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Hagel on Palestinian Terrorism: “Desperate Men Do Desperate Things”

Glenn Kessler has a helpful roundup of some of the most troubling Chuck Hagel comments (though a much more extensive list can be found at ECI’s ChuckHagel.com). This one in particular, from a 1998 AP interview, jumped out:

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ”essentially stopped the process,” Hagel said. ”The Israeli government essentially continues to play games,” stonewalling implementation of the Oslo peace accords.

”What I fear more today is that desperate men do desperate things when you take hope away,” Hagel said. ”And that’s where the Palestinians are today.”

The Israeli government needs to understand that implementation of the peace agreement is in its own interests, he said. 

Hagel said Arabs generally believe America ”has tilted toward Israel” in its Mideast relations and there will be no lasting peace in the region without relationships with Iran. 

”I think we should continue to pursue openings with Iran, understanding this is still a nation very hostile to the West,” he said. ”We need to understand cold, hard realities and be very clear-eyed and clearheaded, but every opening we should take.”

This is a useful article because it provides three key insights into Hagel’s views on Middle East policy in general:

1. He believes Israel is the main obstacle to a peace deal.

Hagel’s supporters claim he has, on rare occasion, said positive things about Israel. Fair enough. So have groups like J Street, and they’re so toxic in the pro-Israel community that politicians have declined their support.

Saying a few, token niceties about our closest ally in the Middle East means very little. Like J Street, Hagel’s problem is balance. How often and how strongly has he criticized Israel, and how often and how strongly has he criticized the Palestinians? He’s clearly comfortable blaming Israel, in very harsh terms, for obstructing peace. But when asked about Yasser Arafat in a 2002 CNN interview, Hagel demurred, saying he would not “single out the Palestinians and Arafat as the real problem here.” Why not? Because “it doesn’t help when we take public sides on this and castigate and assign all of the responsibility and all the blame to one side.” He certainly seemed comfortable assigning blame to Israel two years earlier.

2. He believes Israel is to blame for problems across the Muslim world.

Hagel believes in linkage theory, that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is at the root of problems across the Muslim world. The article above paraphrases: “Hagel said Arabs generally believe America ‘has tilted toward Israel’ in its Mideast relations and there will be no lasting peace in the region without relationships with Iran.”

Hagel made a similar point in a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing that same year, but his support for linkage was more explicit.

“Do you believe part of this problem is the perception in the Arab world that we’ve tilted way too far toward Israel in the Middle East peace process?” Hagel asked then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. When Albright said no, Hagel followed up: “But surely you believe that they’re linked? You don’t believe that there’s any linkage between the Middle East peace process and what’s happening in Iraq?”

This is a disturbingly simplistic way for a defense secretary to view Middle East policy. As we saw during the Arab Spring, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not the overarching concern for most Muslims. The linkage theory usually leads into the argument that the U.S. relationship with Israel undermines American relations with the Muslim world.

3. He is willing to apologize for terrorism.

”The Israeli government essentially continues to play games…What I fear more today is that desperate men do desperate things when you take hope away,” Hagel said. ”And that’s where the Palestinians are today.”

The implication is that Israeli actions are responsible for Palestinian terror attacks. There’s also more than a note of sympathy in the description of terrorists as “desperate men do[ing] desperate things when you take hope away”–read: when the Israelis, not Palestinian leadership, take hope away. Does Hagel still believe this? And if so, does he also believe U.S. actions are responsible for terrorist “blowback”? Some senators might want to inquire.



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