Say “no” to Chuck Hagel as Secr’y of Defense
By Paul Mirengoff, POWERLINE
Politico reports that President Obama, having just backed down from one major Senate confirmation fight, may be running headlong into another one, as “some in the Jewish community and other Israel backers are reacting with alarm to reports that Obama is preparing to nominate former Sen. Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense.” Politico adds that “Obama will have to assess how big a furor pro-Israel forces will raise and whether the White House wants to deal with it.”
My thesis about Hagel is that Obama wants to nominate him precisely because it will upset “some in the Jewish community and other Israel backers.” This is a fight Obama is confident he can win, since Hagel is a former Republican Senator. And by winning it, Obama believes he will cut the Jewish lobby down to size.
That the Jewish lobby needs to be cut down is axiomatic among a certain type of Washington pol. The Politico article makes this clear.
Acknowledging that Hagel has been a leader among those who denounce the supposed power of the Jewish lobby, Politico turns to David Kurtzer, a former U.S. ambassador to Israel, for an explanation:
- Anybody who has ever talked to senators or congressmen behind closed doors knows you hear a lot of that,” Kurtzer said. “A lot of people won’t talk about that publicly, but Hagel talks about it in public. One can question whether it’s good politics from his standpoint, but it’s not a view that’s foreign on the Hill.”
Can anyone doubt that Obama falls within the substantial circle of politicans that bitterly resents the Israel lobby? This is the man who spiritually followed the rabidly anti-Israel Rev. Wright; who gave a tribute to former PLO operative Rashid Khalidi so explosive that it has never seen the light of day; who has never visited Israel during his time in office, despite having been as close as thirty minutes away in Egypt, and managing to go to Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Iraq; who told Jewish leaders in July 2009 that he was deliberately adopting a policy of putting daylight between America and Israel; and who snubbed Benjamin Netanyahu in Washington DC and complained to Nicolas Sarkozy about having to deal with the Israeli prime minister.
Is there a better explanation for Hagel’s status as front-runner for the Pentagon job than the desire to stick it to the Israeli lobby, and indeed to Israel? Bill Kristol attributes Hagel’s front-runner status to the fact that Hagel was a Republican Senator, which means that Obama might get credit for bipartisanship. But the criticism Obama receives from Israel’s supporters, and the uncomfortable position in which the nomination will place Democrats like Sen. Schumer, will more than offset any points for “reaching across the aisle.” The primary manifestation of any bipartisanship will be the shared heartburn that certain Republicans and Democrats would feel when they vote to confirm Hagel.
But perhaps Hagel is the best man for the job? I suppose he could seem that way if you dislike Israel enough. Otherwise, don’t make me laugh. I assume that Hagel is reasonably knowledgeable about defense issues, but no more so than scores, if not hundreds, of others. And Hagel has no background in successfully managing, or helping to manage, large organizations. The only things that distinguishes him is (1) his extreme aversion to sending troops into combat and (2) what Kristol demonstrates to be his “anti-Israel, pro-appeasement-of-Iran bona fides.”
If Obama were basing his decision on merit, he probably wouldn’t look any further than Deputy Secretary Ashton Carter. But nominating Carter wouldn’t stick it to Israel. And that, according to my thesis, puts him behind Hagel on Obama’s list.
In search of antithesis
Former Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel is apparently the prospective Obama nominee to replace Leon Panetta as the Secretary of Defense. Earlier this week my daughter Eliana reported how he has been lobbying for a senior position in the administration. With Chuck Hagel at Defense and John Kerry at State, we would have a one-two punch aimed squarely at our own head.
In the Weekly Standard editorial “The Hagel thesis,” Bill Kristol joins Paul Mirengoff in reviewing the record and concludes: “Chuck Hagel would do far more damage at Defense than [Susan] Rice would have done at State. To have blocked Rice and then roll over for Hagel would be a disgrace.”
In a companion post on the Weekly Standard site Bill has published a fact sheet circulating on Capitol Hill. As Bill explains, it details Hagel’s record on a number of issues under the heading “An introduction to the reading of Hagel.” Here it is:
1. In November 2001, Hagel was one of 11 Senators who refused to sign a letter requesting President Bush not meet with Yassir Arafat until forces linked to Arafat’s Fatah party ceased attacks on Israel.
2. In December 2005, Hagel was one of 27 Senators who refused to sign a letter to President Bush requesting the U.S. pressure the Palestinians to ban terrorist groups from participating in legislative elections.
3. In July 2006, Hagel called on President Bush to demand an immediate cease-fire when Israel retaliated against Hezbollah after the terrorist group attacked Israel, abducted two IDF soldiers, and fired rockets at Israeli civilians.
4. In August 2006, Hagel was only of 12 senators who refused to sign a letter asking the EU to declare Hezbollah a terrorist organization.
5. In 2007, Hagel voted against designating Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) a terrorist organization.
Israel and “the Jewish Lobby”
1. In October 2000, Hagel was one of only four Senators who refused to sign a letter expressing support for Israel during the second Palestinian intifada.
2. In July 2002, in a Washington Post op-ed, after several of the most deadly months of Palestinian suicide bombings, Hagel wrote that the U.S. was erroneously “making Yassir Arafat the issue,” that Palestinians could not be expected to make democratic reforms as long as “Israeli military occupation and settlement activity” continue, and that “Israel must take steps to show its commitment to peace.”
3. In November 2003, Hagel failed to vote on the Syria Accountability Act authorizing sanctions on Syria for its support of terrorism and occupation of Lebanon. The Act passed by a vote of 89 to 4.
4. In July 2006, Hagel called on the Bush Administration to take up the Beirut Declaration of 2002, also known as the “Saudi Peace Initiative,” saying it was “a starting point” that had been “squandered” by the United States. It calls on Israel to retreat from the Golan Heights, the West Bank, and much of Jerusalem, including the Jewish Quarter of the Old City and the Western Wall, as a precondition for peace.
5. In calling upon President Bush to demand an immediate ceasefire after Israel responded to a Hezbollah attack in 2006, Hagel said: “This madness must stop,” and accused Israel of “the systematic destruction of an American friend — the country and people of Lebanon.”
6. “The political reality is that … the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here.” (Hagel interviewed in Aaron David Miller’s 2008 book The Too Much Promised Land)
7. In 2009, Hagel signed onto a letter urging President Obama to open direct negotiations with Hamas, a U.S.-designated terrorist organization dedicated to the violent destruction of Israel and which has perpetrated dozens of suicide bombings that have killed or injured hundreds of civilians in Israel, including many Americans.
8. The National Jewish Democratic Council says Hagel has “a lot of questions to answer about his commitment to Israel.”
9. When questioned about his pro-Israel record during a meeting in New York with supporters of Israel, Hagel is reported to have said, “Let me clear something up here if there’s any doubt in your mind. I’m a United States Senator. I’m not an Israeli senator. I’m a United States Senator. I support Israel. But my first interest is, I take an oath of office to the constitution of the United States. Not to a president, not to a party, not to Israel.”
1. On July 24, 2001, Hagel was one of only two U.S. senators who voted against renewing the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act.
2. In June 2004, Hagel refused to sign a letter urging that President Bush highlight Iran’s nuclear program while at the G-8 summit.
3. In a 2007 letter to President Bush, Hagel urged “direct, unconditional” talks with Iran to create a “historic new dynamic in US-Iran relations.”
4. In 2007, declined to join 72 Senators in supporting a bipartisan sanctions bill called the Iran Counter Proliferation Act.
5. In a 2007 speech, Hagel claimed that “Continued hostile relations between the United States and Iran will have the effect of isolating the United States.”
6. In 2008, Hagel voted in the Senate Banking Committee against legislation imposing sanctions on countries conducting certain business with Iran.
7. In March 2012, Hagel suggested Iran had “a couple of face-saving ways” out of a new round of economic sanctions over its nuclear program. “You cannot push the Iranians into a corner where they can’t get out,” he said.
Bill’s post has links supporting each of the numbered items. The Hagel thesis calls for antithesis, and soon.