Friday, December 28, 2012

Hagel for Defense

Chuck Hagel in Vietnam
I'd like to think that a nomination of Republican Chuck Hagel for Secretary of the Defense would be considered on its merits. I'd like to think his nomination would be deliberated in the Senate where his record, his qualifications and the policies he advocates would be subject to scrutiny in a public confirmation hearing. We may never get the chance to see that hearing. After the administration floated a trial balloon indicating that Hagel was on the SECDEF short list, the very same neocons who brought us the Iraq War launched a smear campaign as a preemptive strike to head off the nomination. Robert Wright at The Atlantic sums it up:

"Reports that President Obama may nominate former Senator Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense haven't been well received at The Weekly Standard. In pre-emptively opposing the nomination, the neoconservative magazine is employing what you might call a two-tiered strategy: the low road and the lower road.  The low road is taken by the Standard's editor, Bill Kristol. He writes that Hagel is "anti-Israel," and then follows this assertion with a series of facts that don't corroborate it. Of course, as Kristol surely knows, "anti-Israel" is taken by some people as code for "anti-Semitic." As for those Weekly Standard readers who don't interpret the term that way -- well, that's what the lower road is for. A separate story written by a Standard staffer quotes a top Republican Senate aide saying flat out that Hagel is anti-Semitic."
I can understand how some might find Hagel's record and rhetoric to be insufficiently bellicose regarding Iran and insufficiently supportive of every single aspect of US policy to Israel. That is a policy area where his views should be explored in detail and  fair game for a Senate confirmation hearing.

 Evidence of Hagel's support for Israel is found in a fact sheet circulated by supporters  [PDF linked here], an open letter from five former US ambassadors to Israel, a J Street endorsement and more.  It is not a question of whether Hagel supports Israel. He does. But for some it is a question of whether he supports Israel enough.  When Hagel sees daylight between Israeli interests and American interests he speaks out plainly and clearly. This is a legitimate area of policy disagreement between his detractors and supporters. I repeat - let us explore Hagel's convictions in a Senate confirmation hearing so that Hagel can speak for himself instead of blindly accepting the representations of a neocon promoted media smear campaign bent on preemptively stopping the nomination.

Unfortunately, not everyone is approaching the question of Hagel's suitability for Secretary of Defense with a legitimate discussion of policy.  I received an e-mail forwarded from a usually rational friend with a disturbing quote from someone who purports to speak for "the Jewish community":
"...what really has the Jewish community up in arms is this Hagel quote from 2006:“The political reality is… that the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people.” Let’s look at that for a minute. “Jews control the world” is an ancient canard that has led to pogroms, blood libels and a Holocaust. Just like the Russian-fabricated Protocols of the Elders of Zion of a century ago..."
Where to begin. This quote is invoking antisemitism, blood libel, the holocaust, and the Protocols of Zion in the context of Hagel's political views. The statement is outrageous and morally reprehensible. It trivializes the evil of antisemitism and disrespects the memory of the holocaust victims. It is an ugly and absurd comparison that should not be circulated in e-mails and must be confronted. Since I received this e-mail I assume others did also, so I tracked down the source - an Israeli Rabbi who should know better. I don't know who he is, I don't know if he has a following, I just know he is wrong.

 It is unfortunate, but a defense against any "-ism" charge (antisemitism, racism, sexism, etc.) will lack credibility unless offered by a member of the same aggrieved group. FWIW I identify myself as non-observant Jew, married by a Cantor, born to a Jewish father and a mother who converted  to maintain family harmony.  If that is not sufficient, perhaps a Rabbi in Omaha who knows Chuck Hagel better than most will suffice - Rabbi Aryeh Azriel:
"As a person who grew up in the State of Israel, I found a great love in Chuck’s heart for the Israeli people and their desire to live in peace and security. Through the years, I heard him speak in support for sanctions on Iran, against the Hezbollah in Lebanon and the need to avoid any contact with and not support the terrorist organization Hamas until it agrees to recognize Israel and renounce violence.  It pains me to read about the attempts to derail his nomination for secretary of defense. Chuck Hagel would be an excellent choice to bring new ideas and renewed vigor to a region searching for lasting peace."
Apparently offense is taken in Hagel's use of  the words"Jewish lobby" as opposed to "Israel lobby". It is an odd accusation since some of the organizations taking offense recently rebranded themselves from a self labeled "Jewish Lobby" to an "Israel Lobby".

The simple fact is that the Israel lobby does intimidate a lot of people on Capital Hill. As does the agricultural lobby, as does the energy lobby, as does the SEIU / labor lobby in Blue States, as does the gun lobby in Red States, etc, etc, ad nauseum. "Intimidation" (threatening to support political opponents)  is the currency of any effective lobby. I strongly support Israel, so I am glad to learn the Pro-Israel lobby is effective. People hire professionals to lobby on behalf of their special interests. That is the way our system works. That is simple political reality.  Hagel was speaking the truth.

I seldom find myself in agreement with Chris Hayes, but this three segment edition Of Up with Chris Hayes featuring Glenn Greenwald, Spencer Ackerman, Elise Jordan, and Arthur David Miller (the author responsible for publishing the Hagel quote) is an exception. It thoroughly dissects the entire Hagel "Jewish Lobby" kerfuffle and worth a few minutes of your time:

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I support Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense for the same reason I supported a Draft Chuck Hagel for President  effort in 2008.  Because he understands war from the perspective of the soldier who does the fighting and dying. Because he was right about the cost and unpredicatable outcome of the Iraq War.  Because he is a fiscal conservative and knows the bloated defense budget must be cut in addition to our unsustainable entitlement programs.   Because he knows it is time to extricate ourselves from our country's longest war in Afghanistan. Because he is articulate and speaks with integrity and intelligence. Because he is the right man for the job. Because I can't say it any better than those who have risen to his defense - like these four former National Security Advisers:
We strongly object, as a matter of substance and as a matter of principle, to the attacks on the character of former senator Chuck Hagel. Mr. Hagel is a man of unshakable integrity and wisdom who has served his country in the most distinguished manner in peace and war. He is a rare example of a public servant willing to rise above partisan politics to advance the interests of the United States and its friends and allies.  
James L. Jones  -National Security Adviser - Barack Obama
Brent Scowcroft - National Security Adviser Gerald Ford & George HW Bush
Zbigniew Brzezinski - National Security Adviser - Jimmy Carter
Frank Carlucci - National Security Adviser & Secretary of Defense - Ronald Reagan
If President Obama has the courage of his convictions, he will submit the nomination of Chuck Hagel to the Senate for confirmation and let the chips fall where they may.

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