When Chuck Hagel chaired the Atlantic Council, the group bent over backwards to exculpate Iran. That was a “twofer” for Hagel, because it fit not only with his ideological predilections, but also pleased donors like the Ploughshares Fund, which has dedicated itself to diminishing concern regarding Iran’s nuclear intentions.
Now that he’s at the helm of the Defense Department, he’s back at it again. Last evening, Bill Gertz reported in the Washington Free Beacon that Hagel’s Pentagon inexplicably changed previous conclusions to argue that Iran’s military doctrine was predominantly defensive in nature:
The fight over the nomination of Chuck Hagel to be secretary of defense is long over. The former Nebraska senator’s inept confirmation hearing and the uncovering of damning statements he made concerning his views about Israel and its supporters wasn’t enough to convince the Senate to reject him or for enough of his critics to block the nomination with a filibuster. Since taking office, he has tried to put his problems behind him and is currently in Israel, where he has promised to stand by the Jewish state. Let’s hope he sticks to those pledges.
But for some of those who defended him, victory in that battle wasn’t enough. Yesterday the New Republic published an astonishing piece by Alec MacGillis in which he claimed Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens’s writing about Hagel should have disqualified him for the Pulitzer Prize in Commentary that he was awarded earlier this month. According to MacGillis, Stephens “smeared” Hagel by accusing him of anti-Semitism.
This is false. If there was anything that we learned during the debate about Hagel, it was that it was the nominee who had indulged in smear tactics against supporters of Israel over the years.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is in Israel this week, and the man who was opposed by many friends of the Jewish state when he was nominated seems determined to make a good impression. Hagel came bearing “gifts” in that he brought the official permissions for $10 billion in arms sales to Israel including vital anti-radar missiles, aircraft for mid-air refueling as well as other planes that can rapidly transport troops and firepower. Just as important, he said all the right things in public including the reaffirmation of Israel’s right to decide how to defend itself, and he seemed on his best behavior as he met with his counterpart Moshe Yaalon, Israel’s minister of defense.
No one should doubt these arms sales greatly strengthen Israel’s defenses as well as its ability to project air power if it should prove necessary. President Obama has made good on his promise to maintain Israel’s qualitative military edge and it is incumbent on those of us who have criticized him for his predilection for picking pointless fights with the Jewish state over the peace process throughout his first term to acknowledge that. Nor can one point to the other pieces of the arms package that included sales of missiles to Saudi Arabia and F-16 jets to the United Arab Emirates as proof of bad will since it is obvious those weapons are intended to strengthen the ability of those monarchies to defend themselves against Iran, not to attack Israel.
But, as an article in today’s New York Times made clear, there are still grounds for concern about the U.S.-Israel relationship. Although the administration is helping maintain Israel’s defense deterrent, they did not grant everything on Jerusalem’s wish list. The most prominent item missing from the weapons that are to be delivered is a Massive Ordnance Penetrator, a giant bunker-busting bomb that is exactly what is needed to take out Iran’s underground nuclear facility at Fordow. That and the “fundamental difference of views” between the two countries about the level of risk that Iran’s program poses are complicating the Hagel visit.
Over the course of the last year, President Obama has escalated his rhetoric against Iran. His repudiation of a policy of containment of a nuclear Iran and his repeated promise never to allow the Islamist regime to gain such a weapon has left him little room to maneuver. Tehran continues to stonewall the diplomatic process initiated by the United States and its partners in the P5+1 process. Just as ominously, the ayatollahs have doubled down on their efforts to strengthen their nuclear program. The number of centrifuges spinning away to enrich uranium to bomb-level grade in their underground mountain bunker facility has increased while international inspectors continue to be kept away from sites where military applications of nuclear technology can be found.
But with the clock ticking down toward the moment when the Iranians will have enough fuel to make bombs, much of the foreign policy establishment in the United States is still trying to influence the president to back away from his pledge. The Iran Project has assembled a formidable array of former diplomats and political figures to urge Obama to not just stop talking about force but also to move away from the economic sanctions he has belatedly implemented to pressure Tehran. The group, which has strong ties to the administration, has issued a new report, “Strategic Options for Iran: Balancing Pressure with Diplomacy,” that is aimed at providing a rationale for Obama to embark on yet another attempt at engagement with Iran that would effectively assure the ayatollahs that they have nothing to fear from the West.
The Atlantic Council is known for narrowly-crafted study groups in which conclusions follow consistent themes: greater U.S. concessions and trust in rogues and adversaries. In 1998, for example, the Atlantic Council sought a partial lifting of the U.S. trade embargo on Iran as “a key gesture of good faith.” Subsequent intelligence shows that as the Atlantic Council’s hand-picked study group counseled increased trade with Iran, the Iranian leadership was on an international buying spree in support of its nuclear and ballistic weapons programs.
In a 2001 study group, Lee Hamilton, James Schlesinger, and Brent Scowcroft—the latter now interim head of the Council following Chuck Hagel’s move to the Pentagon—lamented the congressional tendency to wield sticks rather than carrots against rogues, and criticized legislation requiring the State Department to produce its annual Patterns of Global Terrorism report, since such reporting placed Iranian terror sponsorship front and center in the public debate and became an impediment to public willingness to make a deal with Tehran.
If there is any message to come out of Chuck Hagel’s confirmation, perhaps it is a refutation of the commonly heard charge, made most infamously by Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer and echoed by Hagel himself, that the dread “Jewish lobby” insidiously controls American foreign policy. How strong can this lobby be if it failed to block the appointment as defense secretary of someone who was widely seen (rightly or wrongly) as inimical to Israeli interests?
As Lee Smith notes in a typically thoughtful column, AIPAC–the most powerful pro-Israel group in Washington–actually sat out the whole fight ostensibly because it wants to affect policy, not personnel decisions. But it’s also possible that it sat out the fight because it knew that it would lose; indeed after Chuck Schumer gave his blessing to Hagel, there was no realistic chance of stopping his nomination absent a unified Republican filibuster–which was never likely to last for more than a few days. And certainly other pro-Israel groups, such as the Emergency Committee for Israel, did go all-out to try to stop Hagel.
On New Year’s Eve, with Republicans and Democrats negotiating an eleventh-hour deal to avert the so-called fiscal cliff, President Obama did something strange. He called a press conference, styled as a campaign event, to mock and taunt the Republicans whose votes were still needed on the legislation. Conservatives weren’t happy, and noted that this behavior would not exactly encourage the GOP to vote for the bill. But liberals in the press openly sneered at this concept. Would Republicans really act against their better judgment because Obama was mean to them?
No, they would not. Yet strangely liberals in the press are now taking the other side of that argument. Joshua Hersh reports today that, in retaliation for criticizing Chuck Hagel on Israel and Iran, the new defense secretary may hold a grudge and seek revenge on Israel and those opposed to the Iranian nuclear weapons program:
There isn’t much doubt Chuck Hagel will finally be confirmed as secretary of defense this week when the Senate reconvenes. Some Republicans have abandoned their support of delaying the nomination. Meanwhile, Democrats–even those who have reputations as stalwart friends of Israel–have closed ranks behind President Obama’s choice. The result is that a man who was widely ridiculed for his incompetent performance during his confirmation hearing and who has a long record of troubling stands on Israel, Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah will soon be running the Pentagon. As Pete wrote earlier today, having a “dim-witted” secretary of defense who isn’t up to the task of helping to set policy is bad for national security. There is also good reason to worry that whatever influence Hagel does have will be used to downgrade the alliance with Israel and to act as a brake on efforts to isolate Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah.
But before the book on the Hagel confirmation fight is closed, it’s worth re-examining one of the excuses used by some Democrats in refusing to stand up against such an unsuitable nomination. Many of those who otherwise count themselves as staunch friends of Israel—and who almost certainly would have gone to the barricades to oppose a similar candidate had he been put forward by a Republican president—have defended their support of Hagel by saying that it was impossible for them to speak out on the issue when Jewish and pro-Israel groups were silent. While many Jewish groups did keep quiet about Hagel, the initial reluctance of others went out the window in the last weeks as more information came to light about Hagel’s past statements about Jews and Israel. Earlier this month, Abe Foxman, the head of the Anti-Defamation League, said Hagel’s statements were disturbing and called for an explanation.
The latest to do so was B’nai B’rith International. On Friday, it said it was troubled by Hagel’s record as well as by his statements and urged the Senate to re-examine his record before voting. In doing so, it joined the American Jewish Committee, another large mainstream and generally liberal organization, in calling for a halt to the rush to confirm Hagel.
Much has been said, and rightly so, about Chuck Hagel’s dismal confirmation hearing, his noxious statements about Israel, his alarming attitude toward Iran, and his eagerness to gut the Defense Department.
But what Dan Senor has done better than anyone else is to explain, in a specific and accessible manner, what a secretary of defense does, what the job entails, and why competence in that Cabinet post, more than any other, matters. Mr. Senor’s article in the Weekly Standard can be found here.
In the wake of Senator Hagel’s dim-witted performance in his confirmation hearing, his supporters were forced to argue that Hagel is acceptable precisely because he won’t really be in charge. “After all,” said Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal, “the president is the one who sets policy.” Mr. Hagel himself, in order to allay concerns of his critics, actually said, “I won’t be in a policy-making position.”
In 1967, President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed Ramsey Clark, the son of Supreme Court Justice Tom C. Clark, to be his attorney general. The young Clark had pedigree, had served in the U.S. Marine Corps, and had previous experience in government.
Clark took his oath of office shortly before his 40th birthday, and played a hand in much of Johnson-era civil right legislation. His real legacy, however, has been in his post-government career. Clark was an unabashed supporter of Ayatollah Khomeini and the Islamic Revolution in Iran. In the days after Iranian revolutionaries seized the U.S. embassy, President Jimmy Carter dispatched Clark to Tehran with a letter for Khomeini (it was never delivered; Khomeini refused him entry, and Clark cooled his heels in Istanbul before heading home). After Iraq’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait, Clark embraced Saddam Hussein. He condemned the U.S. liberation of Kuwait, and accused most of the George H.W. Bush administration of complicity in war crimes.
With the defection of one more Republican from the ranks of those opposing the nomination of Chuck Hagel to be secretary of defense, it appears the saga of the battle to stop the Nebraskan from taking office is coming to a close. Alabama Senator Richard Shelby announced today that he would vote for Hagel when the nomination comes to the floor. Shelby’s support is yet another blow against the hopes that the 10-day delay caused by last week’s failed cloture vote would result in a game changing event that would sink the chances of Hagel’s confirmation. Of course, the fate of this struggle was probably already sealed last Sunday when Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham said they wouldn’t try to extend the filibuster when Congress reconvened next week. And if that left any doubt about the final outcome, it was removed when New York Democrat Chuck Schumer reconfirmed his support for Hagel with a speech that was as dishonest as it was morally dubious.
This will, no doubt, lead some on the left to crow about the failure of the pro-Israel community to stop the advancement of one of its worst critics. Others will say the effort was itself a mistake, since even after a concerted campaign to undermine support for the nomination and a disastrous confirmation hearing performance by Hagel his critics were unable to pry a single pro-Israel Democrat from the ranks of his backers. The result, we will be told, demonstrated the impotence of the vaunted “Israel Lobby” and will only encourage President Obama in the belief that he need not fear the consequences of another campaign of pressure on Israel or a decision to reverse course on containment of a nuclear Iran (the policy that Hagel has always supported and flubbed his recantation of at his hearing).
But those who will say the fight wasn’t worth it are wrong. Far from suffering a defeat, the last six weeks of close political combat on the issue have only strengthened the position of the pro-Israel community.
Following the latest string of revelations about Chuck Hagel’s defamatory comments about Israel and its supporters, a lot of attention has been focused on whether New York Senator Chuck Schumer would change his position on President Obama’s nominee to be secretary of defense. But any hopes that Schumer would prioritize the principles that he has always claimed he was elected to the Senate to defend over political expediency have now been dashed. At a New York City event this morning reported by Politico’s Maggie Haberman, Schumer doubled down on his support for Hagel claiming the former senator cried when discussing his slurs about the “Jewish lobby.”
The account of Schumer’s fateful meeting with the nominee was fascinating but more important than that was his decision to repeat the claim that “not a major Jewish organization” was against Hagel and to assert that the issue driving opposition to him was anger about his opposition to the war in Iraq. Both claims are not only false but are a transparent attempt to deflect attention from the real issue in the debate over Hagel: the president’s choice of an incompetent nominee who is also a well known antagonist of Israel with a record of opposition to getting tough on Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah.
Michael Hirsh, chief correspondent for the National Journal (and a former member of ‘JournoList’), has now penned two columns, here and here, arguing essentially that Chuck Hagel got Iran and other topics right when everyone else got them wrong. From his latest:
The former Republican senator from Nebraska has distinguished himself with subtle, well-thought-out, and accurate analyses of some of America’s greatest strategic challenges of the 21st century–especially the response to 9/11–while many of his harshest critics got these issues quite wrong… Hagel also delivered some of the earliest warnings about the potentially disastrous effects of George W. Bush’s ill-grounded “Axis of Evil” speech, in which the president needlessly alienated Tehran only days after the Iranians had actually delivered up aid and support to stabilize post-Taliban Afghanistan.
As Newsweek’s former diplomatic correspondent, Hirsh is well aware of the full range of facts; he just chooses to ignore them in pursuit of a political agenda and, by so doing, sullies the National Journal. What did Bush know and both Hagel and Hirsh ignore?
- The Karine-A. While Hagel was praising Iran and castigating his President for—gasp—harsh rhetoric, Iran was shipping 50 tons of weaponry to the Palestinian Authority in order to support terrorism and quash the fragile cease-fire.
- Iran’s covert nuclear enrichment facility which was yet to be exposed publicly, but was known in intelligence circles (including presumably the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, on which Hagel served) and to the White House.
- North Korea-Iran cooperation of nuclear and missile proliferation is now well established. Iranian and North Korean scientists and nuclear engineers regularly attend each other’s tests and visit each other’s facilities.
The effort to confirm Chuck Hagel as the next secretary of defense never seemed in as much trouble than it did this weekend. The Senate failed to pass a cloture measure last Thursday that would have cut off debate about the nomination. A new revelation about yet another offensive statement by Hagel in which he claimed the U.S. State Department was controlled by the Israeli Foreign Ministry not only forced the former senator to issue another unpersuasive and ambivalent disavowal. It also raised the possibility that many of the national Jewish organizations that had been silent about the nomination would now help build pressure on pro-Israel Democrats to abandon Hagel. But the building evidence of Hagel’s unsuitability and incompetence was not the subject of much of the conversation on the weekend cable talk shows and in the opinion columns of newspapers. Instead of Hagel, the liberal talking heads, reporters and columnists were all agog about the supposed beastliness of Senator Ted Cruz.
The freshman from Texas has ruffled a lot of feathers in his first six weeks in office on both sides of the aisle. His rough questioning of Hagel during the committee hearing and subsequent questions about the nominee’s financial records also raised the hackles of some senators and Washington insiders but there’s something slightly suspicious about the over the top reaction to Cruz on the news shows as well as from New York Times and Washington Post columnists. Even if we were to accept their dubious assertion that Cruz’s take-no-prisoners style of political combat is a shocking departure from the traditions of DC politics, the sudden interest in slamming the Texan is nothing more than a transparent attempt to change the subject just at the moment when Hagel’s nomination seems to be hanging in the balance. The herd instinct of liberal journalists is prompting them, as if on cue, to try and gull the public into thinking the real issue at stake here is not the elevation of a prejudiced and unqualified man to run the Pentagon but the supposed bad manners of one of Hagel’s most energetic critics.
Speaking on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Senator John McCain signaled that he would no longer hold up his former colleague Chuck Hagel’s nomination after Congress returns. “I don’t believe he is qualified,” Mr. McCain said. “But I don’t believe that we should hold up his nomination any further because I think it’s a reasonable amount of time to have questions answered.”
McCain’s answer does more to sum up what’s wrong with partisanship, comity, and how senators treat national security than any other recent comment. When a cabinet nominee comes before the Senate, senators should consider any number of factors. Before deference to the president’s choice, friendship, or consideration of that nominee’s past or present statements, one question should be considered disqualifying, and that is the question of competence.
On Fox News Sunday this morning, the Washington Post’s Bob Woodward said that some Democratic senators have called the White House asking if Chuck Hagel will withdraw from the battle to confirm him as secretary of defense. The apparent answer to that question is not yet. But the furor over the Washington Free Beacon’s reporting of a statement Hagel made in 2007 alleging that the Israeli Foreign Ministry was running the U.S. State Department is turning up the heat on the nominee.
On Thursday, Contentions called on some of the major Jewish organizations that have been conspicuous by their absence from the debate about Hagel to finally break their silence on the issue and to demand an explanation about the 2007 speech given at Rutgers University during which Hagel is alleged to have made the crack about the Israelis and the State Department. Last night, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported that both the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee have made such statements. The ADL told JTA Hagel needed to explain the remark but the American Jewish Committee went farther in saying that “further Senate deliberation is called for before any final vote is taken.”
These comments are part of the growing furor over Hagel that is not going to be defused by the nominee’s assurance to Senator Lindsay Graham that he “doesn’t recall” making the controversial statements about Israel and the State Department. The allegations about the Rutgers speech are credible not just because of the contemporaneous account of the event but also because of Hagel’s history of saying similar things about the “Jewish lobby” and disavowals of past stands favoring outreach to Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah. As Hagel “twists in the wind” — a Watergate allusion made today by Woodward —pressure is growing on pro-Israel Democrats to abandon him.
Alana Goodman’s report that Defense Secretary nominee Chuck Hagel suggested Israel controlled the State Department in a question and answer session following a speech at Rutgers University is now the subject of considerable attention.
Hagel’s host–Hooshang Amirahmadi–should not simply be a background personality in the story, however. Amirahmadi, the founder and president of the American Iranian Council, is a well-known figure in Iranian circles. Soon after Hagel’s talk, Amirahmadi told Asr-i Iran (with a translation provided by Ali Alfoneh), “The problem of terrorism is a true myth. Iran has not been involved with any terrorist organization. Neither Hezbollah, nor Hamas are terrorist organizations….”
Democrats might well be spending the day after the unsuccessful attempt to end debate on the nomination of Chuck Hagel pondering why President Obama and Vice President Biden were so obsessed with shoving an unqualified and incompetent candidate down the throats of the Senate. Politico has a fascinating story about why President Obama and Vice President Biden were unwilling to listen to sense about Hagel and went all in on the nomination even after clear signs of trouble about the former senator were apparent. But owning up to the sorry truth that what the White House likes best about Hagel are exactly the qualities that have made his confirmation such a tough slog — weakness on Iran, hostility to Israel and an unwillingness to stand up for the needs of the department he’s slotted to run — would require liberals to ask some tough questions about the president’s goals for his second term. Instead, the chattering classes are obsessing about the alleged bad manners of one of the newest additions to the U.S. Senate.
The Washington Post’s Ruth Marcus speaks for many in the capital today when she slams Texas Senator Ted Cruz for being mean to Chuck Hagel. Cruz had the temerity to demand five years of financial records from the nominee rather than the two he provided. He’s curious as to whether more detailed financial documents will reveal some embarrassing details as to who has funded some of the groups Hagel is involved with or paid for speaking engagements he has undertaken. These sound like reasonable questions to me and probably most Americans who think there’s nothing wrong with more transparency. This is a stand Democrats had no shame in adopting last year when they demanded that Mitt Romney reveal his tax returns and every last detail of his financial existence but as far as the Washington establishment is concerned, Cruz’s questions were a “smear.” They think he’s a bumptious, arrogant right-winger who doesn’t know his place and the chattering classes will do their best to besmirch his reputation until he pipes down. They shouldn’t hold their breath.
To the shock of many Democrats who just days ago thought Chuck Hagel’s confirmation was a cinch, the effort to force a cloture vote on his nomination failed this afternoon in the Senate. That puts the Hagel nomination on ice for at least another 10 days until after the President’s Day Congressional recess. Had the White House been forthcoming with more information about the president’s actions during the terror attack in Benghazi, this might have been avoided. Several Republicans said the delay of the vote on Hagel would be lifted as soon as the administration relented on that point but it refused to do so and Majority Leader Harry Reid forced a vote that he knew he would lose.
It is possible that during the intervening week, the president will surrender the data that the Republicans want and that the vote on Hagel will take place later this month and, following the party line vote in the committee, he will be confirmed. But the delay will also allow senators more time to ruminate on the nominee’s hapless performance at his confirmation hearing as well as to digest other information that is coming out about even more disturbing comments that Hagel has made about Israel. As I wrote earlier today, our former colleague Alana Goodman’s reporting at the Washington Free Beacon uncovered an account of a 2007 speech given by Hagel at Rutgers University during which he claimed the U.S. State Department was being run by the Israeli Foreign Ministry.
This hateful statement is actually worse than Hagel’s infamous complaint about the “Jewish lobby” intimidating Congress. It is not only absurd since the State Department has always been a stronghold of Arabists but a rehash of the old anti-Semitic myths about foreign Jews manipulating American policy. The only question now is whether the same Jewish groups that have been conspicuous by their silence about Hagel’s nomination will find their voices and help kill this unfortunate nomination once and for all.
One of the lingering questions about Chuck Hagel’s nomination to the Defense Department has been his failure to produce the texts of speeches he gave to various advocacy groups that had been requested by members of the Senate. One of them was a 2008 address given to the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination League. When reporters from the Washington Free Beacon came calling to ask the ADC for a transcript or a tape, they were thrown out and accused of harassment by the group. Meanwhile they refused to make the material public. That caused some raised eyebrows especially after the Free Beacon unearthed evidence that Hagel had told an audience at Rutgers University that the U.S. State Department was taking its orders from the Israeli Foreign Ministry.
But today the ADC says it will make the tape of the speech public and assures Politico that there is nothing controversial in it. Hagel had better hope so since barring a last minute compromise in the Senate, it appears his nomination will be successfully filibustered raising the chances that Democrats will finally give up on this unsuitable candidacy.
But ADC isn’t satisfied with doing its part to help clear the name of a politician with a record of hostility to friends of Israel and opposition to being tough on Iran and Islamist terrorists. Abed Ayoub has gone further and claimed the hunt for the Hagel tape was “racist” and part of a campaign to “demonize” the Arab community. This is familiar territory for a group that has done its best to promote the myth of a post-9-11 backlash against American Muslims. But the attempt to divert both journalists and the Senate from the truth about Hagel’s troubling record shouldn’t succeed. Far from seeking to attack Arabs, those trying to unearth Hagel’s statements have revealed that it is President Obama’s nominee who is the one engaging in prejudicial stereotypes.