So despite warning signs the president has nominated Chuck Hagel to become his new secretary of defense. Hagel's biography is a solid one; he is a decorated Vietnam veteran, and has accumulated considerable public legislative (1970s intern & two-term GOP senator), & private sector (lobbyist, co-founder of Vanguard Cellular) experience. Yet his Senate record is bereft of legislative achievements or memorable speeches, unless one counts his 2007 "war for oil" accusation about the Iraq War--a war that, like John Kerry, Hagel was "for" before he was "against" it. Jennifer Rubin dissects the strange political calculus behind the nomination, one grounded far more in the arrogance of a second-term winner, rather than in foreign policy sense.
A US News & World Report interview with Hagel last week presents his foreign policy views in his own words. Many of them are standard left of center fare, but two things stand out. Nothing is said about Israel. And Hagel is a "strong supporter" of the United Nations, long a cesspool of anti-Americanism & anti-Semitism. In this, though, his views parallel those of many Democrats (and even a few Republicans).
In 2002 Hagel was invited to travel to Cuba with Jimmy Carter. Citing schedule conflict he declined, but he then praised Carter's policy views as to Castro's Cuba. Carter wanted open Cuban access to US markets, believing it would liberalize Cuba. In fact, in the wake of President Obama's easing sanctions on Cuba, domestic repression there has intensified.
On to other serious issues. Begin with The Weekly Standard's compliation of Hagel's senatorial foreign policy record for the post of secretary of defense. Now, read Bret Stephens's devastating evisceration of Hagel's "staccato utterances" about "the Jewish lobby"--many Jews do not support Israel, Evengelicals, not Jews, are Israel's strongest supporters, etc. Stephens captures Hagel's worldview perfectly:
a year in which 457 Israelis were killed in terrorist attacks (a figure
proportionately equivalent to more than 20,000 fatalities in the U.S.,
or seven 9/11s), Mr. Hagel weighed in with the advice that "Israel must
take steps to show its commitment to peace." This was two years after
Yasser Arafat had been offered a state by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud
Barak at Camp David.
In 2006, Mr. Hagel described Israel's war against Hezbollah as "the systematic destruction of an American friend, the country and people of Lebanon." He later refused to sign a letter calling on the European Union to designate Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. In 2007, he voted against designating Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corps as a terrorist organization, and also urged President Bush to open "direct, unconditional" talks with Iran to create "a historic new dynamic in U.S.-Iran relations." In 2009, Mr. Hagel urged the Obama administration to open direct talks with Hamas.
In fairness to Mr. Hagel, all these positions emerge from his belief in the power of diplomatic engagement and talking with adversaries. The record of that kind of engagement—in 2008, Mr. Hagel and John Kerry co-authored an op-ed in this newspaper titled "It's Time to Talk to Syria"—hasn't been stellar, but at least it was borne of earnest motives.
BS then adds that he hopes Obama does nominate Hagel, so that O's anti-Israel bias is made evident--to, among other people, the 63 percent of the Jewish vote that went for Obama. Hagel's nomination would also signal that getting tough on Iran is off the table. Ben Stein reminds us that President Obama is cozy with Jermeiah Wright & Louis Farrakhan, anti-Semites seething with hatred of the Jews. Free to indulge his true feelings with his final election over, he chose Hagel. Hagel need not share such views; he need merely support O's policies. He does.
Here is an astonishing Hagel Senate clip (0:43) in which the senator asserts that the Palestinians are "chained down"--by whom Hagel does not say, but then he dismisses terror as a tactic, not a plan, or a belief like democracy or monarchy. This suggests he regards Palestinian terror as at least in part an understandable improvised response to what he clearly regards as harsh Israeli policy. Palestinians are indeed chained down, but by their own contemptible leaders, not the Israelis.
More on Hagel: During hs tenure as head of World USO, in 1989 he vociferously opposed keeping the Haifa USO operation open, demanding, "Let the Jews pay for it."
Kristol went further, in comparing Hagel to his would-be predecessors:
So even if one left aside Chuck Hagel's dangerous views on Iran and his unpleasant distaste for Israel and Jews, a dispassionate analyst would have to conclude that the case for Hagel is extraordinarily weak. A host of individuals who've served in the Pentagon during President Obama's first term—like Deputy Secretary Ashton Carter, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, and former Undersecretary for Policy Michèle Flournoy—are more qualified than Chuck Hagel to serve as the next secretary of defense. So are Clinton administration Defense Department veterans like Richard Danzig, John Hamre, and Joseph Nye. So are former legislators like Olympia Snowe, Sam Nunn, Dick Gephardt, and Bill Bradley. So are others from the private and public sector.
Or look at it this way. Over the last four decades, the following dozen men have served as the United States Secretary of Defense: Elliot Richardson, James Schlesinger, Donald Rumsfeld (twice), Harold Brown, Cap Weinberger, Frank Carlucci, Dick Cheney, Les Aspin, Bill Perry, Bill Cohen, Bob Gates, and Leon Panetta. They were all impressive public servants. Chuck Hagel clearly falls short of all of them in stature and distinction.
The Weekly Standard adds an Elliott Abrams piece detailing Hagel's hostility to the Jewish community's interests in Nebraska, and to the USO port in Haifa that was an extremely popular port of call for American sailors, who found welcoming hospitality not given elsewhere in the region.
Factor in that prominent Democratic senators are unhappy with Hagel's record on Israel--most notably, super-partisan attack dog Chuck Schumer (NY), who could sink the nomination if as a strong "O" supporter he opposes Hagel. TIME politics maven Mark Helperin sees Hagel's fortunes hostage to several top Dems, who can sink it by going public against him. Hagel opposed sanctions on Iran even when evidence of Iranian involvement in killing US soliders was publicly documented--a position hard to square with the decorated veteran's unquestioned patriotism & courage during his Vietnam service. Hagel defended his Israel/Iran record yesterday, citing the need to work sanctions via the UN--where Russia & China have repeatedly watered them down.
Further factor in that Iran's official state-owned press organ has described Hagel as anti-Israel & anti-military force versus Iran. This, as Alana Goodman of Commentary Blog notes in quoting Iran's outlet, means that Iran will read a Hagel SecDef confirmation as an indicator that Obama will NOT use force to stop Iran's nuclear program. And: so will Israel. Jonathan Tobin at CB agrees, and punctures a conspiracy theory holding that the Hagel pick will facilitate "O" striking Iran.
Hagel, in sum, would likely tilt to the Arabs, as did President Eisenhower, whose mistakes led to the mess in the Arab world we grapple with today.
Brief mention should be made, as well, of CIA Director-nominee John Brennan, currently White House counter-terror chief, who, Michael Rubin of CBlog reminds us, said this about Hezbollah:
The Obama administration is looking for ways to build up “moderate elements” within the Lebanese Hezbollah guerrilla movement and to diminish the influence of hard-liners, a top White House official said on Tuesday. John Brennan, assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism, met with Lebanese leaders during a recent visit. “Hezbollah is a very interesting organization,” Brennan told a Washington conference, citing its evolution from “purely a terrorist organization” to a militia to an organization that now has members within the parliament and the cabinet. “There is certainly the elements of Hezbollah that are truly a concern to us what they’re doing. And what we need to do is to find ways to diminish their influence within the organization and to try to build up the more moderate elements,” Brennan said.
Moderates. In Hezbollah. Like looking for nuns in the Mafia.
Brennan also believes that jihad is primarily defined as holy struggle rather than making outright war against unbelievers. Asked by Washignton Times editors to give an historical example of armed jihad, a concept he concedes exists, Brennan became agitated & ended the meeting.
Brennan is, however, very likely to be confirmed. Hagel's confirmation is less likely, but the president surely will push hard for him, and unless he makes huge mistakes--as did Susan Rice in her interviews with key senators--Hagel stands a good chance of winning confirmation.
Bottom Line. Hagel is poison for US-Israeli relations. He may not be an anti-Semite, despite having made anti-Semitic utterances--some people (myself included) are not models of sensitivity, and thus on this point Hagel should get the benefit of the doubt, so long as there is, upon full vetting, residual doubt. But clearly Hagel blames Israel for the continuance of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Coupled with his penchant for reaching out to terrorist groups & countries & support for a terror-facilitating UN, despite scant evidence that such efforts work well, it is enough to justify opposing O's choice.
Letter from the Capitol, LFTC, National Security, Foreign Policy, Conservative Politics