Today’s Washington Post editorial opposing the nomination of Chuck Hagel as defense secretary should provide encouragement for those seeking to derail the appointment. The Post rightly pointed out that Hagel’s positions on defense spending and stopping Iran’s nuclear program “fall well to the left of those pursued by Mr. Obama during his first term — and place him near the fringe of the Senate that would be asked to confirm him.” The Post is right about that, but that is exactly why the talk about Hagel is raising alarms among those who fear that a second Obama administration will not follow through on the promises made by the president during his first term, with specific attention to his pledge to stop Iran from developing a nuclear capability.
However, those expecting that pro-Israel Jewish Democrats will be leading the charge to stop the appointment of a man who is a prominent critic of the Jewish state as well as of its American supporters are probably going to be disappointed. As this article published today in the Hill demonstrates, the unwillingness of influential Democrats like Dianne Feinstein and Carl Levin to oppose Hagel shows that any campaign against the nomination may be an uphill slog. Combined with the natural reluctance of many senators to oppose a former colleague and friend, the inability of Hagel’s foes to get prominent Jewish Democrats to take a stand may ensure his victory.
Though the headline in the Hill spoke of Jewish Democrats being “divided” on Hagel, the only senator they quoted as opposing him was Joe Lieberman, who is an independent and is leaving the Senate this month anyway. While Ben Cardin and Richard Blumenthal took no position, their silence as well as the no-show attitude of the National Jewish Democratic Council has turned the debate into one between Jewish conservatives like the Weekly Standard’s Bill Kristol and the Republican Jewish Coalition and supporters of Hagel like Peter Beinart, Joe Klein and J Street.
Of course, the reason why Klein and Beinart are so enthusiastic about Hagel illustrates why the pro-Israel community is so upset about the prospect of his running the Pentagon. His antagonism to Israel has never been a secret and the left hopes he will fulfill their fantasies about a second Obama administration putting the screws to Israel about the Palestinians. They also like his lack of interest in taking on Iran or even threatening the use of force to bring Tehran to its senses about its drive for nuclear weapons. Open supporters of Iran such as the Campaign against Sanctions and Military Intervention in Iran feel the same way.
While Klein has written about AIPAC beginning to use its muscle to stop Hagel, any such effort will require Democrats to put up or shut up about their party and president being stalwart supporters of the Jewish state. Simply put, a Hagel nomination is incompatible with any idea that this administration or the Democratic Party can be viewed as reliable allies of Israel. It will be up to people like Cardin and Blumenthal and the NJDC to speak up about Hagel in the coming weeks for that pledge to have any real meaning.