Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Chuck Hagel: “I’m a United States senator. I’m not an Israeli senator.”

The Pentagon has enjoyed solid leadership from two successive Secretaries of Defense, Bob Gates and Leon Panetta.  With Panetta stepping down a key appointment for President Obama will be to choose Panetta's successor.  The challenge of leading America's gargantuan Defense Department is immense and the person who is chosen needs analytical talents, leadership skills, deep knowledge of security and foreign policy and a penchant for soliciting and listening to competing perspectives.  Donald Rumsfeld had the smarts but he reacted to dissent as though it was a traitorous act.  Gates exemplifies all the traits that I listed.  Panetta had a tough act to follow, but he seems to have measured up, more or less.  Does Chuck Hagel have what it takes to lead Defense? Perhaps he does, but if the Israel lobby has its way he will never get a fair hearing.  (See David Ignatius in the Washington Post.)

Once again, the pro-Israel lobby is trying to wag the dog.  Rabid opposition to Chuck Hagel has come, among others, from the predictable Abraham Foxman who is quoted in Jennifer Rubin's column in Wapo:

“Chuck Hagel would not be the first, second, or third choice for the American Jewish community’s friends of Israel.  His record relating to Israel and the U.S.-Israel relationship is, at best, disturbing, and at worst, very troubling.   The sentiments he’s expressed about the Jewish lobby border on anti-Semitism in the genre of professors John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt and former president Jimmy Carter.”
Notice how quickly any questioning of an Israel-first bias is presumed to "border on anti-Semitism"?  As Bernard Avishai notes in a thoughtful commentary these attacks have a McCarthyite scent.  
Hagel--a classical Republican who thinks for himself--was admirably skeptical about Bush administration claims of success in Iraq, and when it comes to Arab-Israeli issues he insists on asking first about U.S. interests not Israel's.  He understands that U.S. and Israeli interests sometimes overlap but sometimes do not.  (See the T. Friedman comment.)  It is unimaginable that Hagel would promise a foreign leader, as Eric Cantor did Netanyahu, that the Republicans would stand against the President to protect Israel.  Unlike the Neo-cons who have contributed so significantly to the decline of American power, Hagel understands that sensible diplomacy implies talking not just to friends but also with adversaries.

Whether Hagel is the right man to head the Pentagon should not turn on sensible comments that may raise the knee-jerk ire of Israel's self-appointed protectors, but whether he has the skills, knowledge and personality for the job.  Of course, some people, notably Barney Frank, are understandably irked by a few anti-gay comments by Hagel (the most egregious comment was uttered in 1998); however, Hagel has apologized.  Times have changed, and I am confident that what one might have heard regularly around the halls  of Congress or the Pentagon in 1998 would mightily offend many people today.

The main font of opposition to Hagel is not coming from the LGBT community, but from the Israel lobby, as Joe Klein noted on Face the Nation on December 30, 2012:

"Most of the opposition is coming from the Israel lobby, not to put too fine a point on it. They are upset about statements he's made in the past which I think are fairly moderate, main stream statements but they don't like it. AIPAC has been out there make phone calls against him. And I think if the president gives in on this, it if he nominates Hagel and Hagel is still a possibility as far as I understand from the White House, if he gives in on this, it's going to empower neoconservatives who have been wrong about everything in foreign policy for the last decade, when it comes to making a deal with Iran later in the year, which is a real possibility. They're going to try and block any kind of arrangement that we make in terms of a nuclear deal."
Incidentally, a distinguished group of former officials have offered a strong endorsement of Hagel.  Here is the who's who of supporters, and there are many more:

David Boren, Former Oklahoma Governor/U.S. Senator; Zbigniew Brzezinski, Former United States National Security Advisor; Frank Carlucci, Former United States Secretary of Defense; William Fallon, Former Commander, US Central Command; Gary Hart, Former U.S. Senator from Colorado; Carla Hills, Former United States Secretary of Housing and Urban Development/U.S. Trade Representative; Nancy Kassebaum-Baker, Former U.S. Senator from Kansas; Thomas Pickering, Former Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, Ambassador to the United Nations and Ambassador to Israel; Brent Scowcroft, Former United States National Security Advisor; Paul Volcker, Former Chairman of the Federal Reserve; James Wolfensohn, Former President of the World Bank Group.
[Added: As reflected in his eloquent January 1, 2013 Wall St. J. OP-ED, Ambassador Ryan Crocker joined eight Foreign Service colleagues in support of Hagel [added: Jan. 11, 2013, interview with NPR].   The Crocker piece is a striking contrast with the WJF editorial, which yearns for a hawk in the Pentagon and worries that Hagel is too dovish.  One should recall the role that the leading WSJ editorialists played in agitating for the disastrous Iraq war.]

[Added: Glenn Greenwald on the Log Cabin Republican ad in the NYT against Hagel.]

Previous posts about Hagel in "From the Field"

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