Obama gets backup from broad center-left group to defy neocons and nominate Hagel

Israel/Palestine

Centrists and liberals are trying to buck up Barack Obama to nominate Chuck Hagel for secretary of Defense in defiance of the rightwing Israel lobby.

Last night to try and give the parsimonious president some political capital, Chris Matthews described the anti-Hagel camp as a small group of warmongering neocons and cited the many ambassadors supporting Hagel before hosting two Hagel backers, Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island and Dana Milbank of the Washington Post. Matthews used Milbank, who is Jewish (and who listens to his Israeli au pair for political wisdom), to protect Hagel from his statement to Aaron David Miller that the “Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people” on Capitol Hill (which I was the first to report more than four years ago).

Meantime, many others have joined in in this neocon donnybrook. The most important below are Ambassador Nicholas Burns and Jeffrey Goldberg. Both are weathervaners, and Obama believes that Goldberg leads a good slice of the lobby, and he’s probably right.

Robert Wright performs a wrapup of those who have supported Hagel (and p.s., you should read his post for a defense of a single democracy from river to sea):

Already, Hagel has been defended by a strikingly diverse array of voices, including… Dana Milbank of the Washington Post; John Judis of The New Republic; Andrew Sullivan of the Daily Beast; Scott McConnell and Daniel Larison of The American Conservative; the progressive pro-Israel group J Street; the Center for American Progress blog ThinkProgress; Stephen Walt of Foreign Policy and Harvard; Steve Clemons of The Atlantic and the New America Foundation; Jim Fallows of The Atlantic; Emily Hauser of Open Zion; Marsha B. Cohen and Jim Lobe at LobeblogNicholas Kristof of The New York Times; Clyde Prestowitz, formerly US Trade Representative in a Republican administration, in Foreign Policy; Robert Merry at The National Interest; former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurtzer; and former U.S. Middle East negotiator Aaron David Miller (author of the book in which Hagel’s “Jewish Lobby” quote appears). Update: Also, former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft and former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage. Update, 12/20: A bunch of former US ambassadors–including five former ambassadors to Israel–have now written a letter saying Hagel has “impeccable” credentials to be secretary of defense: Nicholas Burns, former Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, Ambassador to NATO and Greece; Ryan Crocker, former Ambassador to Iraq and Afghanistan; Edward Djerejian, former Ambassador to Israel and Syria; William Harrop, former Ambassador to Israel; Daniel Kurtzer, former Ambassador to Israel and Egypt; Sam Lewis, former Ambassador to Israel; William H. Luers, former Ambassador to Venezuela and Czechoslovakia; Thomas R. Pickering, former Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, Ambassador to Israel and Russia; Frank G. Wisner, former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, Ambassador to Egypt and India.

A despairing Jeffrey Goldberg has come out for Hagel so as to save Israel from itself:

Maybe, at this point, what we need are American officials who will speak with disconcerting bluntness to Israel about the choices it is making. If the Jewish Home party becomes a key part of Netanyahu’s right-wing ruling coalition, you can be assured that there will not [be] compromise coming in the forseeable future (it’s almost impossible to forsee compromise now.) Maybe the time has come to redefine the term “pro-Israel” to include… the straightest of straight talk about Israel’s self-destructive policies on the West Bank. Maybe Hagel, who is not bound to old models, could be useful in this regard. And yes, I write this with some measure of despair.

And the Wall Street Journal says Republican opposition is growing, and is quoting Zbig Brzezinski challenging Obama to stand up for Hagel and do it soon.

“I find that [Obama’s failure to comment], unfortunately, a symptom of being not willing to stand up for people you want to surround yourself with. . . .That’s not a good way to protect presidential territory. . . .I would say: Make an announcement that Kerry and [Hagel] are the team that he wants, and let’s see where the chips fall.”

Adds a friend: “In a political contest–(barring election campaigns, he has only fought such a contest to the end on one issue ever)–Obama needs 24-karat reassurance before he can tie his shoes. He is waiting for that, on Hagel, but it won’t ever get past 12 karat on this. He has never yet fought hard for anyone or anything that is not immediately connected with his own reputation and his political survival.”

Andrew Sullivan has led the rallying for Hagel on the left. He and Chris Matthews have focused on Bill Kristol and his latest toxic video for the Emergency Committee For Israel:

Sullivan, a fearless master marksman (as Annie phrases it), prowls with the grace of a famished panther then deftly goes for the jugular:

Kristol believes Greater Israel should always be backed by the US – including its neo-fascist ethnic social engineering on the West Bank, now once again put on steroids by its unhinged prime minister, essentially ending any pretense of good faith with its European allies. President Obama supports the long-standing US view that there should be a two-state solution, along 1967 lines with land swaps. Kristol supports illegal settlements.

So why does Kristol merit any conceivable interest in a re-elected Obama’s cabinet appointees? Why are we even talking about someone who has done so much damage to his own country and so much damage to Israel internationally, a man who has the blood of thousands of innocents in Iraq on his hands and appears to feel not a twinge of conscience, let alone introspection?

And yet here we have this ad, seen above, and an orchestrated campaign (you think [Fred] Hiatt didn’t get the memo or didn’t even need to?) to dictate the policy and cabinet picks of the newly elected president. You ask: where do they get the gall? The “Emergency Committee For Israel”, which sponsors the ad, contains in its very name a distillation of the paranoia and fantasy that is undermining a sane foreign policy for the United States, while supporting every suicidal, tribal, fundamentalist tendency in an increasingly isolated and fundamentalist Israel.

About Annie Robbins

Annie Robbins is Editor at Large for Mondoweiss, a mother, a human rights activist and a ceramic artist. She lives in the SF bay area. Follow her on Twitter @anniefofani

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