Commentary Magazine


Topic: Chuck Hagel

The Arctic Strategy

At the Halifax Security Forum over the weekend, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel laid out a new Arctic strategy for the U.S. military. The need for such a strategy is obvious given that the Arctic’s copious natural resources and fast routes for maritime travel are ready for exploitation because of the melting of the polar ice caps. If the U.S. doesn’t act to protect its interests, other nations such as Russia will seize the initiative.

Hagel is right to call on the U.S. armed forces to be ready to preserve freedom of navigation, defend Alaska, and to ensure the safety of efforts to operate in the Arctic environment. The question left unanswered is: How will we pay for this expanding mission?

Read More

At the Halifax Security Forum over the weekend, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel laid out a new Arctic strategy for the U.S. military. The need for such a strategy is obvious given that the Arctic’s copious natural resources and fast routes for maritime travel are ready for exploitation because of the melting of the polar ice caps. If the U.S. doesn’t act to protect its interests, other nations such as Russia will seize the initiative.

Hagel is right to call on the U.S. armed forces to be ready to preserve freedom of navigation, defend Alaska, and to ensure the safety of efforts to operate in the Arctic environment. The question left unanswered is: How will we pay for this expanding mission?

Sequestration isn’t going away anytime soon. Combined with previous budget cuts, this will result in a trillion dollars being sliced from the defense budget over the next decade. U.S. military capabilities will decline by at least a third. But U.S. military missions aren’t declining at all. They are growing. In addition to Arctic operations, the U.S. armed forces are stepping up cyber and space commitments, among others.

As I have repeatedly written, there is a growing mismatch between commitments and resources. It is not reasonable to expect the U.S. armed forces to do 30 percent more with 30 percent less money. Yet that seems to be what Washington wants. Unless Congress coughs up more money, and fast, the result will be a readiness crisis to recall the “hollow” days of the 1970s.

Read Less

Bashing Allies, Embracing Adversaries

One of the more disappointing aspects of President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry’s recent Iran diplomacy is the willingness to sacrifice allies for the sake of ephemeral diplomatic deals, and the willingness to reward intransigence with concessions, all the while believing that incentive brings flexibility rather than contempt.

The Obama administration—or at least its chorus—has been particularly noxious in addressing criticism. Rather than addressing argument with argument, it has sought too often to smear those who disagree with the president or distrust Iranian motives. Hence, Al-Monitor’s Laura Rozen smeared the Foundation for Defense of Democracy’s Mark Dubowitz, suggesting that he acted on the instruction of Israel. Ali Gharib, a prolific tweeter and one-time “Open Zion” editor whom Peter Beinart lamented had been spuriously accused of anti-Semitism, implied that congressional opposition to Obama’s policy on Iran was because Israel controlled Congress. Then again, as many defenders of Chuck Hagel suggest, perhaps attributing opposing views to dual loyalty is not really anti-Semitic after all.

Perhaps it would be comforting for those slurred to believe that such behavior is simply the domain of the Obama administration, or motivated by disdain for Israel in certain policy circles. The problem is larger, however. It is a theme I explore in my forthcoming book, Dancing with the Devil, a study of a half century of U.S. attempts to engage rogue regimes and terrorist groups. It is not limited to the resentment with which Israel is treated as it dissents, nor did such practices start in 2009, when Obama took office.

Read More

One of the more disappointing aspects of President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry’s recent Iran diplomacy is the willingness to sacrifice allies for the sake of ephemeral diplomatic deals, and the willingness to reward intransigence with concessions, all the while believing that incentive brings flexibility rather than contempt.

The Obama administration—or at least its chorus—has been particularly noxious in addressing criticism. Rather than addressing argument with argument, it has sought too often to smear those who disagree with the president or distrust Iranian motives. Hence, Al-Monitor’s Laura Rozen smeared the Foundation for Defense of Democracy’s Mark Dubowitz, suggesting that he acted on the instruction of Israel. Ali Gharib, a prolific tweeter and one-time “Open Zion” editor whom Peter Beinart lamented had been spuriously accused of anti-Semitism, implied that congressional opposition to Obama’s policy on Iran was because Israel controlled Congress. Then again, as many defenders of Chuck Hagel suggest, perhaps attributing opposing views to dual loyalty is not really anti-Semitic after all.

Perhaps it would be comforting for those slurred to believe that such behavior is simply the domain of the Obama administration, or motivated by disdain for Israel in certain policy circles. The problem is larger, however. It is a theme I explore in my forthcoming book, Dancing with the Devil, a study of a half century of U.S. attempts to engage rogue regimes and terrorist groups. It is not limited to the resentment with which Israel is treated as it dissents, nor did such practices start in 2009, when Obama took office.

In 1993, the Clinton administration was engaged in a full-court press to engage North Korea which at the time was, much like today, threatening its neighbors and pushing ahead with a covert nuclear program. Whereas the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations had long coordinated with Seoul, South Korean warnings and its incessant urging of caution antagonized American diplomats who did not want South Korea’s analysis of North Korean politics, intentions, and diplomatic strategy to get in the way of a deal. When South Korean President Kim Young Sam tired of having his concerns dismissed or, even worse, belittled by diplomats who could not speak Korean and considered themselves experts on the region after just months on the job, complained to journalists that North Korea was leading America on and manipulating negotiators “to buy time,” the State Department was furious. When he repeated his criticism the following year, Clinton blew his top. In hindsight, of course, the South Koreans were right.

The goal of diplomacy should never be to reach a deal; rather, it should be to solve the problem. Alas, diplomats and presidents in search of a legacy often refuse to see the forest through the trees. They single-mindedly focus on getting to yes regardless of whether the cost of the deal outweighs the benefit. When evidence about an adversary’s behavior or intentions threatens forward diplomatic momentum, there are two possible actions: good presidents recalibrate policy to reflect the reality of an adversary. Bad presidents ignore evidence and slander those presenting it. Obama and Kerry appear intent on securing their legacy, although probably not in the way they intended.

Read Less

The Bureaucracy on Autopilot

On October 22, Kathleen Sebelius gave an interview to CNN’s Sanjay Gupta about the disastrous ObamaCare rollout, especially the “glitch”-plagued Healthcare.gov. What she told CNN was that President Obama was not aware of the problems with the site–“despite insurance companies’ complaints and the site’s crashing during a test run,” CNN added–until after the website launched.

How involved the president was on his signature health-care legislation became a subject of interest, since Sebelius was obviously trying to absolve her boss of blame for the project’s massive failures. So it was Sebelius’s fault, then? Well, not exactly, according to those who wished to either clear Sebelius’s name or paint her as an a out-of-touch apparatchik, depending on your interpretation. The day of her CNN interview the New York Times ran a story on Sebelius’s involvement in the project:

Read More

On October 22, Kathleen Sebelius gave an interview to CNN’s Sanjay Gupta about the disastrous ObamaCare rollout, especially the “glitch”-plagued Healthcare.gov. What she told CNN was that President Obama was not aware of the problems with the site–“despite insurance companies’ complaints and the site’s crashing during a test run,” CNN added–until after the website launched.

How involved the president was on his signature health-care legislation became a subject of interest, since Sebelius was obviously trying to absolve her boss of blame for the project’s massive failures. So it was Sebelius’s fault, then? Well, not exactly, according to those who wished to either clear Sebelius’s name or paint her as an a out-of-touch apparatchik, depending on your interpretation. The day of her CNN interview the New York Times ran a story on Sebelius’s involvement in the project:

Republicans insist the buck stops with the secretary. But although Ms. Sebelius runs the Department of Health and Human Services, the agency directly responsible for the health care law, there are questions about how deeply she was involved in the development of the troubled Web site.

“Kathleen has the title, but she doesn’t have the responsibility or in many respects the kind of wide authority and access to the president that she really needs to make a difference,” said one person close to Ms. Sebelius and the White House, who asked to remain anonymous to discuss internal decision-making. “Everybody thinks that she’s the driving force, but unfortunately she’s not.”

Just who is steering this ship? Your guess is as good as Obama’s. Part of this is strategic, as I wrote last month: the president’s pursuit of plausible deniability at all costs often crowds out responsible decision making. But another part has to do with what Glenn Thrush writes about for the debut cover story of Politico Magazine. The president has sidelined his Cabinet to a degree that is unprecedented, according to Thrush.

In his fairly successful quest to have the media portray his Cabinet of like-minded mediocrities as a “team of rivals,” Obama wanted these heavy hitters to be seen and not heard. They were there to show the press that they were there. See how bipartisan Obama is? He has Ray LaHood serving as his secretary of transportation. See how much of a unifier the president is? He has asked two of his opponents in the nominating contest to serve as his vice president and his secretary of state. See how willing he is to be challenged intellectually? He has Nobel laureate Steven Chu as his energy secretary.

But these secretaries didn’t realize the president wanted them solely as decorative tree ornaments. So when Chu made a politically clumsy remark while giving a talk in Trinidad and Tobago during a trip abroad with administration figures, Rahm Emanuel, then the president’s chief of staff, called political advisor Jim Messina with a message: “If you don’t kill [Chu], I’m going to.”

Thrush reports:

For any modern president, the advantages of hoarding power in the White House at the expense of the Cabinet are obvious—from more efficient internal communication and better control of external messaging to avoiding messy confirmation battles and protecting against pesky congressional subpoenas. But over the course of his five years in office, Obama has taken this White House tendency to an extreme, according to more than 50 interviews with current and former secretaries, White House staffers and executive branch officials, who described his Cabinet as a restless nest of ambition, fits-and-starts achievement and power-jockeying under a shadow of unfulfilled promise.

That’s a far cry from the vision Obama sketched out in the months leading up to his 2008 election. Back then, he waxed expansive about the Cabinet, promising to rejuvenate the institution as a venue for serious innovation and genuine decision making. “I don’t want to have people who just agree with me,” he told Time magazine, after reading Doris Kearns Goodwin’s classic account of President Abraham Lincoln and his advisers, Team of Rivals. “I want people who are continually pushing me out of my comfort zone.”

Obama, many of his associates now concede, never really intended to be pushed out of his comfort zone. While he personally recruited stars such as Clinton, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, most other picks for his first Cabinet were made by his staff, with less involvement from the president. “[Bill] Clinton spent almost all of his time picking the Cabinet at the expense of the White House staff; Obama made the opposite mistake,” says a person close to both presidents.

The most revealing part of that is not that Obama “never really intended to be pushed out of his comfort zone.” That much was obvious to anyone not in the tank for the president. Rather, it’s that the fact that he “never really intended to be pushed out of his comfort zone” is now clear even to those close to the president. He didn’t want to be challenged after all, they realized only too late.

And it was a learning experience for Obama too. So he downgraded in his second term to people like John Kerry and Chuck Hagel, the yes-men Obama always wanted. And so, it is no surprise that his agenda is in tatters, especially the disaster that is ObamaCare thus far. And it’s also no surprise that no one knows precisely who to blame, though the buck should really stop with the president. The bureaucracy is running on autopilot, and it’s running aground.

Read Less

Military Budget Numbers Don’t Add Up

Two items from Politico’s Morning Defense Roundup caught my eye today.

Item 1: “As Typhoon Haiyan’s devastation became painfully clear yesterday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered the aircraft carrier USS George Washington and other Navy ships to sail for the Philippines as quickly as possible….The George Washington is carrying Carrier Air Wing 5 with nine squadrons that include strike fighters, electronic attack aircraft and – crucially for disaster relief – MH-60 Seahawk helicopters. Two Navy cruisers and one destroyer are also expected to be on station with the carrier in as soon as two days.”

Item 2: “Just when Pentagon Comptroller Robert Hale thought things could not get more uncertain and chaotic, they have. Now, he faces three very different budget scenarios for 2014, ranging from President Barack Obama’s $527 billion request for the Pentagon’s base budget to the $475 billion if sequestration is allowed to happen in January. ‘We still don’t know what fiscal ’14 is, which is an extraordinary situation,’ Hale said.”

There is a fundamental disconnect between these two news stories. The first story demonstrates that the demand for the U.S. military’s services is as great as ever and is hardly limited to war-fighting in the strictest sense. When an ally like the Philippines is hit with a natural disaster, the U.S. government naturally and rightly wants to help. How? There’s no civilian corps of disaster-response experts who can be scrambled to a faraway country at a minute’s notice. Only the U.S. military can do that.

Read More

Two items from Politico’s Morning Defense Roundup caught my eye today.

Item 1: “As Typhoon Haiyan’s devastation became painfully clear yesterday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered the aircraft carrier USS George Washington and other Navy ships to sail for the Philippines as quickly as possible….The George Washington is carrying Carrier Air Wing 5 with nine squadrons that include strike fighters, electronic attack aircraft and – crucially for disaster relief – MH-60 Seahawk helicopters. Two Navy cruisers and one destroyer are also expected to be on station with the carrier in as soon as two days.”

Item 2: “Just when Pentagon Comptroller Robert Hale thought things could not get more uncertain and chaotic, they have. Now, he faces three very different budget scenarios for 2014, ranging from President Barack Obama’s $527 billion request for the Pentagon’s base budget to the $475 billion if sequestration is allowed to happen in January. ‘We still don’t know what fiscal ’14 is, which is an extraordinary situation,’ Hale said.”

There is a fundamental disconnect between these two news stories. The first story demonstrates that the demand for the U.S. military’s services is as great as ever and is hardly limited to war-fighting in the strictest sense. When an ally like the Philippines is hit with a natural disaster, the U.S. government naturally and rightly wants to help. How? There’s no civilian corps of disaster-response experts who can be scrambled to a faraway country at a minute’s notice. Only the U.S. military can do that.

But the military is under severe strain right now because of budget cuts which are only going to get worse. The Pentagon comptroller is dreaming if he thinks Congress will repeal sequestration. Assuming these Draconian cuts continue to be implemented—and that’s almost certain right now—the result will be to eviscerate the very capabilities the U.S. military needs to respond not only to typhoons and earthquakes but also to more direct threats to our national security. For example, Hagel is contemplating reducing the number of aircraft carriers from 11 to eight or nine. Even before that happens, the readiness levels of all of our military forces—land, sea, and air—have been hurt by the ongoing budget cuts.

Yet there is no major push in Washington to reduce the number of missions the U.S. military is being asked to carry out. Our political leaders seem to want the armed forces to carry out 100 percent of their existing missions with only 70 percent of the funding. (Sequestration combined with earlier budget cuts will result in a roughly 30 percent reduction in the military budget over the next decade.) And even much of the existing budget is being swallowed up by personnel and health-care costs with increasingly little left over for operations, training, or weapons procurement. That doesn’t add up.

Read Less

Netanyahu’s Nay-Saying on Iran Is Working

For weeks, even people who share Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s suspicions of Iran have been loudly proclaiming that his tactics are all wrong: He’s alienating the world with his negative attitude toward the Iranian charm offensive. “His bombastic style is his undoing,” proclaimed Haaretz military analyst Amos Harel. Rabbi Eric Yoffie, the former head of the Union for Reform Judaism, similarly warned that Netanyahu “should lower the tone, dispense with bluster,” since “In America, Israel is losing the debate on Iran.”

Given that nobody else on the planet even comes close to Netanyahu’s record of success in generating movement on the Iranian issue, I never understood why anyone would think they knew better than he how to do it. But I hadn’t noticed how effective his recent “bombastic bluster” has been until today, when a senior Israeli official pointed out something I’d missed: “We changed the conversation in which everyone was talking about easing the existing sanctions to a conversation in which everyone is discussing the need for preventing additional sanctions,” he said.           

Read More

For weeks, even people who share Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s suspicions of Iran have been loudly proclaiming that his tactics are all wrong: He’s alienating the world with his negative attitude toward the Iranian charm offensive. “His bombastic style is his undoing,” proclaimed Haaretz military analyst Amos Harel. Rabbi Eric Yoffie, the former head of the Union for Reform Judaism, similarly warned that Netanyahu “should lower the tone, dispense with bluster,” since “In America, Israel is losing the debate on Iran.”

Given that nobody else on the planet even comes close to Netanyahu’s record of success in generating movement on the Iranian issue, I never understood why anyone would think they knew better than he how to do it. But I hadn’t noticed how effective his recent “bombastic bluster” has been until today, when a senior Israeli official pointed out something I’d missed: “We changed the conversation in which everyone was talking about easing the existing sanctions to a conversation in which everyone is discussing the need for preventing additional sanctions,” he said.           

Nothing proves this better than President Barack Obama’s decision to convene an urgent meeting with American Jewish leaders last week to ask them not to press for more sanctions (two of the four groups present laudably refused). And while much of the credit for this goes to Congress, which has refused to take the threat of new sanctions off the table, there’s no doubt Netanyahu’s pressure contributed significantly.

First, that’s because nobody can be more Catholic than the pope: If Israel, which views Iranian nukes as an existential threat, weren’t vociferously objecting to the removal of existing sanctions and demanding new ones, it would be much harder for anyone else do so–certainly for American Jewish groups, but to some degree even for Congress.

Second, Israel’s track record shows that if it feels pushed to the wall by an existential threat, the chance of it taking military action can’t be ruled out. And since the world doesn’t want an Israeli attack on Iran, it has consistently tried to keep Israeli angst below that line. Netanyahu’s current campaign was thus aimed at convincing the world that easing sanctions would risk pushing Israel over the line–and he seems to have succeeded.  

This isn’t the first time Netanyahu has successfully used similar tactics. His credible threat of Israeli military action is what originally persuaded Europe to impose an oil embargo on Iran, as a French official acknowledged openly at the time: “We must do everything possible to avoid an Israeli attack on Iran, even if it means a rise in the price of oil and gasoline,” he said. This same credible threat is what bought time for negotiations by persuading Iran to curtail its 20 percent enrichment–as even the Washington Post, not usually a Netanyahu fan, acknowledged in April. And finally, it helped bring Iran to the negotiating table–something Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel acknowledged this week, but which Iran’s own Intelligence Ministry acknowledged a year ago, when it issued a report advocating diplomatic negotiations over its nuclear program to avert the threat of a “Zionist” attack.

None of this means the danger of a bad deal with Iran has passed; far from it. But the first step toward preventing a bad deal was to prevent a hasty removal of sanctions, and that, Netanyahu seems to have accomplished.

He certainly knows that threatening military action and dismissing Iranian charm offensives as meaningless won’t make him popular. But so far, it has proven effective–and as long as that remains true, he will quite rightly be prepared to dispense with being loved.

Read Less

Too Soon to Call Sequester a Success

From the standpoint of a budget hawk like Steve Moore of the Wall Street Journal editorial board, the budget sequestration process may indeed look like a success. “After President Obama’s first two years in office, many in Washington expected that number to hit $4 trillion by 2014,” Moore writes. “Instead, spending fell to $3.537 trillion in fiscal 2012, and is on pace to fall below $3.45 trillion by the end of this fiscal year (Sept. 30). The $150 billion budget decline of 4% is the first time federal expenditures have fallen for two consecutive years since the end of the Korean War.”

That is certainly good news, given the long-term threat to our international standing posed by runaway spending, even if there is cause to doubt how lasting the success of sequestration will be. As R. Glenn Hubbard and Tim Kane write in the New York Times, “The C.B.O. still anticipates a 2015 deficit of $378 billion. And Uncle Sam is heading — and this is the best-case scenario — toward nearly a trillion dollars of red ink every year after 2023.”

Read More

From the standpoint of a budget hawk like Steve Moore of the Wall Street Journal editorial board, the budget sequestration process may indeed look like a success. “After President Obama’s first two years in office, many in Washington expected that number to hit $4 trillion by 2014,” Moore writes. “Instead, spending fell to $3.537 trillion in fiscal 2012, and is on pace to fall below $3.45 trillion by the end of this fiscal year (Sept. 30). The $150 billion budget decline of 4% is the first time federal expenditures have fallen for two consecutive years since the end of the Korean War.”

That is certainly good news, given the long-term threat to our international standing posed by runaway spending, even if there is cause to doubt how lasting the success of sequestration will be. As R. Glenn Hubbard and Tim Kane write in the New York Times, “The C.B.O. still anticipates a 2015 deficit of $378 billion. And Uncle Sam is heading — and this is the best-case scenario — toward nearly a trillion dollars of red ink every year after 2023.”

More immediately, the danger from a military standpoint is that we are purchasing deficit reduction at the cost of a catastrophic loss of military capability and readiness. As Moore himself notes, “The defense budget is on a pace to hit its lowest level (as a share of GDP) since the days of the post-Cold War ‘peace dividend’ during the Clinton years.” He concedes that “these deep cutbacks could be dangerous to national security,” but he argues that “as the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were winding down, defense would have been cut under any scenario.” Perhaps so, but there was nothing inevitable to dictate that cuts would be so deep–amounting to some $1 trillion over the next decade–or that they would be enacted so indiscriminately across the board.

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel gave an overview of the unpalatable choices facing the Defense Department when he unveiled the results of a strategic review of spending. Even assuming a 20-percent reduction in headquarters overhead and a $50 billion reduction in military compensation–by no means easy to pull off–the armed forces will still have to cut a lot of muscle to achieve their budget targets.

Option 1 would be to cut the size of the existing armed forces dramatically to preserve investment in cutting-edge technologies. This would mean: “The active Army would drop to between 380,000 and 450,000 troops [from a peak of 570,000]. The number of Navy carrier strike groups would be reduced from a target of 11 to eight or nine. The Marine Corps would be reduced from 182,000 troops to between 150,000 and 175,000. And the Pentagon would retire older Air Force bombers.”

Option 2 would be to preserve more forces in being while cutting investments in “the Air Force’s new bomber, submarine cruise missile upgrades, the F-35 Lightning II, cyber capabilities and special operations forces.”

Either way, the U.S. will suffer a dangerous loss of military capability and hence influence in the world at the same time that the long-term danger from China and the short-term dangers from Iran and al-Qaeda are only growing. Ultimately, history teaches that decline of international security and stability will have parlous consequences for the American economy (see, for worst-case scenarios, the 1930s and 1970s), which will ultimately necessitate a large military buildup and make projected budget savings illusory. It makes more sense to keep in existence the top-notch American armed forces as they have been developed at great cost and effort since the last period of major cuts in the 1970s. But that would require repealing sequestration, which appears increasingly unlikely.

Read Less

Hagel Whitewashes Iran

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:

Read More

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:

However, the report to Congress for the first time states Iran’s military doctrine is “defensive,” a significant shift reflecting the more soft line policy views toward the theocratic state held by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. The public portion of the first report to Congress under Hagel also was sharply curtailed this year from the four-page, unclassified assessment released in April 2012, to five paragraphs for the latest unclassified executive summary of the report dated January 2013.

This is a glaring example of politicization of intelligence. Perhaps the Obama administration believes that with a wave of its magic wand, it can will away decades of Iranian doctrine and evidence.

Enshrined in both the Iranian constitution and the founding statute of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) is the notion that a raison d’être of the Islamic Republic is revolutionary export. Article 3 of the constitution, for example, declares the goals of the regime to be both “the expansion and strengthening of Islamic brotherhood and public cooperation among all the people” and “unsparing support to the oppressed of the world,” while Article 154 calls for support of the just struggles of the oppressed against the arrogant in every corner of the globe.” As my former colleague Ali Alfoneh pointed out, on July 25, 1981, the IRGC publication Payam-e Enghelab defined “the principle of jihad” as one of the two main tasks of the Guards, the other being defending the supreme leader’s government.

The Iranian leadership figuratively drives around Tehran with bumper stickers on their cars reading “WWKD” (What Would Khomeini Do?). Back in 2008, a debate erupted inside the Islamic Republic regarding the meaning of export of revolution. In a May 3, 2008, speech, Khatami suggested that Iranian officials should understand the concept in terms of soft power. “What did the Imam [Khomeini] want, and what was his purpose of exporting the revolution? Did he wish us to export revolution by means of gunpowder or groups sabotaging other countries?” Khatami asked, before suggesting Khomeini “meant to establish a role model here, which means people should see that in this society, the economy, science, and dignity of man are respected.”

Khatami’s notion sounded good, despite the tacit admission that the regime was sponsoring insurgency in other countries. The response is where it gets interesting. Ayatollah Shahroudi, one of the most important confidants of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, responded by declaring to a group of Guardsmen that they were “the hope of Islamic national and Islamic liberation movements.” Hardliners demanded that Khatami be arrested. Those same hardliners reign supreme today.

In recent months, the Iranians have moved to establish logistical basing rights for their ships in Sudan and perhaps Eritrea. Its use of proxies does not suggest a defensive posture, but rather shows that the Iranian regime wishes to act offensively but maintain plausible deniability. Nor does repeated incitement to genocide coupled with a suspicious drive toward nuclear weapons capability suggest a defensive goal.

Last week, I departed the USS Nimitz, which is currently heading toward the Persian Gulf to provide relief to the USS John C. Stennis, a ship I had the pleasure of spending a couple weeks on last year. On both ships, the sailors spoke of how aggressive Iranian guardsmen can be in international waters.

The change in the Pentagon’s report is truly suspicious. Perhaps it is time for Hagel to answer such questions about why it occurred. Let us hope that should Congress ask such questions, Hagel will better prepared and more articulate than at his confirmation hearing.

No one should get their hopes up, however. Let us hope that Hagel’s decision to twist intelligence does not end up in a situation like Benghazi, where politics trumped situational reality leading to the unnecessary deaths of American personnel.

Read Less

Hagel Did the Smearing, Not His Critics

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.

Read More

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.

Far from being inaccurate or unfounded, Stephens was right on the money when he noted that Hagel’s comments about “the Jewish lobby” intimidating Congress were straight out of the traditional anti-Semitic playbook.

The only other example that MacGillis provides for his charge that Stephens “smeared” Hagel is his citation of a column about a speech Hagel gave at Rutgers University. MacGillis says Stephens was out of line for noting that the speech was sponsored by the school’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies that was chaired by an academic who had been charged with obstruction of justice in an investigation of a front group for the Iranian government. According to the TNR scribe that was nothing less than guilt by association.

But MacGillis either didn’t read the piece thoroughly or was at pains to conceal the real reason Hagel’s speech was significant. The appearance became the subject of comment when it was revealed that during the course of his appearance, Hagel made the astounding charge that the U.S. State Department was run by the Israeli Foreign Ministry, a smear so absurd that it reveals as much about the nominee’s stupidity as it does his malevolence. Yet nowhere in his diatribe about how wrong it was of Stephens to mention this incident does MacGillis mention Hagel’s comments.

MacGillis doesn’t attempt to dispute Stephens’s takedowns of Hagel (with which I repeatedly concurred both here on COMMENTARY’s blog and in my article about the controversy in the April issue of the magazine). He merely dismisses them. In his view, anyone who thinks there’s something wrong with a U.S. Senator engaging in these kinds of slurs against American Jews or the State of Israel in terms that are redolent with anti-Semitic insinuations is at fault.

No one need argue with MacGillis about Stephens’s qualifications for journalism’s highest honor. The only surprise here was that the Pulitzers, which honor the unworthy at least as often as they do those who deserve the plaudits, had the sense to recognize Stephens.

There is one more thing to be said about this tawdry attack on a great writer. There was a time not so long ago when the New Republic could always be counted on as one Israel’s great defenders as well as among the ranks of those most vocal in denouncing exactly the kind of anti-Semitic innuendo that Hagel was guilty of spreading around. But instead of joining the Journal and COMMENTARY in holding Hagel accountable, TNR has become one of those seeking to silence those who speak out against such vile slurs. Its new ownership and editors apparently have a different view of their responsibilities in this regard than their predecessors. They should be ashamed.

Read Less

Stopping Iran is America’s Responsibility

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.

Read More

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.

The nature of the weapons the U.S. is selling the Israelis might lead one to think that what Hagel is bringing to the Jewish state is some kind of conditional green light to take out Iran’s nuclear plants. But the absence of the big bunker buster makes it unlikely that what is happening is the U.S. granting permission to the Israelis to act on their own.

On the contrary, the arms sales seem to be an attempt to placate the Israelis while making any attack on Iran highly unlikely. While Israel could certainly gravely damage Iran’s nuclear program without the ability to penetrate the 200 feet of mountain rock at Fordow, the Islamist regime’s all-important stockpile of enriched uranium will be safe. If the centrifuges spinning away at Fordow are spared, an Iran strike can’t be said to have achieved success.

What the Americans seem to be telling Israel is that the reported diversion of some of Iran’s uranium to a research reactor rather than to the store of fuel that would create a bomb gives the West more time to achieve a diplomatic solution. But with former Israeli military intelligence chief Amos Yadlin saying Iran will probably cross a “red line” in terms of its nuclear stockpile this summer, time is running short for a non-military solution. And with the Iranians continuing to use the P5+1 nuclear talks with the West to keep stalling, there seems little doubt that a decision will have to be made sometime in the next year about ending this threat.

While part of the U.S. message to Israel is just about giving the diplomats more time, the other aspect of the administration’s stance might be more troubling. If they are saying that action must wait until the Iranians weaponize, rather than when their nuclear stockpile reaches the level when a bomb becomes possible, they are asking the Israelis to live with a nuclear-capable Iran. That’s not quite the same as the containment policy Hagel endorsed before joining the administration and which Obama has disavowed, but it is close enough to scare both the Israelis and the rest of a region that rightly fears a radical Islamist bomb.

But by refusing to transfer the big bunker buster the U.S. is saying that it is reserving for itself the option to use force against Iran. That makes sense, since America’s capability to project the airpower against Iran needed for such a strike far exceeds that of Israel. After all, the bunker buster needed to take out Fordow is too big to be used by any of the planes in Israel’s possession.

Iran is a threat to more than Israel, and it is entirely right that the responsibility for stopping them belongs to the U.S. and not the Jewish state. But its still not clear if the U.S. is prepared to use force.

The Iranians again made a mockery of the diplomatic process last month in Kazakhstan. While the talks continue Tehran’s hoard of enriched uranium continues to grow and will almost certainly cross the red line Netanyahu drew at the United Nations last year before the end of 2013. But so long as the U.S. is still acting as if it is more concerned about stopping Israel from attacking Iran than in the nuclear threat itself, the ayatollahs are bound to take that as a sign they have nothing to worry about.

Read Less

Will Obama Heed Push to Appease Iran?

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.

Read More

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 timing of the release of this report couldn’t be any worse. It comes only weeks after the president reaffirmed his commitment to stopping Iran during his visit to Israel and in the direct aftermath of the latest diplomatic fiasco in which the P5+1 group’s attempt to entice Tehran to give up its nukes with concessions flopped. But given the influence that signatories such as Thomas Pickering, Zbigniew Brezezinski, Daniel Kurtzer, Lee Hamilton, and Richard Lugar have with the Obama foreign policy team—especially former Iran Project board member and current Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel—it’s an open question as to whether this document will provide a template for a new round of appeasement of Iran.

While the report is couched in language that agrees with the objective of preventing Iran from going nuclear, its recommendations are primarily aimed at convincing Americans to embrace Tehran’s goals rather than the other way around. Reading it one quickly realizes that the author’s main fear is not so much the likelihood that Iran will obtain nuclear weapons as it is the possibility that the United States may be obligated to use force to prevent that from happening.

While the use of force, which a previous Iran Project paper signed by Hagel sought to prevent, would entail grave risks, it is increasingly clear that the alternative is not a diplomatic solution by which Iran renounces its nuclear ambition but the containment policy that Obama has specifically rejected.

But rather than endorse a strengthening of the sanctions regime which has at least inflicted some pain on the Iranian economy and given the ayatollahs at least a theoretical incentive to negotiate, the Iran Project seeks to abandon this track. Their focus is solely on negotiations.

The rationale for this puzzling strategy is an assumption that sanctions only alienate and isolate the Iranians and will never persuade them to give up positions they believe are essential to their national interests. They are probably right when they argue that the combination of diplomacy and sanctions will never convince Iran to surrender its nukes. But they fail to explain how or why Tehran would do so without the stick of sanctions or force hanging over their heads.

The report’s main interest is really not about the nuclear threat but in promoting some sort of a rapprochement between Iran and the United States. They acknowledge the wide gap between the two governments in terms of their positions on terrorism, Middle East peace and human rights. But they think it is possible for there to be mutually satisfying relations if only the Americans put to rest any fears in Tehran that the United States is interested in regime change in Iran.

It should be admitted that the chances that any putative American efforts to topple the tyrannical Islamist regime short of invasion (which not even those who advocate bombing their nuclear facilities advocate) would not meet with success given the ruthless nature of the Iranian government. But what these foreign policy “realists” are advocating is a U.S. endorsement of one of the most repressive and anti-Semitic governments in the world. This would be another betrayal of American values as well as of a suffering Iranian people, who waited in vain for the Obama administration to speak out against the 2009 crackdown against dissent.

While there are issues on which Iran and the United States might find common ground, such as the drug trade and Afghanistan, the nature of the Iranian regime is such that it is incapable of regarding America as anything but its enemy. So long as the Islamists are in charge hope of reconciliation or a restoration of the warm ties that existed prior to the 1979 revolution are absurd.

While the Obama administration was slow to enact sanctions and is still giving time to a diplomatic process that has only given the Iranians the opportunity to stall the West, it is nevertheless committed to doing the right thing on this issue. But we know the Iran Project’s siren call of appeasement resonates with many working inside Obama’s inner circle. The message between the lines in this report is one that will pave the way for a containment policy that would reward Iran for its flouting of the diplomatic process. If there is even the slightest hope left that diplomacy and sanctions will work, it is vital that the president reject this report and signal to the Iranians that they will wait in vain for the U.S. to start another bout of appeasement.

Read Less

“Mutually Assured Stupidity”

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.

Read More

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.

Two years later, the Atlantic Council issued a study group on Libya suggesting political reform should not be the focus of diplomatic engagement, because it would naturally follow when Libya’s isolation ended. Gaddafi’s “arbitrary, authoritarian style is increasingly out of step with the rest of the world,” retired diplomat Chester Crocker and Atlantic Council international security director C. Richard Nelson observed. Gaddafi, of course, felt differently up to his dying day.

With Scowcroft in the chairman’s seat, the Council is doubling down on the trend. Ellen Tauscher, a former congresswoman, arms control negotiator, Atlantic Council “Scowcroft Center” vice chair and advisor to a presumptive Hillary Clinton 2016 run, has unveiled a new initiative which she has named “Mutually Assured Stability.” The project, explained Tauscher and her Russian partner, former Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, in a press release last week seeks to “help reframe US-Russia relations and get past the Cold War-era nuclear legacy in our relationship, particularly the dominant paradigm of ‘mutual assured destruction.’ The goal is to reconfigure the bilateral relationship towards ‘mutual assured stability’ and refocus arms control and disarmament toward the development of reassuring measures, and thus help promote closer cooperation between Russia and the West.” Their founding statement makes clear their goal is to achieve a missile defense pact before the upcoming Obama-Putin summit.

What neither Tauscher nor the Atlantic Council appear to blink at is the fact that their institutional partner—the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC)—was created by the Kremlin to act as its representative in the NGO world. Perhaps with Chuck Hagel at the Pentagon, Scowcroft’s goal is to transform the Council into something akin to RIAC’s political equivalent. At the very least, the Kremlin is using Tauscher as its useful idiot to suggest wider policy support for Obama’s earlier hot-mic blunder.

Tauscher may believe her turn of phrase is catchy or creative. But, even if it was, no policy should be crafted around a slogan. The basic premise behind “Mutually Assured Stability” is deeply flawed. The idea that “Mutually Assured Destruction” still guides U.S.-Russian interaction or represents the problem in bilateral relations is shallow, and confuses symptoms for the disease. Russia is a declining power, facing a demographic cliff. Even the Kremlin realizes that the real threat to Russia comes not from the United States and its strategic missiles, but rather the threat posed by a booming and populous China abutting a demographically-drained and resource-rich Russian far east, a region long ignored by the Kremlin.

Nor is the distrust between Moscow and Washington rooted in disarmament or lack thereof. It should be no surprise that the Kremlin encourages Tauscher’s one-issue crusade, because to make an augmented arms control agreement the sole agenda item in bilateral talks would remove from the table Russia’s dismal human rights record, the Kremlin’s assistance to the murderous regime of Bashar al-Assad, Russian support for the Islamic Republic of Iran’s nuclear program, Moscow’s opposition to NATO expansion, its willingness to blackmail Europe with oil, and Russia’s continued occupation of Georgian territory. Perhaps if certain Russian politicians did not pine for the supposed glory of the Stalin-era Soviet Union, then the Russian brand name might be somewhat better.

Tauscher has always been a bit of a self-promoter. When she joined the State Department, she hired a press team to blast out speeches and remarks irrespective of whether the policy community wanted her emails or not—unsubscribing was not an option. She may miss being in the spotlight and may believe that she can still negotiate a deal, and that the Logan Act need not apply. Perhaps she feels that her personal friendship with Ivanov and other Russian leaders will suffice. Like President George W. Bush, perhaps she feels that she can stare in Putin’s eyes and see his soul. On this fact alone, however, Tauscher and the good folks at the Atlantic Council should reconsider their headlong embrace into Kremlin useful idiocy.

Many Russia hands increasing question Putin’s staying power. His stage-managed photo opportunities increasingly look silly not only to the Western audience but to the Russian one as well. Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin—a Kremlin hardliner—increasingly looks willing to make a push to leadership. The consistently left-of-center Open Democracy describes Rogozin as a man “who has built his career on nationalism and the exploitation of voters’ quasi Soviet imperial sentiments” based upon “anti-Western, anti-American” sentiments. And the Foreign Military Studies Office at Fort Leavenworth described Rogozin as “disdainful of liberal democracy” and promoting a “belief in a foreign threat and a robust and combat-ready military to counter this danger.”

Four years on, it is safe to say the United States and Europe received little benefit from President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s “reset policy” with Russia. Many Obama administration officials privately acknowledge the frustration that their policy did not achieve the desired results. Most honest analysts regardless of where they stood in 2009 recognize that the problem with bilateral U.S.-Russian relations lays in a retrograde, zero-sum mindset that afflicts Putin and his inner-circle. Tauscher seems not to be among them. If “Mutually Assured Stability” is Tauscher’s idea to keep in the limelight, perhaps it will be laughed off as such. Let us hope that the White House can see through the fact that the initiative is based neither on scholarship nor in realist political analysis, but rather on the desire essentially to launder talking points from a Kremlin think tank. If the United States seeks stability, its path will not be through the Kremlin.

Read Less

Hagel and the “Israel Lobby”

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.

Read More

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.

Pro-Israel groups have failed not only on this front, but on others. They have hardly been able to dictate American policy even on their (and Israel’s) top issue: the Iranian nuclear program. True, Congress has passed and President Obama has reluctantly signed tough sanctions. But just last week the U.S. and other Western states were negotiating with the Iranians in Kazakhstan and even offering concessions to coax them into a deal.

This is a far cry from what Israel–and for that matter America’s Gulf Arab allies–would like to see, which is American air strikes to cripple the Iranian nuclear program. Indeed, given the pace at which Iran continues to advance its nuclear designs, it seems likely that only such military action can stop it from acquiring the bomb. But the odds of such strikes under an Obama administration were close to nil even before Hagel took over Defense; they are even lower today. Of course the Iranian mullahs know this, and it will only feed their intransigence.

There are, to be sure, valid arguments for not bombing the Iranian nuclear program. But suffice it to say that if the “Zionist Lobby” actually ran American foreign policy–as so many seem to imagine–it is puzzling why such strikes have not yet been undertaken. Or why in 2007 the Bush administration refused to bomb a suspected Syrian nuclear reactor, as advocated by Vice President Dick Cheney, leaving that task to the Israeli Air Force. By contrast the U.S. did go to war in the last decade in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya and to a lesser extent (via drone strikes) in Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan. While Israel was not opposed to any of those interventions, it was not particularly in favor of any of them either. It would take an anti-Semitic conspiracy theorist of great imagination to come up with any plausible Israeli role in any of these military actions.

There are, of course, numerous other instances of U.S. policymakers acting in ways opposed by pro-Israel advocates–from the days when the George H.W. Bush administration was pressuring Israel over settlements (remember Jim Baker telling Israel’s government: “Everybody over there should know that the telephone number [of the White House] is 1-202-456-1414. When you’re serious about peace, call us”), to the Obama administration doing the same.

The notion that the Jews–or, as they are more politely described, “pro-Israel lobbyists” or “Zionists”–are in control of U.S. foreign policy has always been a fantasy, of course, and a particularly malign one. Like most such conspiracy theories it is impossible to refute, so no doubt the Mearsheimers and Walts of the world will find some convoluted explanation of why “The Lobby” is actually getting what it wants even when it is plainly not achieving its goals, such as stopping Hagel’s confirmation. Whatever they come up with, it should be good.

Read Less

Hagel Supporters Suddenly Singing Different Tune

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:

Read More

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:

Indeed, in the days following his confirmation, Hagel has to return to Capitol Hill to help hash out a deal on a budget sequester that would impose massive cuts across the board to the Pentagon. Then he will negotiate with lawmakers over a more restrained budget trim that could affect military spending and jobs in states represented by his chief opponents on the Hill.

All the while, the issues that were elevated above all others by his chief antagonists — the ones that drove the most vociferous and inventive opposition to his confirmation — will sit firmly in the forefront of his docket: the military’s relationship with Israel, and America’s belligerence toward Iran….

An alternative view is that the fight only diluted the hardline pro-Israel position on military aid and Iran by making it partisan, and that Hagel, having won, now feels empowered by the hardliners’ failure to stop him.

This, of course, turns the argument in Hagel’s favor on its head. Those backing Hagel couldn’t seriously argue that he is competent or well-versed in the facts–after all, Hagel himself admitted he wasn’t knowledgeable and pledged to try his best not to let his stunning incompetence get in the way of those actually making policy. The best they could do was argue Hagel’s views wouldn’t matter.

That, however, was nothing compared to J Street’s response, expressed by Dylan Williams to Hersh. The J Street position is that pro-Israel voices should quiet down and realize just how… uncool it is to be pro-Israel:

“Celebrating this as a wedge issue is about the worst possible outcome from the point of view of the vast majority of the pro-Israel community,” said Dylan Williams, the director of government affairs for J Street, a liberal pro-Israel group that supported Hagel’s nomination. “When you have SNL, the Daily Show, Colbert mocking the extent to which conservative members of Congress were falling over themselves to demonstrate the most hawkish positions on Israel, that’s something that the true pro-Israel community does not appreciate, and which we have every reason to believe the government of Israel itself does not appreciate.”

I’m sure Williams is right that the government of Israel doesn’t appreciate being mocked by America’s liberal popular culture. But is Jon Stewart really the best barometer on this? Here’s Stewart interviewing David Gregory in 2009, and objecting to the fact that Gregory brings no one on his show to defend Hamas:

Stewart: This always surprises me. Why can’t any American politician criticize Israel in any way for their behavior? I’m watching these shows, and there’s not one person going “Jeez, it’s kind of complex. Yeah, Hamas is a bad actor, they shouldn’t be throwing missiles, but gosh, you know, the treatment of the Palestinian people for the past 50 years, not so nice either.” (Wild applause.) It just seems like it’s a more complicated situation than is portrayed.

Gregory: Well, but it’s complicated in terms of the whole situation, remains complicated. In this particular instance, there’s very little love for Hamas–not in America, not in Arab capitals, Abu Mazen, who leads Fatah on the West Bank, has criticized Hamas. There isn’t a lot of admiration for Hamas’s tactics, or even their strategic vision.

And we can all be happy for that, I think, since Hamas’s tactics are terroristic and their strategic vision is genocide. Does Williams really think that the government of Israel watches programs like that and thinks for a second that pro-Israel Republicans are the problem? Is the lack of moral equivalence between Israel and Hamas a bad thing? Because in Jon Stewart’s opinion, it is.

What’s really going on here? It can’t really be that Williams longs for the day when Hamas gets equal American airtime. And the left can’t really believe that Hagel is a true friend of Israel but will seek to punish the Jewish state as defense secretary because he didn’t like the way Ted Cruz spoke to him one time. The more likely answer is that liberals are suddenly worried that Hagel’s critics were right all along.

Read Less

Last Call for Accountability on Hagel

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.

Read More

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.

Prior to this, the Zionist Organization of America had made its negative views about Hagel very clear. The Republican Jewish Coalition had also been doing its best to galvanize opposition to the nomination. But since neither group can be said to represent the views of most liberals, it was possible for Hagel’s defenders to say they didn’t represent most Jews. But with ADL, AJC and B’nai B’rith speaking up, that just isn’t possible anymore.

There should be no misunderstanding, heading into the final debate about Hagel, about the insincerity of his confirmation conversion in which his past positions on Israel and its foes were abandoned. Israel-bashers are confident that the process by which Hagel morphed into a supposed ardent backer of the alliance with the Jewish state will be forgotten once he is ensconced in the Pentagon. But the willingness of so many pro-Israel Democrats to turn a blind eye to Hagel’s shortcomings in an effort to please President Obama is a shocking abandonment of principle. This is a not insignificant point that deserves to be brought up whenever some of the Democrats, like New York’s Chuck Schumer, who will vote for Hagel this week, parade their pro-Israel credentials in an effort to garner support and raise funds. It may be too late in the game to expect these politicians to behave in a manner that is consistent with their past statements, but, like Hagel, they should be held accountable.

Read Less

Why a Dim-Witted Defense Secretary Matters

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.”

Read More

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.”

Except that he will–and Senor explains all that this means.

In his conclusion, Senor writes:

The most that can be said in favor of Chuck Hagel’s nomination is that his hands will be tied, that he won’t have much scope to affect policy. But no one should be under any illusions: If Chuck Hagel becomes secretary of defense, he will be captain of the Pentagon ship, choosing its crew and charting its course. The decisions he makes on the job will have tremendous consequences for the wars America fights today, and perhaps an even greater impact on the wars which America might fight in the future. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, like every secretary of defense before him, will be a consequential policymaker, for better or for worse.

If Hagel is confirmed it will be, in every important respect, for worse.

These are not going to be easy years for America.

Read Less

Who Will Be the New Ramsey Clark?

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.

Read More

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.

The Clinton team was no better in Clark’s mind: he blamed the White House rather than Saddam’s behavior for sanctions and accused the United States of complicity in killing hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. He also sided with Slobodan Milosevic in the wake of the 1999 bombing campaign against Yugoslavia. There is seldom a radical cause that Clark is not willing to embrace; many of his supporters—and perhaps Clark himself—believe the fact that he was the attorney general of the United States adds credibility to his case.

So far, it is a toss-up between Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama for the distinction of being the most left-wing president. When it came to foreign affairs Harold Brown—Carter’s defense secretary—provided some adult supervision, however, talking his boss out of his desire to unilaterally withdrawal forces from the Korean peninsula and other ideological excesses which the Soviet Union and its proxies would have exploited. Bob Gates and perhaps Leon Panetta played much the same role for Obama. But as Obama enters his second term, he has let his foreign affairs ideology shine ever more clearly through. There were, of course, hints as to where Obama stood in his first term. But when push came to shove, Obama was not willing to stand by radicals such as Van Jones, a 9/11 conspiracy theorist whom the president gave an environmental policy perch at the White House until controversy ensued.

Decades in the Senate may have made John Kerry mainstream in the public mind, but Kerry’s foreign policy instincts have always been far to the left. John Brennan, too, has instincts outside the mainstream, even if he has walked back past statements about cooperating with “moderate Hezbollah.” Chuck Hagel—while socially as conservative as former Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin—has a blind spot toward tyranny and dictatorship as great as Clark’s, be it with Hamas, Kazakhstan, Iran, or Hezbollah. He is not a young man, however, and it is doubtful that he will jet across the globe ever condemning the United States. Hagel’s problem is not disloyalty to the United States—he is most certainly a patriot—but rather the arrogance and bigotry to assume that those who disagree with him harbor dual loyalties. This—and not the distracting debate about “Israel lobby” versus “Jewish lobby”—reflect his latent anti-Semitism. That may be of concern to the Jewish community, but many men harbor prejudice, however hard they seek to conceal it. A greater issue is the fact that—in Senator John McCain’s words—Hagel’s confirmation hearings showed his incompetence for the job. Make no mistake: Hagel will do great harm to U.S. national security, but he is no Ramsey Clark.

As Obama drives farther to the left, however, it is only a matter of time until he, Brennan, or Hagel appoint to a senior post a young radical who will leverage a White House, CIA, or Pentagon credential to encourage moral equivalence or legitimize a new generation of tyrants and terrorists.

I omit Kerry because, alas, too many diplomats have for so long effused moral equivalency and an embarrassment about the legacy of the United States that being a “dissident diplomat” today means being conservative and embracing American exceptionalism.

Still, if there is one lesson from Ramsey Clark’s life story, it is that credentials do not automatically bestow common sense or a love of liberty and freedom. Johnson likely appointed Clark in order to encourage his father to resign from the Supreme Court, enabling the president to replace the conservative elder Clark with a fresh face—Thurgood Marshall. Johnson’s desire to diversify the Supreme Court may have been honorable, but his political maneuverings had a cost which continues to the present. Let us hope that the Congress and press will not abandon their respectively formal and informal oversight roles as Obama and his secretaries combine foreign policy radicalism with cynical political maneuvering.

Read Less

Hagel’s Critics Are Still the Winners

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.

Read More

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.

Hagel’s inevitable confirmation will be a source of great frustration to many Americans who were dismayed at the prospect of letting a man who had clearly demonstrated his incompetence at his confirmation hearing run the Pentagon. And having defeated the first attempt by the Democrats to end debate on the nomination last week, the unraveling of the GOP filibuster is particularly disappointing since it also came at a time when fresh revelations of outrageous and even anti-Semitic statements made by Hagel were reported and polls showed most Americans opposed him. The fact that Hagel’s unsavory record and insincere walk-backs of his positions were so thoroughly exposed makes his confirmation a bitter pill for his critics to swallow.

But the process that unfolded since the president’s announcement was no defeat for friends of Israel. For all of Hagel’s trouble in mouthing the stands that he was forced to adopt since his nomination, the mere fact that he had to disavow his contemptuous dismissal of the pro-Israel community and pledge his everlasting support for the alliance with the Jewish state and readiness to use both sanctions and force against Iran is no small thing. In essence, Hagel had to renounce every single position that endeared him to his biggest fans among the so-called “realists” and other assorted Israel-bashers.

The pressure put upon Hagel during the lead-up to his confirmation hearing as well as the difficulty he found himself in when questioned by the Senate Armed Services Committee wasn’t merely the usual grind nominees are subjected to. The process reaffirmed a basic truth about the strength of the pro-Israel consensus that was placed in doubt by the president’s choice: support for the alliance with the Jewish state isn’t merely mainstream politics, it is the baseline against which all nominees for high office are measured. Republicans and Democrats, foes of Hagel as well as his backers, fell over themselves to demonstrate that opposition to a close relationship with Israel is not acceptable.

There may be good reason to doubt the sincerity of Hagel’s confirmation conversion, but the mere fact that he had to do it will make it all the more difficult for him or the president to backtrack on these positions. Far from a defeat, the manner in which Hagel found himself betraying his Israel-bashing supporters should not give them any comfort.

Chuck Hagel will be a weak secretary of defense whose influence has been dramatically lessened by the way he has been snuck into office. His usefulness as a spear carrier in any hoped-for administration pressure play against Israel has been diminished. Defeating Hagel’s nomination would have been far better for the United States as well as the U.S.-Israel alliance. Forcing him to renounce his past positions in order to get confirmed is almost as good.

Read Less

Schumer’s Dishonest Hagel Sob Story

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.

Read More

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.

Schumer’s discussion of Hagel’s tears when he explained to him that his crack about the “Jewish lobby” was rooted in prejudice may be a truthful but the idea, as the New Yorker put it, that “I’m sure you didn’t mean it” is patently disingenuous. When Hagel used that term in 2006  (at his confirmation hearing he said it was the only time he said it “on the record”) or made other disturbing comments about the Israeli Foreign Ministry controlling the U.S. State Department or that Israel was on its way to being an “apartheid state,” he knew exactly what he was saying. Far from a misunderstanding, there is a clear pattern in Hagel’s record and it speaks to his contempt for the U.S.-Israel alliance and its supporters. Indeed, the context of the “Jewish lobby” remark showed that he considered it a point of honor to stand up to Israel’s supporters.

The notion that Hagel’s contrite interview with Schumer or any of his other fumbling attempts to walk back a long record of antagonism should outweigh a record replete with votes and statements demonstrating his desire to stand apart from the bipartisan pro-Israel consensus is absurd.

Just as dishonest though is Schumer’s claim that “no major Jewish organization” opposes Hagel. Just this past weekend, the American Jewish Committee — a large liberal-leaning group that more or less defines the term — demanded that the Senate not vote before it further reviewed Hagel’s record in the wake of recent revelations of more prejudicial statements by the nominee.

In the weeks prior to Hagel’s disastrous confirmation hearing, Schumer had attempted to use the strategic silence of many Jewish groups on Hagel as cover for his own decision to go along with the president on the nomination. But after the AJC statement and Anti-Defamation League leader Abe Foxman’s questions about Hagel’s statements, that line of defense no longer works. For Schumer to go on pretending that Jewish groups are neutral about Hagel can only be characterized as blatantly dishonest.

But it is not any more dishonest than Schumer’s attempt to claim that the motive behind the opposition to Hagel is “neocon” anger about his critique of the war in Iraq. Senator John McCain may still hold a grudge about Hagel’s foolish opposition to the Iraq surge (and contrary to Schumer’s comments, Hagel — who voted in favor of the war — was wrong about the surge) but that is not an issue that interests anyone else who cares about this awful nomination.

Neoconservatives may have disagreed with Hagel about Iraq but if that were the only issue about his candidacy he would already be sitting in his office in the Pentagon. It is, as Schumer well knows, Hagel’s terrible record on Israel, Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah that has scared many Americans about his fitness for office. Even more think his performance at his confirmation hearing when he was unable to demonstrate a grasp of the issues before the nation or defend his positions shows he’s just not up to the job.

When faced with a choice between doing the right thing about Hagel and demonstrating loyalty to President Obama, Schumer had done the latter. That is bad enough and a terrible commentary about the willingness of pro-Israel Democrats to put their party’s interests above principle. But for him to back up this decision with lies and distortions speaks volumes about his own character.

Read Less

Hagel Prescient on Iran? Nope

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.

Read More

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.

Let’s give Hirsh’s source for both pieces—former ambassador James Dobbins—benefit of the doubt. Iran may have cooperated with him, but he’s guilty of being one the proverbial blind men describing an elephant. It takes a leap of logic to amplify Iranian behavior in Afghanistan—where Tehran believed initially they could out-compete us with soft power and out-influence the Afghan government—with Iranian cooperation across the board. In hindsight, we know that Hassan Kazemi Qomi, the chief Iranian official in Afghanistan at the time, was doing far more than cheering on the Afghans peacefully or drinking tea with American officials. Qomi, by the way, was the Qods Force commander who became Iran’s ambassador to Iraq and oversaw the supply of militias and terrorists killing U.S. forces.

Hirsh also appears willing to blame tension between Tehran and Washington on that one phrase—“Axis of Evil.”  Perhaps it would do Hirsh—and Hagel—well to listen to the rhetoric coming from Iranian officials on a weekly if not daily basis, where chants of “Death to America” still reign. When the Iranians shout that, they don’t mean “Let us shower them with puppies and lollipops.”

The Hagel nomination has not only shown light on a fantastically bad nominee who should have gone quietly into retirement, but also on the dishonesty of supposed nonpartisan journalists like Hirsh who appear willing to cast aside any evidence which they don’t like so they can use the pages of their magazines to push personal political agendas. Far from being prescient, Iran showed Hagel to be woefully naive, a useful idiot upon whom to advance Tehran’s own strategic objectives.

Read Less

The Hagel-Cruz Bait and Switch

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.

Read More

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.

Let’s first dispense with the notion that Cruz is, as left-wing bloviator Chris Matthews would have it, the second coming of Joseph McCarthy. Cruz’s demand for Hagel’s financial records and suspicions that some of his speeches or other advocacy activities since he left the Senate might have been financed by foreign powers may have seemed harsh. But his queries, which are spoken of as being nothing less than smears, are not as unreasonable as the talking heads assume them to be. Anyone with even a passing knowledge of Middle East studies in academia and non-profit agencies is aware that Saudi Arabia and other gulf principalities have been throwing money around in that sphere like it was going out of style for decades. I doubt anyone had to pay Chuck Hagel a cent to spout his views encouraging outreach to Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran or criticizing Israel and its supporters. Yet if his speaking honorariums did come from dubious sources, is that really none of the public’s business now that he is slated to be secretary of defense? Hagel’s controversial views on the Middle East that he has been forced to disavow in order to gain confirmation are a matter of record. To compare Cruz’s questions to McCarthy or a witch-hunt is the real smear here.

But the real insight to be gleaned from this sudden interest in Cruz is that it is a desperate diversionary tactic. Cruz’s elevation to the rank of the liberals’ public enemy number one is nothing more than a bait and switch scheme to help the White House shove Hagel down the threats of a clearly reluctant Senate.

Cruz may well prove to be an important player in the Senate but the timing of the rush to brand him as emblematic of everything that liberals detest about conservatives is a little too convenient. If the hapless Hagel, whose befuddled day in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee deepened the already serious doubts about his fitness for high office, can be transformed into a victim of Cruz’s inquisition rather than an obviously unqualified nominee then it will be possible for President Obama to successfully strong arm a dubious Democratic majority into rubber stamping his pick. It is this sort of political funny business and not Ted Cruz’s rough edges that is the real scandal.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.