violating the strictures of every nuclear-proliferation treaty ever promulgated — our shomer will have to persuade Senate Democrats to reject the president’s claim that America ten years from now would be better situated to deal with Iranian nuclear aggression than we are today. Ten years from now, our shomer must explain to Senate Democrats, the Islamic Republic will be closer to creating a nuclear weapon after the years of internationally sanctioned buildups this agreement authorizes; better protected from military confrontation after the years of ballistic-missile shipments this agreement countenances; and better funded after the decade of sanctions relief this agreement effectuates, to withstand any future economic isolation.

To live up to the meaning of his name, our shomer must point out to Senate Democrats that an agreement that requires a potentially endless back-and-forth of IAEA “questions,” Iranian “answers,” and international “resolutions” before a nuclear site may be inspected is tantamount to an agreement without any meaningful inspections at all. To abide by the promises he made in his campaign speeches, our shomer must lead moderate Democrats to reject, in no uncertain terms, the president’s claim that no better deal was attainable. He must help his party remember that the Islamic Republic has stopped its nuclear program twice already — both times in response to aggressive, not conciliatory, action from the United States: the first, after President Bush invaded Iraq in 2003, and the second, after international sanctions brought the Iranian economy to its knees in 2012.

Our shomer must respond to the administration’s recent lobbying efforts by pointing his finger at history and noting, sternly and unambiguously, that America’s rigid national policy toward Iran, advanced by four presidents of both parties, has done what this president now claims is impossible: For more than 30 years, that policy has prevented Iran from building a nuclear arsenal. He must make other moderate Democrats see that an agreement that does nothing — and says nothing — about Iran’s support for Hamas, Hezbollah, and Bashar al-Assad is, in practice as in perception, indistinguishable from an agreement that condones it. He must help Senate Democrats understand that wrongdoers must be punished, not rewarded; liars must be checked, not trusted; and terrorists must remain the objects of our enmity and the targets of our aggression, not our partners in negotiations or the subjects of our contrition.

Last, and most important: To win over the eleven votes that will be necessary to save America from an agreement that will, for years to come, only embolden our enemies and discourage our allies — an agreement that would send reverberations throughout the Middle East, encouraging Arabs and Jews alike to reconstruct their nuclear arsenals in the Iranian image — our shomer must be willing to destroy himself; he must be prepared to lose the leadership position he has spent an entire lifetime preparing for; he must, in short, be ready to sacrifice himself for the good of his people. Is there such a man? I believe that there is. To borrow from William Manchester’s stirring biography of Winston Churchill: In Washington, there is such a man, and his name is Shomer.

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