Having Spent Hours with Obama, Chuck Hagel Tells the Israel Lobby We Need Justice in Palestine or Our Foreign Policy Is Meaningless

Israel/PalestineUS Politics
on 15 Comments

A couple years ago Scott McConnell at the American Conservative told me how impressed he was by Chuck Hagel, that he mixed fine insight with a flat manner. More recently, David Bromwich told me of how he had sat up straight 8 years ago when he heard the Nebraska senator on NPR speaking out for the principle of keeping families together and returning Elian Gonzalez to Cuba.  Well, last night I heard Hagel speak, at the Israel Policy Forum, and I now have religion. This guy is truly, errrr, presidential; and word is he's going to be Obama's Def Sec before too long. The speech was extremely subtle, almost flat, but it was filled with messages.

"It was 40 years ago today, December 4, 1968, that I returned from a 12 month tour of Vietnam," Hagel began, and "those of you who have served… you remember those kinds of dates." I cannot think of a more effective opening, especially to a wealthy Jewish crowd.

Hagel moved to another landmark date. June 1967, boot camp outside El Paso, Texas. He was 20 years old and it was the first time he'd been outside Nebraska in his life. The drill sergeants were telling
the soldiers that they didn’t know where they were going, to Vietnam or
the Middle East, and Hagel remembered the
guys sitting around wondering what the hell our interest was in the
Middle East. "It was OK to send American troops to Vietnam, but not to the Middle East," Hagel said with a fine stroke of irony.

Of course it was a subtle
reminder of an American interest that is not congruent with Israel's,
indeed a reminder of the reason for the existence of the Israel lobby: Israel's supporters don’t
Americans unless we bribe them.

The heart of Hagel's speech was about Obama's commitment to the two-state solution, and not later but sooner.

While he can't speak for them, Hagel said, he's talked directly for long periods with Obama (presumably on their trip to the Middle East). And to Biden too.

"The Middle East is as central to what they want to accomplish as any
one thing, and why is that? Yes it's a sense of justice. They also
understand that unless we bring this Israeli Palestinian issue to some
higher ground, and unless we are able to break through the fog that has
surrounded, dominated, and consumed the effort that all Presidents have
made since 1948, and leaders of the world have made, that continues to
elude us, unless we break through that, then we will continue to see a
more dangerous, complicated world. It is clearly in the interest of the
United States and clearly in the interest of  the Middle East, and the world that this issue be brought to a higher level of confidence
and trust and move to a different plateau of finally try to solve the
problem in a relevant and realistic way."

That means the 2 state solution, he said. Almost everyone agrees on that solution. The leaders of the free world, the Palestinian Authority, Russia, China, the P5+1 [I had to look that up], NATO, and the Arab world. "Why can't we get there?" It requires constant focus, day in and day out, with a presidential envoy on the ground.

The solution won't be perfect. But if we don't make progress, the risk is that the problems will get so much bigger, and overpowering, that no nation, and no set of nations will be able to deal with them. Every world leader he talks to holds this view.

"I'm not an expert on anything, but I do listen, I do observe, and I'm
somewhat informed." He has talked with all the leaders in the region.
"They always take you right back to the same issue. They take you back
to this issue… This issue has to be dealt with." Fixing it is not going to solve everything. "But that one issue shapes almost every other issue…" in the Middle East. It dominates relationships, it dominates people "who want different kinds of relationships" — a reference to moderate Arabs.

I thought a lot of what Hagel was saying was about the Israel lobby. The reference to the fog that has surrounded presidents since 1948, and world leaders too–that was the Jewish ability to get partition, and Israeli power to get territory since then. And Hagel warned the Israel lobby that times are changing. Global relationships are changing by the day. Centers of influence are changing, he said. The strategic dynamic is changing "at a rate we've never seen." And: "This is a very precious historical moment."

I.e., get behind this now, or you'll lose the Jewish state.

Hagel told the room he was Catholic, but said that no one faith has a corner on wisdom.

"Most of you in this room have been to many places in the world… All
people love their children and their families and want a better world.
And that has led me to one fundamental observation that somehow eludes
us in this great dilemma in the Middle East, and that is the human
condition. The human condition has dictated every event in the history
of man, and it will always will. When men are locked in cycles of
despair… it will not result in a better world, or a safer world, or a
more just world..What is it that drives them, these extremists and terrorists?…It is about the human condition. And when we do not deal with the human condition, it will deal with us…. It will dominate all of us."

He was talking about human
suffering, and the need for American Jews to wake up to the basic injustice of the Palestinians’
lives. Chuck Hagel gets it. 

15 Responses

  1. Todd
    December 5, 2008, 3:22 pm

    When someone directly confronts the Israel lobby, and demands justice for Americans, I will listen. Until then it's just coded words and politics. Phil finds religion every other day!

  2. liberal white boy
    December 5, 2008, 3:36 pm

    This man should be Secretary of State not Hillary "stooge for Apartheid Israel" Clinton.

  3. 5 dancing shlomos
    December 5, 2008, 3:56 pm

    everyone remember that this is amurderka. no one worth more than tobacco spit gets elected or appointed to a position worth more than phlem for long.

  4. Doppler
    December 5, 2008, 4:00 pm

    So a non-Jew who is close to Obama goes to IPF and delivers an important, challenging message concerning the most important foreign policy issue facing us. We read about it at Mondoweiss, but it doesn't make the papers. Why is that? What is the rule that these "journalists" follow here?

  5. anon
    December 5, 2008, 4:57 pm

    Good question, Doppler. We all know why. If Obama appointed Chuck Hagle to any important foreign policy position it would be the sign Obama is for real without a doubt. So far, it's not happened, so far he's just running for 2012 according to the lights of the deaf and dumb past.

  6. Doppler
    December 5, 2008, 6:12 pm

    Is this Obama's way of testing IPF? Send Hagel with blunt message [or let Hagel deliver his blunt message under circumstances where it might or might not be Obama's view]. Gauge reaction. If Dershowitz Jimmy Carters him, Obama can step back. Damage contained. If IPF says, we can get behind this message, Hagel's star rises?

    The press should be all over this story. Some IPF spokesperson should demand that the press cover this story. Should humiliate the press for being silent with respect to the biggest story of our time.

  7. morris
    December 5, 2008, 6:21 pm

    What a humane post, coupled with yesterdays gem: 'the empire is teetering'. Yes international alliances are changing, and domestically peoples sentiments are changing. And the Israel lobby still only feeds on international sectarianism. And everyone suffers more and more. And our rulers know Gods word must be enacted. And as the ship sinks an inevitable blame game must develop. Regarding Obama there has not been a whiff of a policy reversal anywhere, just a little miniscule amount of moderation. When the Titanic sunk, and when the Zeppelin crashed, actually most of the people survived (I think), that is the best we can hope for.

  8. John Lewis-Dickerson
    December 5, 2008, 8:24 pm

    Says Hagel: "The political reality is that… the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here." Hagel then related a meeting he had in New York with a group of supporters of Israel who are pushing the U.S. to attack Iran. When Hagel said it hadn't worked out that well in Iraq, a couple of members of the group said he wasn't supportive enough of Israel. Hagel spoke firmly: "Let me clear something up here if there's any doubt in your mind. I'm a U.S. Senator. I'm not an Israeli senator. I'm a U.S. Senator. I support Israel… But my first interest is, I take an oath to the constitution of the United States. Not to a president, not to a party, not to Israel."

    SOURCE –
    link to philipweiss.org

  9. American
    December 5, 2008, 9:19 pm

    Hagel was my man for president.

    I and some others called his office in 2006 and begged, on bended knee, begged him to run.

    He, probably correctly, thought the republicans would be swept out no matter who they ran.

    But Hagel will be back. He is the closest thing to an Eisenhower in mental and moral disposition the US has. And an Eisenhower is what we desperately need right now.

  10. Lysander
    December 5, 2008, 10:26 pm

    "And Hagel warned the Israel lobby that times are changing. Global relationships are changing by the day. Centers of influence are changing, he said. The strategic dynamic is changing "at a rate we've never seen." And: "This is a very precious historical moment." "

    Yes indeed. Hegel does get it and I also had hoped he would run and hoped even more that he might have been Obama's long shot VP pick. But he wasn't. Then I hoped maybe sec def. Nope.

    So maybe sec def in a couple of years? We'll see.

    One thing I do believe, though is that when he talks about centers of influence and Strategic dynamic changing, he's talking about Iran. That will be Israel's counterbalance. When he says global relationships are changing, he means rapproachment with Iran is inevitable. Israel will get a better deal now rather than later.

    Whether anyone listens is another matter.

  11. Duscany
    December 6, 2008, 12:07 am

    "Hagel spoke firmly: "Let me clear something up here if there's any doubt in your mind. I'm a U.S. Senator. I'm not an Israeli senator. I'm a U.S. Senator."

    Wow! I've never heard any politician ever say anything like that. What I mostly remember is Bill Clinton saying he'd grab a gun and "die for Israel."

  12. Rowan Berkeley
    December 6, 2008, 2:00 am

    This is just Blair & Co.'s bourgeois consumerist solution, which actually denies the Palestinians a 'state' as understood by political philosophy, and offers them instead a series of Bantustans, within which they will be corralled for maximum wage slavery on new industrial maquiladoras, while their old agricultural land is seized by the Jewish state and bought up by rich US Jews at auction.

  13. hlmeankin
    December 6, 2008, 8:01 am

    I like Hagel..
    but the 2 state solution is about as bad as Rowan says..
    but I would add..the Saudis and Egyptians seek to "integrate" Palestine into a global mideast…labor and captial development market structure…The billions from Haim Saban,will mix with Saudi wealth as part of this capital ad(venture)
    Money will trump ideology,but the victory will lead to more politcal upheaval..
    The Saudis have already discarded their promise to fight for the Right of Return for the Palestinians…this is supposed to cement the pact with the zionist billionaires..

  14. Rowan Berkeley
    December 6, 2008, 8:29 am

    which also explains why they support the pathetic so-called Future Movement in Lebanon.

  15. anon
    December 6, 2008, 1:19 pm

    Hagel is the de facto president of the real USA, not the current hi-jacked one.

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