At CUFI’s kick-off banquet at the Washington Hilton, attended by over 3,500 members, Republican support for both Hagee’s effort and his drumbeat for war with Iran were on full view. Republican National Committee Chair Ken Mehlman told the group that “no regime is more central to the global jihad” than Iran. Just two days before, Newt Gingrich and John McCain made the rounds of the Sunday talk shows to sound the same message, leading Benny Elon, a member of the Israeli Knesset, to comment to the Jerusalem Post that their remarks originated with Hagee. Rick Santorum and Sam Brownback also addressed the group, and Bush sent words of support to the gathering. Republicans, and even some Democrats, spoke at CUFI events to show their “support for Israel.” But while public and media attention was on the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah, Hagee’s focus continued to be on Iran.
While the crisis at the Israel-Lebanon border drew more mainstream media attention to CUFI’s activities, Hagee’s supporters have long known that leading Republicans are listening. Rabbi Daniel Lapin, a prominent Jewish ally of the evangelical right (and friend of Jack Abramoff) has said that Hagee “without question, yes, absolutely” has the ear of the White House. Hagee’s annual Night to Honor Israel at his church has drawn prominent Republicans, including Tom DeLay, who was the keynote speaker in 2002.
While Washington insiders wonder what it means when Republicans like Mehlman and presidential aspirants Gingrich and McCain finger Iran as the central player in an epic clash of civilizations, Hagee already has spent months mobilizing the shock troops in support of another war. As diplomats, experts and pundits debate how many years Iran will need to develop a viable nuclear weapon, Hagee says the mullahs already possess the means to destroy Israel and America. And although Bush insists that diplomatic options are still on the table, Hagee has dismissed pussyfooting diplomacy and primed his followers for a conflagration.
The CUFI board of directors includes the Rev. Jerry Falwell, former Republican presidential candidate and religious right activist Gary Bauer, and George Morrison, pastor of the 8,000-member Faith Bible Chapel in Arvada, Colo., and chairman of the board of Promise Keepers. Rod Parsley, the Ohio televangelist who is rapidly becoming a major political player in the Christian right, signed on to be a regional director. [Gee, wonder who they endorsed?]
For Hagee’s new project, his influence in Washington is probably less important than his influence over his audience. With the clout of his listeners, he can serve Bush administration hawks by firing up grassroots support for a military strike against Iran. Over 700,000 people purchased his book, “Jerusalem Countdown,” and countless more have heard him promote it on Christian radio and television programming. Dramatic, doomsday advertising has been heard by listeners of Christian media as well as on Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly’s radio programs. The pages of “Jerusalem Countdown” provide a peculiar mix of biblical prophecy, purported inside information from Israeli government officials and a mixed-up, pared-down lesson in nuclear physics.
“I wrote this book in April 2005, and when people read it, they will think I wrote it late last night after the FOX News report,” says the author without a trace of irony. “It’s that close to where we are and beyond.”