Commentary Magazine


Topic: engagement

Ambassadors Like Hagel; Do Generals?

Over at the Atlantic, James Fallows publishes a statement signed by 9 former ambassadors saying they have worked with former Senator Chuck Hagel, and he “has been opposed to those who would undermine or threaten Israel’s security.” Frankly, Fallows and others pushing for Hagel seek to caricature all opposition to him as motivated by his positions on Israel. That may be the case for some but, as with Chas Freeman—who was equally atrocious on China—it has far more to do with his broader foreign policy vision and gut instincts. Let’s look at the ambassadors endorsing Hagel:

Edward Djerejian: Djerejian has spent his retirement promoting rapprochement with Bashar al-Assad, and an end to the Syrian dictator’s isolation in Syria. His insertions regarding unrelated Israel issues in the Iraq Study Group report were, at best, bizarre.

Thomas Pickering: Pickering is an adviser to the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), a group that lobbies against sanctions on the Islamic Republic and seeks to bring American foreign policy into greater conformity with Iran’s positions on controversial issues. They recently lost a defamation case against a journalist which called them out on their lobbying activities. Pickering was the group’s adviser when they sought to subpoena a decade’s worth of emails from me, anything that mentioned “Iran.” The subpoena was successfully fought, but the fact that Pickering would seek to compel release of even classified emails written when I was a Pentagon employee (which I didn’t have copies of at any rate) to hand to a pro-regime lobby group has forever made me question his judgment.

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Over at the Atlantic, James Fallows publishes a statement signed by 9 former ambassadors saying they have worked with former Senator Chuck Hagel, and he “has been opposed to those who would undermine or threaten Israel’s security.” Frankly, Fallows and others pushing for Hagel seek to caricature all opposition to him as motivated by his positions on Israel. That may be the case for some but, as with Chas Freeman—who was equally atrocious on China—it has far more to do with his broader foreign policy vision and gut instincts. Let’s look at the ambassadors endorsing Hagel:

Edward Djerejian: Djerejian has spent his retirement promoting rapprochement with Bashar al-Assad, and an end to the Syrian dictator’s isolation in Syria. His insertions regarding unrelated Israel issues in the Iraq Study Group report were, at best, bizarre.

Thomas Pickering: Pickering is an adviser to the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), a group that lobbies against sanctions on the Islamic Republic and seeks to bring American foreign policy into greater conformity with Iran’s positions on controversial issues. They recently lost a defamation case against a journalist which called them out on their lobbying activities. Pickering was the group’s adviser when they sought to subpoena a decade’s worth of emails from me, anything that mentioned “Iran.” The subpoena was successfully fought, but the fact that Pickering would seek to compel release of even classified emails written when I was a Pentagon employee (which I didn’t have copies of at any rate) to hand to a pro-regime lobby group has forever made me question his judgment.

Ryan Crocker: I have great respect for Ambassador Crocker, but his June 8, 2010 testimony before the Senate regarding Hezbollah continues to trouble me. “We should talk to Hezbollah,” Crocker said. “One thing I learned in Iraq is engagement can be extremely valuable in ending an insurgency.” Does Crocker really believe that he could turn Hezbollah by talking to them? Perhaps. Certainly Hagel does and that, itself, is problematic as it plays into Tehran’s strategy of attacking by proxy while maintaining plausible deniability.

William Luers: While never an ambassador to Israel, as Fallows suggested, Luers is a frequent contributor to the op-ed pages. In a 2009 piece for The New York Review of Books, Luers urged unconditional talks and even greater incentives for Iran. That didn’t turn out so well but in Hagel, Luers has found one of the few figures who is willing to overlook evidence and make the same mistakes repeatedly.

Nicholas Burns: Throughout his career in the State Department hierarchy, Burn has always pushed the line that diplomacy has no cost. Speaking before the Senate on May 6, 2009, he declared, “We will be no worse off if we try diplomacy and fail.” Alas, if the adversary seeks to use diplomacy as a mechanism for delay rather than as a process to resolve conflict, the cost of diplomacy can be very great indeed.

Samuel Lewis: Lewis’s blind support for Hagel should not surprise. Lewis was also a vocal defender of Chas Freeman, Jr., who withdrew from consideration to head the National Intelligence Council after his views, analysis, and biases embarrassed President Obama.

William Harrop: Has, since his retirement from the Foreign Service, appeared increasingly taken in by fringe views of “the Israel Lobby.” He certainly is entitled to them, but his endorsement may do more harm than good.

All of these former ambassadors should be applauded for endorsing Chuck Hagel. They believe he is an honorable man whose views conform to their own and it is to their credit that they will come out directly and say so. They appear to like Hagel because, when it comes to engaging Hezbollah, talks without end with Iran and, for a few among them, the nefarious power of pro-Israel advocates, his views conform to their own. Many, like Pickering, Djerejian, Luers, and perhaps Lewis, appear frequent participants on the post-retirement letter-signing circuit.

What I take from their endorsement is that Hagel would fit in well at Foggy Bottom, but will have a hard time at the Pentagon winning the respect of men whose buddies have been murdered by the very regimes and groups upon which Hagel wants to bestow legitimacy. It will be interesting to see if Hagel and his supporters can find an equal number of prominent former Pentagon officials (Frank Wisner, who is already listed, aside), to endorse him.

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