Commentary Magazine


Topic: Chuck Hagel

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

McCain: Incompetence Is No Disqualifier

Speaking on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Senator John McCain signaled that he would no longer hold up his former colleague Chuck Hagel’s nomination after Congress returns. “I don’t believe he is qualified,” Mr. McCain said. “But I don’t believe that we should hold up his nomination any further because I think it’s a reasonable amount of time to have questions answered.”

McCain’s answer does more to sum up what’s wrong with partisanship, comity, and how senators treat national security than any other recent comment. When a cabinet nominee comes before the Senate, senators should consider any number of factors. Before deference to the president’s choice, friendship, or consideration of that nominee’s past or present statements, one question should be considered disqualifying, and that is the question of competence.

Read More

Speaking on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Senator John McCain signaled that he would no longer hold up his former colleague Chuck Hagel’s nomination after Congress returns. “I don’t believe he is qualified,” Mr. McCain said. “But I don’t believe that we should hold up his nomination any further because I think it’s a reasonable amount of time to have questions answered.”

McCain’s answer does more to sum up what’s wrong with partisanship, comity, and how senators treat national security than any other recent comment. When a cabinet nominee comes before the Senate, senators should consider any number of factors. Before deference to the president’s choice, friendship, or consideration of that nominee’s past or present statements, one question should be considered disqualifying, and that is the question of competence.

What McCain is, in effect, saying is that he has no personal or professional problem with putting an incompetent man in charge not only of America’s defense but also—because of what falls under the Pentagon’s umbrella—most of America’s intelligence assets as well.

McCain prides himself on being a maverick. How sad it is that in the twilight of his great career, McCain now is so willing to knowingly undercut U.S. national security. How reassuring it must be to Kim Jong-un in North Korea, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah in Lebanon, and Ali Khamenei in Iran that McCain is so willing to help install an unqualified Defense Secretary. The only questions now is not whether the will test the United States, but when and how many U.S. serviceman will die because of it.

Read Less

Has the Shoe Dropped on Hagel?

On Fox News Sunday this morning, the Washington Post’s Bob Woodward said that some Democratic senators have called the White House asking if Chuck Hagel will withdraw from the battle to confirm him as secretary of defense. The apparent answer to that question is not yet. But the furor over the Washington Free Beacon’s reporting of a statement Hagel made in 2007 alleging that the Israeli Foreign Ministry was running the U.S. State Department is turning up the heat on the nominee.

On Thursday, Contentions called on some of the major Jewish organizations that have been conspicuous by their absence from the debate about Hagel to finally break their silence on the issue and to demand an explanation about the 2007 speech given at Rutgers University during which Hagel is alleged to have made the crack about the Israelis and the State Department. Last night, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported that both the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee have made such statements. The ADL told JTA Hagel needed to explain the remark but the American Jewish Committee went farther in saying that “further Senate deliberation is called for before any final vote is taken.”

These comments are part of the growing furor over Hagel that is not going to be defused by the nominee’s assurance to Senator Lindsay Graham that he “doesn’t recall” making the controversial statements about Israel and the State Department. The allegations about the Rutgers speech are credible not just because of the contemporaneous account of the event but also because of Hagel’s history of saying similar things about the “Jewish lobby” and disavowals of past stands favoring outreach to Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah. As Hagel “twists in the wind” — a Watergate allusion made today by Woodward —pressure is growing on pro-Israel Democrats to abandon him.

Read More

On Fox News Sunday this morning, the Washington Post’s Bob Woodward said that some Democratic senators have called the White House asking if Chuck Hagel will withdraw from the battle to confirm him as secretary of defense. The apparent answer to that question is not yet. But the furor over the Washington Free Beacon’s reporting of a statement Hagel made in 2007 alleging that the Israeli Foreign Ministry was running the U.S. State Department is turning up the heat on the nominee.

On Thursday, Contentions called on some of the major Jewish organizations that have been conspicuous by their absence from the debate about Hagel to finally break their silence on the issue and to demand an explanation about the 2007 speech given at Rutgers University during which Hagel is alleged to have made the crack about the Israelis and the State Department. Last night, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported that both the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee have made such statements. The ADL told JTA Hagel needed to explain the remark but the American Jewish Committee went farther in saying that “further Senate deliberation is called for before any final vote is taken.”

These comments are part of the growing furor over Hagel that is not going to be defused by the nominee’s assurance to Senator Lindsay Graham that he “doesn’t recall” making the controversial statements about Israel and the State Department. The allegations about the Rutgers speech are credible not just because of the contemporaneous account of the event but also because of Hagel’s history of saying similar things about the “Jewish lobby” and disavowals of past stands favoring outreach to Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah. As Hagel “twists in the wind” — a Watergate allusion made today by Woodward —pressure is growing on pro-Israel Democrats to abandon him.

With each passing day during the Congressional recess over the next week, the Hagel deathwatch will become a bigger and bigger story. Though Democrats closed ranks behind the president’s choice in a partisan votes on Hagel last week the failure to block a delay of the decision on him via a filibuster on Thursday will give some of them the time to change their minds. Some of the pro-Israel senators like Chuck Schumer who have been using the silence of mainstream Jewish groups about his nomination as cover for their decision to go along with what they knew was a questionable choice are now on the spot. As John wrote in the New York Post on Friday, it’s time for Schumer to live up to his boast that he was the “guardian” of Israel in the Senate. In light of the latest revelations about the nominee’s record, that pose is meaningless if he doesn’t jump off the Hagel bandwagon.

It is true that many of the Republicans who voted to oppose cloture of Hagel on Thursday were doing so in order to try to force the White House to give up more information about what the president knew about the Benghazi terror attack. But the extra time gives members on both sides of the aisle to reconsider the Hagel fiasco.

The White House campaign to silence concerns about his prejudicial statements about Israel and its supporters that had seemingly quashed opposition to the nomination is no longer working. The nominee’s incompetent performance during his confirmation hearing only served to reinforce the qualms that many senators had about both his qualifications and his troubling record of out-of-the-mainstream stands on Israel and Iran. The administration can grumble all it likes about how unfair the scrutiny on the nominee has been but the fact is Hagel’s chances of leading the Pentagon are being sunk by the nominee, not his critics.

In the coming days, the calls for Hagel to withdraw will grow. So, too, will the pressure on pro-Israel Democrats to stop acting as the nominee’s guardian rather than the cause they have pledged to protect.

Read Less

Hagel’s Host on Hezbollah and Hamas

Alana Goodman’s report that Defense Secretary nominee Chuck Hagel suggested Israel controlled the State Department in a question and answer session following a speech at Rutgers University is now the subject of considerable attention.

Hagel’s host–Hooshang Amirahmadi–should not simply be a background personality in the story, however. Amirahmadi, the founder and president of the American Iranian Council,  is a well-known figure in Iranian circles. Soon after Hagel’s talk, Amirahmadi told Asr-i Iran (with a translation provided by Ali Alfoneh), “The problem of terrorism is a true myth. Iran has not been involved with any terrorist organization. Neither Hezbollah, nor Hamas are terrorist organizations….”

Read More

Alana Goodman’s report that Defense Secretary nominee Chuck Hagel suggested Israel controlled the State Department in a question and answer session following a speech at Rutgers University is now the subject of considerable attention.

Hagel’s host–Hooshang Amirahmadi–should not simply be a background personality in the story, however. Amirahmadi, the founder and president of the American Iranian Council,  is a well-known figure in Iranian circles. Soon after Hagel’s talk, Amirahmadi told Asr-i Iran (with a translation provided by Ali Alfoneh), “The problem of terrorism is a true myth. Iran has not been involved with any terrorist organization. Neither Hezbollah, nor Hamas are terrorist organizations….”

Hagel certainly has an odd sense of the company he keeps. Let us hope that U.S. national security will trump party loyalty after the Senate’s recess.

Read Less

How Dare Ted Cruz?

Democrats might well be spending the day after the unsuccessful attempt to end debate on the nomination of Chuck Hagel pondering why President Obama and Vice President Biden were so obsessed with shoving an unqualified and incompetent candidate down the throats of the Senate. Politico has a fascinating story about why President Obama and Vice President Biden were unwilling to listen to sense about Hagel and went all in on the nomination even after clear signs of trouble about the former senator were apparent. But owning up to the sorry truth that what the White House likes best about Hagel are exactly the qualities that have made his confirmation such a tough slog — weakness on Iran, hostility to Israel and an unwillingness to stand up for the needs of the department he’s slotted to run — would require liberals to ask some tough questions about the president’s goals for his second term. Instead, the chattering classes are obsessing about the alleged bad manners of one of the newest additions to the U.S. Senate.

The Washington Post’s Ruth Marcus speaks for many in the capital today when she slams Texas Senator Ted Cruz for being mean to Chuck Hagel. Cruz had the temerity to demand five years of financial records from the nominee rather than the two he provided. He’s curious as to whether more detailed financial documents will reveal some embarrassing details as to who has funded some of the groups Hagel is involved with or paid for speaking engagements he has undertaken. These sound like reasonable questions to me and probably most Americans who think there’s nothing wrong with more transparency. This is a stand Democrats had no shame in adopting last year when they demanded that Mitt Romney reveal his tax returns and every last detail of his financial existence but as far as the Washington establishment is concerned, Cruz’s questions were a “smear.” They think he’s a bumptious, arrogant right-winger who doesn’t know his place and the chattering classes will do their best to besmirch his reputation until he pipes down. They shouldn’t hold their breath.

Read More

Democrats might well be spending the day after the unsuccessful attempt to end debate on the nomination of Chuck Hagel pondering why President Obama and Vice President Biden were so obsessed with shoving an unqualified and incompetent candidate down the throats of the Senate. Politico has a fascinating story about why President Obama and Vice President Biden were unwilling to listen to sense about Hagel and went all in on the nomination even after clear signs of trouble about the former senator were apparent. But owning up to the sorry truth that what the White House likes best about Hagel are exactly the qualities that have made his confirmation such a tough slog — weakness on Iran, hostility to Israel and an unwillingness to stand up for the needs of the department he’s slotted to run — would require liberals to ask some tough questions about the president’s goals for his second term. Instead, the chattering classes are obsessing about the alleged bad manners of one of the newest additions to the U.S. Senate.

The Washington Post’s Ruth Marcus speaks for many in the capital today when she slams Texas Senator Ted Cruz for being mean to Chuck Hagel. Cruz had the temerity to demand five years of financial records from the nominee rather than the two he provided. He’s curious as to whether more detailed financial documents will reveal some embarrassing details as to who has funded some of the groups Hagel is involved with or paid for speaking engagements he has undertaken. These sound like reasonable questions to me and probably most Americans who think there’s nothing wrong with more transparency. This is a stand Democrats had no shame in adopting last year when they demanded that Mitt Romney reveal his tax returns and every last detail of his financial existence but as far as the Washington establishment is concerned, Cruz’s questions were a “smear.” They think he’s a bumptious, arrogant right-winger who doesn’t know his place and the chattering classes will do their best to besmirch his reputation until he pipes down. They shouldn’t hold their breath.

I don’t agree with Cruz on every issue. I think his qualms about the bipartisan immigration reform proposal put forward by other senators are unpersuasive and worry whether his desire to cut back spending places him among those who would denude our national defense. Yet what really bothers Washington liberals about Cruz is that he didn’t come to Washington to enjoy the benefits of being a member of one of the most exclusive and powerful club in the world — the U.S. Senate — and to play the time honored go-along to get-along game that greases the wheels of the country’s big government spending addiction. He intends to stand up for his principles and speak out.

I’m skeptical that more digging in Hagel’s financial records will reveal anything that will derail his nomination. But there’s nothing offensive about Cruz’s insinuation that Hagel might have something to hide. As has been made clear in just the last couple of days, what we already know Hagel’s extreme views about making nice with Iran and offensive statements about Jews and Israel may be just the tip of the iceberg. What the Washington establishment and the White House wanted was a collegial confirmation process for Hagel that would give the appearance of scrutiny rather than a genuine investigation about his suitability for a sensitive and powerful post. And that is something that a man like Cruz won’t tolerate.

In his first weeks in office, Cruz has not played the usual role of freshman senators and kept quiet. Instead, as another Politico story noted, he has stepped on a lot of toes and the owners of those toes aren’t happy. They say it will decrease his influence. Others will agree with Marcus about his bad manners and do their best to shun him.

About that, I have two thoughts.

One is that liberals don’t always think ill of freshman senators who don’t defer to senior colleagues. When Barack Obama arrived in the U.S. Senate in 2005 he might not have been as tough as Cruz but he wasn’t shy about asserting himself. As one senator told me, he showed up acting as if he had been there for 20 years and his colleagues didn’t like it one bit.

The other is that all the blather we’ve been hearing lately about the virtues of compromise can be overrated. It is true that politics is the art of the possible and that getting anything done requires accommodation as well as advocacy. But the problem with Ted Cruz isn’t so much that he strikes some Washingtonians as obnoxious as it is that he won’t play the part assigned to him in their vision of the future of the Republican Party. We may need dealmakers but we also need politicians who take ideas more seriously than the kabuki dance of Capitol Hill manners.

The Hagel contretemps illustrated perfectly why we need people in the Senate who won’t pull their punches. Given the commitment of the president to his nominee, stopping an unsuitable and dangerous man like Hagel from being given the Pentagon required courage and a willingness to drop the faux courtesy that would have allowed him to skate through without tough questions or real scrutiny.

I daresay Ted Cruz isn’t bothered by Marcus’s jibe that he isn’t going to win Senator Congeniality. Neither should the voters of Texas who sent up there to speak up and not fit in. A few more like him wouldn’t do the Congress any harm.

Read Less

Jewish Groups Must End Silence on Hagel

To the shock of many Democrats who just days ago thought Chuck Hagel’s confirmation was a cinch, the effort to force a cloture vote on his nomination failed this afternoon in the Senate. That puts the Hagel nomination on ice for at least another 10 days until after the President’s Day Congressional recess. Had the White House been forthcoming with more information about the president’s actions during the terror attack in Benghazi, this might have been avoided. Several Republicans said the delay of the vote on Hagel would be lifted as soon as the administration relented on that point but it refused to do so and Majority Leader Harry Reid forced a vote that he knew he would lose.

It is possible that during the intervening week, the president will surrender the data that the Republicans want and that the vote on Hagel will take place later this month and, following the party line vote in the committee, he will be confirmed. But the delay will also allow senators more time to ruminate on the nominee’s hapless performance at his confirmation hearing as well as to digest other information that is coming out about even more disturbing comments that Hagel has made about Israel. As I wrote earlier today, our former colleague Alana Goodman’s reporting at the Washington Free Beacon uncovered an account of a 2007 speech given by Hagel at Rutgers University during which he claimed the U.S. State Department was being run by the Israeli Foreign Ministry.

This hateful statement is actually worse than Hagel’s infamous complaint about the “Jewish lobby” intimidating Congress. It is not only absurd since the State Department has always been a stronghold of Arabists but a rehash of the old anti-Semitic myths about foreign Jews manipulating American policy. The only question now is whether the same Jewish groups that have been conspicuous by their silence about Hagel’s nomination will find their voices and help kill this unfortunate nomination once and for all.

Read More

To the shock of many Democrats who just days ago thought Chuck Hagel’s confirmation was a cinch, the effort to force a cloture vote on his nomination failed this afternoon in the Senate. That puts the Hagel nomination on ice for at least another 10 days until after the President’s Day Congressional recess. Had the White House been forthcoming with more information about the president’s actions during the terror attack in Benghazi, this might have been avoided. Several Republicans said the delay of the vote on Hagel would be lifted as soon as the administration relented on that point but it refused to do so and Majority Leader Harry Reid forced a vote that he knew he would lose.

It is possible that during the intervening week, the president will surrender the data that the Republicans want and that the vote on Hagel will take place later this month and, following the party line vote in the committee, he will be confirmed. But the delay will also allow senators more time to ruminate on the nominee’s hapless performance at his confirmation hearing as well as to digest other information that is coming out about even more disturbing comments that Hagel has made about Israel. As I wrote earlier today, our former colleague Alana Goodman’s reporting at the Washington Free Beacon uncovered an account of a 2007 speech given by Hagel at Rutgers University during which he claimed the U.S. State Department was being run by the Israeli Foreign Ministry.

This hateful statement is actually worse than Hagel’s infamous complaint about the “Jewish lobby” intimidating Congress. It is not only absurd since the State Department has always been a stronghold of Arabists but a rehash of the old anti-Semitic myths about foreign Jews manipulating American policy. The only question now is whether the same Jewish groups that have been conspicuous by their silence about Hagel’s nomination will find their voices and help kill this unfortunate nomination once and for all.

As I noted earlier this month, the reluctance of most major Jewish organizations, including the influential Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee and AIPAC to take a stand on Hagel was rooted in their unwillingness to step into what had become a partisan fight. Though all had misgivings about the elevation of a man who had been an open antagonist of the pro-Israel community, opposing him meant picking a fight with the administration and the groups were not happy about risking their access to the White House on behalf of a fight that few thought Hagel would lose.

But with this latest proof of Hagel’s hateful mindset about Israel and the fact that the nomination no longer seems quite so inevitable ought to cause the organized Jewish world to reassess their silence. This is especially true since some pro-Israel Democrats have used this failure of the Jewish groups to speak out as cover for their own decision to go along with the president’s poor choice.

There should be no doubt in anyone’s mind that had a Republican president nominated a man to lead the Pentagon who had been quoted saying the things that Hagel has said and who had such a poor record on Israel and Iran, the Democratic donors to major Jewish groups would be screaming for the organizations to pull out the stops to prevent that person from taking office. But Hagel’s crack about the Israeli foreign ministry should convince even the most partisan liberal Democrats that they can’t give their party a pass on this issue.

If Jewish groups speak out now in the aftermath of the cloture vote the Hagel nomination will collapse.  The president may not like it but the longer this goes on the less defensible his choice for the Pentagon has proved to be. The time is now for Jewish Democrats to end this farce and send Hagel back into retirement where he can say as many hateful things about Jews and Israel either on or off the record as he likes.

Read Less

Interest in Hagel Speeches Isn’t Racist

One of the lingering questions about Chuck Hagel’s nomination to the Defense Department has been his failure to produce the texts of speeches he gave to various advocacy groups that had been requested by members of the Senate. One of them was a 2008 address given to the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination League. When reporters from the Washington Free Beacon came calling to ask the ADC for a transcript or a tape, they were thrown out and accused of harassment by the group. Meanwhile they refused to make the material public. That caused some raised eyebrows especially after the Free Beacon unearthed evidence that Hagel had told an audience at Rutgers University that the U.S. State Department was taking its orders from the Israeli Foreign Ministry.

But today the ADC says it will make the tape of the speech public and assures Politico that there is nothing controversial in it. Hagel had better hope so since barring a last minute compromise in the Senate, it appears his nomination will be successfully filibustered raising the chances that Democrats will finally give up on this unsuitable candidacy.

But ADC isn’t satisfied with doing its part to help clear the name of a politician with a record of hostility to friends of Israel and opposition to being tough on Iran and Islamist terrorists. Abed Ayoub has gone further and claimed the hunt for the Hagel tape was “racist” and part of a campaign to “demonize” the Arab community. This is familiar territory for a group that has done its best to promote the myth of a post-9-11 backlash against American Muslims. But the attempt to divert both journalists and the Senate from the truth about Hagel’s troubling record shouldn’t succeed. Far from seeking to attack Arabs, those trying to unearth Hagel’s statements have revealed that it is President Obama’s nominee who is the one engaging in prejudicial stereotypes.

Read More

One of the lingering questions about Chuck Hagel’s nomination to the Defense Department has been his failure to produce the texts of speeches he gave to various advocacy groups that had been requested by members of the Senate. One of them was a 2008 address given to the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination League. When reporters from the Washington Free Beacon came calling to ask the ADC for a transcript or a tape, they were thrown out and accused of harassment by the group. Meanwhile they refused to make the material public. That caused some raised eyebrows especially after the Free Beacon unearthed evidence that Hagel had told an audience at Rutgers University that the U.S. State Department was taking its orders from the Israeli Foreign Ministry.

But today the ADC says it will make the tape of the speech public and assures Politico that there is nothing controversial in it. Hagel had better hope so since barring a last minute compromise in the Senate, it appears his nomination will be successfully filibustered raising the chances that Democrats will finally give up on this unsuitable candidacy.

But ADC isn’t satisfied with doing its part to help clear the name of a politician with a record of hostility to friends of Israel and opposition to being tough on Iran and Islamist terrorists. Abed Ayoub has gone further and claimed the hunt for the Hagel tape was “racist” and part of a campaign to “demonize” the Arab community. This is familiar territory for a group that has done its best to promote the myth of a post-9-11 backlash against American Muslims. But the attempt to divert both journalists and the Senate from the truth about Hagel’s troubling record shouldn’t succeed. Far from seeking to attack Arabs, those trying to unearth Hagel’s statements have revealed that it is President Obama’s nominee who is the one engaging in prejudicial stereotypes.

No one is saying that Hagel can’t speak to the ADC or any Arab or Muslim group. The issue is what they say there or elsewhere.

In the case of Hagel, by speaking of the State Department being run by the Israelis, he expanded on the defamatory Walt-Mearsheimer thesis that claimed American Jews had bought Congress and put forward a new conspiracy theory that is even more false and absurd. After all, if there is any U.S. government agency that has long been a bastion of hostility to the Jewish state, it is those sections of the State Department that were long run by Arabists who viewed the U.S.-Israel alliance with distaste.

The report about Hagel’s speech had resonance because he was already on record as having claimed that the “Jewish lobby” had intimidated Congress. It is those comments and not journalists asking questions about the ADC that is prejudicial. Though he disavowed those remarks at his confirmation hearing, the grudging and non-apologetic manner in which he spoke of it as well as his claim that this was the only time he had such a thing “on the record” made it clear that his only problem was that his appointment to the Pentagon had made it difficult for him to openly speak his mind.

It is only natural and logical to wonder whether Hagel said something similar to the ADC and the group — which is supportive of the Walt-Mearsheimer attack on pro-Israel Americans — should stop trying to play the victim. The ADC poses as an Arab version of the Anti-Defamation League but has a long record of support for radical positions. Those who pay attention to this record aren’t racist. They’re just interested in finding out the truth about both Hagel and his cheerleaders.

No matter what the ADC tape shows there is already more than enough evidence available to show that Hagel’s views on Israel and Iran are way out of the mainstream as well as being inconsistent with the public stands of the Obama administration. Democrats need to abandon him and move on with the business of the country by putting forward a suitable and competent Pentagon chief that won’t carry the sort of troubling baggage that Hagel carries with him.

Read Less

GOP Must Hang Tough on Hagel

Only days ago, it looked like Chuck Hagel was sailing to a quick confirmation as the nation’s new Secretary of Defense by the end of the week. Despite a shockingly poor performance at his Senate hearing, Senate Democrats closed ranks around him. With a couple of Republican supporters and most of the GOP caucus — especially the influential Senator John McCain — declaring they would not support a filibuster of his nomination, Hagel seemed certain of victory. But Hagel’s failure to produce information about income from speeches he had given and the White House’s continuing stonewall of Republican efforts to find about more about the Benghazi disaster have combined to stymie administration efforts to confirm him before Congress breaks for the President’s Day holiday.

Senior Democratic aides told Politico today that Senator Harry Reid doesn’t have the 60 votes he needs to stop a Republican filibuster when the Senate votes tomorrow on whether Hagel’s nomination can receive an up or down vote. That places him on hold at a crucial moment. Some Republicans are backing the roadblock to a vote only as leverage to get the administration to surrender material about the president’s involvement in the Benghazi decision-making process. But the delay may allow more damaging information to come to light about Hagel that could fundamentally alter the dynamic of the debate about his suitability for high office.

As our former colleague Alana Goodman reports at the Washington Free Beacon, a contemporaneous account of a 2007 speech given by Hagel at Rutgers University claimed the U.S. State Department had become an “adjunct to the Israeli Foreign Minister’s Office. These words were recorded in a blog written at that time by Hagel supporter George Ajjan who confirmed the veracity of the post to Goodman.

Read More

Only days ago, it looked like Chuck Hagel was sailing to a quick confirmation as the nation’s new Secretary of Defense by the end of the week. Despite a shockingly poor performance at his Senate hearing, Senate Democrats closed ranks around him. With a couple of Republican supporters and most of the GOP caucus — especially the influential Senator John McCain — declaring they would not support a filibuster of his nomination, Hagel seemed certain of victory. But Hagel’s failure to produce information about income from speeches he had given and the White House’s continuing stonewall of Republican efforts to find about more about the Benghazi disaster have combined to stymie administration efforts to confirm him before Congress breaks for the President’s Day holiday.

Senior Democratic aides told Politico today that Senator Harry Reid doesn’t have the 60 votes he needs to stop a Republican filibuster when the Senate votes tomorrow on whether Hagel’s nomination can receive an up or down vote. That places him on hold at a crucial moment. Some Republicans are backing the roadblock to a vote only as leverage to get the administration to surrender material about the president’s involvement in the Benghazi decision-making process. But the delay may allow more damaging information to come to light about Hagel that could fundamentally alter the dynamic of the debate about his suitability for high office.

As our former colleague Alana Goodman reports at the Washington Free Beacon, a contemporaneous account of a 2007 speech given by Hagel at Rutgers University claimed the U.S. State Department had become an “adjunct to the Israeli Foreign Minister’s Office. These words were recorded in a blog written at that time by Hagel supporter George Ajjan who confirmed the veracity of the post to Goodman.

This statement is consistent with Hagel’s 2006 claim that the “Jewish lobby” was intimidating Congress and shows a mindset of hostility to the U.S.-Israel alliance. Ajjan’s post about Hagel’s speech makes interesting reading today as it demonstrates the former senator’s views opposing isolation of Iran, a key point in the context of President Obama’s declared policies about Tehran.

Senators should demand that Hagel explain this remark as well as provide the information they’ve asked for about his speeches to various Arab groups to whom he may have made similar remarks about Jews and Israel. So, too, should the Jewish organizations that have been silent about Hagel’s nomination out of fear of offending President Obama.

More to the point, pro-Israel Democrats like Chuck Schumer should use these latest revelations as justification for reversing their lukewarm endorsement of Hagel. All it will take is one wavering Democrat to abandon the Nebraskan for his nomination to unravel. And the longer the process drags on the more likely it will be that this might happen. The accumulation of damaging information about Hagel combined with the incompetence he demonstrated at his confirmation hearing, should lead Republicans to hang tough on his nomination.

The GOP should ignore the huffing and puffing about the unprecedented nature of their attempts to stop the Hagel nomination. It may be that a filibuster of a Cabinet appointee is a rare event and should not be undertaken lightly or at the expense of a qualified candidate. But Chuck Hagel is not such a person.

As he demonstrated at his hearing, Hagel is not prepared to deal with the issues facing the Pentagon or the nation and doesn’t even consider this important post to be one in which policy is decided. His offensive remarks about American Jews and Israel are in of themselves a reason to ask the president to drop him and bring forward another, better person to lead the Pentagon. But the effect of his nomination on Iran’s opinion of the administration is an even better reason to drop him. They clearly regard Hagel’s appointment as a sign that the United States isn’t serious about stopping their nuclear plans and would never use force even after diplomacy had failed.

If there was ever a nomination that deserved to be filibustered, it is Hagel’s. The Senate Republican caucus has good reason to hold up any vote on him. The latest revelations about his views should also encourage Democrats to dump him.

Read Less

Is a Hagel Filibuster Still Possible?

Just when it seemed as if Chuck Hagel’s confirmation as secretary of defense seemed almost certain, a crucial Senate Republican may be changing his mind about supporting a filibuster of the embattled nominee. As Politico reports, Senator John McCain is now leaving open the possibility of joining a filibuster of Hagel if the White House continues to refuse to release information about the president’s “actions and orders” on the night of the 9/11 terrorist attack in Benghazi that resulted in the deaths of four Americans.

By joining his friend and colleague Lindsey Graham in demanding more data about Benghazi as the price for removing a hold on Hagel, McCain is moving away from his previous stand that a filibuster of a nominee for a senior Cabinet post is inappropriate. With two Republicans saying they would vote to confirm Hagel and several others agreeing with McCain that an up or down vote should not be denied their former colleague, it had looked as if the president’s choice was certain to be confirmed this week. But by adding his weight to the request for more about Benghazi, McCain may have, at least temporarily, changed the dynamic of the Hagel battle. Since the administration has resisted Senate demands to learn more about the president’s involvement in the Libya fiasco, this could mean that Hagel will have to wait until at least after the President’s Day holiday to get his vote.

Read More

Just when it seemed as if Chuck Hagel’s confirmation as secretary of defense seemed almost certain, a crucial Senate Republican may be changing his mind about supporting a filibuster of the embattled nominee. As Politico reports, Senator John McCain is now leaving open the possibility of joining a filibuster of Hagel if the White House continues to refuse to release information about the president’s “actions and orders” on the night of the 9/11 terrorist attack in Benghazi that resulted in the deaths of four Americans.

By joining his friend and colleague Lindsey Graham in demanding more data about Benghazi as the price for removing a hold on Hagel, McCain is moving away from his previous stand that a filibuster of a nominee for a senior Cabinet post is inappropriate. With two Republicans saying they would vote to confirm Hagel and several others agreeing with McCain that an up or down vote should not be denied their former colleague, it had looked as if the president’s choice was certain to be confirmed this week. But by adding his weight to the request for more about Benghazi, McCain may have, at least temporarily, changed the dynamic of the Hagel battle. Since the administration has resisted Senate demands to learn more about the president’s involvement in the Libya fiasco, this could mean that Hagel will have to wait until at least after the President’s Day holiday to get his vote.

On the surface, Benghazi has little if anything to do with Hagel’s questionable fitness for high office. Many in the Senate have justified qualms about Hagel’s views about Israel, Iran, terrorism and defense cuts but McCain has taken the position that escalating the use of the filibuster to encompass cabinet nominations is a step towards all out partisan warfare that he isn’t willing to take. But McCain seems to agree with Graham and other Republicans that it is vital that the truth about Benghazi isn’t swept down the memory hole by the administration and their complacent media cheerleaders. If linking Hagel to that affair is the only way to drag more information out of the White House, then McCain may have concluded that it is the right thing to do.

It may be that a delay won’t convince Democrats to abandon their party line on Hagel. The strict partisan divide in the Senate Defense committee confirmation vote illustrated the willingness of pro-Israel Democrats to swallow even as unsatisfactory and unprepared a candidate as Hagel if the president demanded it of them. But if McCain feels that the Senate is being stiffed by the White House on Benghazi that may convince him to take actions on Hagel that he might otherwise not think about. With McCain joining a filibuster, finding 40 votes to stop the nomination would still be difficult but not as impossible as it seems today.

As I wrote yesterday, such a filibuster entails risks to the Republicans. But his dismal performance at his confirmation hearing and the transparent manner with which he sought to disavow previous controversial positions undermines the rationale that the president deserves his choice at the Pentagon. Hagel may still be on track for confirmation. But if the White House isn’t forthcoming with the information Graham and McCain want, it’s going to be even more difficult than he might have thought.

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.