With conventional wisdom solidifying behind Hagel, will Obama finally declare on ‘Meet the Press?’

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It’s a good day to be Chuck Hagel. The conventional wisdom seems to be turning firmly in his favor. Of course I am biased, but here is a roundup, emphasizing the thermals that he is riding toward possible nomination as an antiwar Secretary of Defense.

At the Atlantic, Steve Clemons takes a call from 1600 Pennsylvania and says that Hagel is “very much on the list” for Obama’s Defense Secretary (Poor Obama, like a kid with well-thumbed baseball cards, can’t decide which is his favorite). Clemons reasons that Obama has the horses to defeat the neoconservatives:

I just got a phone call from a senior Executive Branch person in the know who said something along the lines that the media are hyperventilating this thing into the wrong direction and that the process of considering nominees is proceeding in a way completely different than the media are telling it.  This person said Hagel is very much on the list…

How much will Bill Kristol, the Republican Jewish Coalition and others put into the kitty to fight Hagel? How much is the president willing to invest — even before a potential nomination reaches the kicking the tires phase?… The bottom line is that for those, even myself, who have argued that Hagel’s nomination was still kicking, or withering, assumptions are being made about what would seem logical, what would a president faced with a neocon onslaught, lack of unanimity in the Senate, and the potential for yet another fight with the GOP (well, mostly the GOP) do when the Obama team may have thought this would be a smoother ride…. 

If the White House does not go with Hagel, the Obama team has a problem as they will be appearing to reject a two-time Purple Heart recipient who was nearly a candidate for president of the United States, who served as a sergeant in Vietnam, and who believes that the Pentagon must be reshaped and remodeled to deliver security to the American public on leaner budgets…. And they’d be conceding to a lot of folks whom the president just wiped the floor with in the last election…

So, if the source I spoke to is right and the media discussion has distorted what is fantasy and fact and is now quite distant from what the real process is with President Obama and Chuck Hagel, all the better. 

Abdeen Jabara, a past director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, reflecting the new mood, believes that the White House has made the calculus Clemons reports. He tells me, by phone:

This could be a defining moment of the Obama presidency– Will he or won’t he? I think he will. One reason is, If he doesn’t, he might as well pack his bags and go home. Because in that case, he’s not only suffering from invertebracy, he’s not really looking out for America’s best interes.

The other reason is, You’ll remember that Hagel was considered the last time (four years ago) and not nominated. They wouldn’t have floated his name again if they weren’t serious. They knew what baggage he was carrying– they knew it, and knew it would all come out– and they wanted all the parties to stake out their positions. Look, these are smart people. And I think it is very politic of Obama.

Speaking of staking out positions, on MSNBC, filling in last night for Rachel Maddow, who had dissed Hagel, Ezra Klein is cautiously supportive of Hagel. Klein describes the “master counter-offensive” against Hagel, including insinuations that Hagel is an anti-Semite, but he avoids the Israel lobby issue in discussion with Heather Hurlbut, executive director of the National Security Network, who seems behind Hagel all the way:

He clearly has a very strong personal relationship with the President… He is really well respected by folks in the military.

But wait, Klein says, Hagel’s views on Iran are the most substantive critique of him. Notice that even on a leftleaning cable network, Klein must throw coins in the neoconservative fountain. Tactically– so that Hurlbut can slap the criticism away, already imagining Hagel’s “tenure” as Defense Secretary:

It hasn’t been a year since the last time we had had a manufactured crisis about going to war with Iran so I would expect to have at least one other one during Hagel’s tenure. So his views, which is that we should exhaust negotiated options before we think of a military strike on Iran and… a military stirke on Iran will not actually stop Iran’s nuclear program…[This is] a skepticism which is shared by the current Defense Secretary and his predecessor and the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff [and Israelis Hurlbut names] and a majority of the American public… This notion that Hagel is outside of the mainstream– He’s definitely not out of the Pentagon mainstream, not outside of the American mainstream, he may be outside of the Congressional mainstream [but Congress is its own animal]

More support for Hagel from the center-left. In the New York Review of Books, Elizabeth Drew seems very supportive of Hagel, and astutely describes the battle as a test of Obama’s whole presidency, and of his stature, because it is a test of American policymakers’ docility in the face of the lobby:

Far more is at stake in Barack Obama’s decision on whether to nominate Chuck Hagel to be Secretary of Defense than whether Chuck Hagel is nominated. What the president decides will bear on: his effectiveness in his second term; any president’s ability to form a government; whether an independent voice can be raised on a highly sensitive issue in opposition to the views of a powerful lobby and still be named to a significant government position; whether there is actually a proper nominating system; whether McCarthyite tactics can still be effective more than half a century after they were rejected by a fed-up nation. And, by the way, what will be the direction of American policy in the Middle East? In particular, how adventurous will we be toward Iran? Have we learned anything from the calamitous foreign policy blunders of the past decade?

Iran more than any other single issue is at the core of the opposition to Hagel, and that issue is closely linked to the question of the extent to which the US should be allied with the aggressive policies of the Israeli government under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu toward Iran, as well as other issues, such as the settlements and a Palestinian state….

Drew says, as Clemons does, that Obama can defeat the neocons on Hagel, and his failure to understand this is hurting him:

Meaningless statements by some politicians are accorded great significance and foreboding: thus a big deal was made in the press of the supposedly devastating comments made by two of McCain’s closest buddies—Joe Lieberman, who will be gone from the Senate shortly (“very tough confirmation process”), and Lindsey Graham (“it would be a challenging nomination”) on the Sunday talk shows just before Christmas…. Chuck Schumer of New York, with no persuasive reason to commit on a nomination that hadn’t been made, said that Hagel’s “record will be studied carefully”—and this was interpreted as a serious blow to Hagel’s confirmation.

But what had actually happened was that these senators, employing one of the talking points that had been circulated on the Hill and published in Kristol’s Weekly Standard, had simply indicated that the Senate Armed Services Committee’s consideration of a Hagel nomination would be rough. …

That such substantial Senate figures as Carl Levin, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, and Jack Reed, also a major figure on defense issues, have announced that they strongly support Hagel has gone almost without notice. To the press, they are the planes that landed.

This brings us to Barack Obama, and the question of whether reelection has strengthened his spine. Moreover, his Washington dealings were already marked by a certain sangfroid; if he dropped Hagel would he go to bat for anyone? (Or they for him?)…

The hesitancy to name Hagel or another candidate is already diminishing Obama’s stature, erasing more of his post-election glow.

More on the ideological stakes. Matt Duss writes at the American Prospect that the Hagel battle is about the refusal of the neoconservatives to understand that the world has changed, and the U.S. has a different role in it.

while these attacks represent an extremely distasteful side of Washington, it’s worth considering what they intended to achieve, and what they say about the current era of U.S. foreign policy.

As I see it, the goal of these attacks is twofold. The first, of course, is to enforce a rigid set of parameters for discussions over Israel-Palestine, in which any criticism of Israeli policy, even if it echoes (as Hagel’s does) common criticisms made by Israeli leaders themselves, is treated as tantamount to being “anti-Israel.” …

In a broader sense, however, the attacks on Hagel represent an attempt by the neoconservative wing of the Republican Party to avoid a conversation over America’s changing role in the world.

Another reflection of the positive mood, in a note to me from Harry Hjalmarson:

Pres. Obama will be on “Meet the Press” about the fiscal cliff. I think there is a chance that he will be asked about the Hagel nomination. I hope he simply says that he will be nominated instead of not responding. Such an answer will send a message.

Hjalmarson points to support for Hagel from Paul Pillar and Ray McGovern, writers with CIA/military backgrounds, which makes the issue one of realists versus neocons. First, Pillar says this possible appointment is the defining moment in a political/cultural battle with the “new McCarthyism” of the Israel lobby:

It is encouraging that many prominent figures have come to Hagel’s defense. But the President still has not acted.

Even if the Hagel matter comes out well, that is not enough. There is still the need for prominent people to name and shame, directly and explicitly, the new McCarthyism practiced by groups and people claiming to be lovers of Israel — and to name and shame it not just with respect to any one nominee or any one issue.

When Joseph Welch shamed McCarthy, the gallery in the [Senate] hearing room burst into applause. I believe many as-yet-passive observers will applaud if the same thing is done to the new McCarthyism.

Former CIA official Ray McGovern frames the Hagel question as Elizabeth Drew does, as a battle between Obama and Netanyahu, and says the Hagel opposition is using subterfuge:

Yes, it’s true that when the neocon editors of the Washington Post decried the prospect of Hagel’s appointment to run the Pentagon, they cited a bunch of other reasons without mentioning Hagel’s independent thinking regarding Israel. For instance, the Post’s editors fretted over a September 2011 interview with the Financial Times, in which Hagel said, “The Defense Department, I think in many ways, has been bloated. … So I think the Pentagon needs to be pared down.” What heresy!..

Yet, despite the Post’s avoidance of any mention about the controversy over Hagel and the Israel Lobby, you can bet that the editors were particularly worried that Hagel might become a strong voice within the Obama administration against simply following Israel’s lead on issues in the Middle East.

If Obama were to actually nominate Hagel– rather than just float his name as a trial balloon and recoil at all the efforts to prick holes in it – the message would be a strong one to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Israel Lobby that the old rules for the game are changing, that they can no longer blackball American public servants from key jobs in Washington.

Says Hjalmarson: “AIPAC risks a disaster if they are seen as taking on the military. They have done it before (Petraeus and Dempsey), but it didn’t get much attention. They are doing it again indirectly… This means that it is now AIPAC versus realists. Given our failures with wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, this is a very bad alignment for AIPAC.”

Scott McConnell also sees a left-realist coalition forming in the pro-Hagel forces: “It seems to me that so much of the liberal intelligentsia, has now publicly backed Hagel, while using words like spine and backbone that President Obama must feel a real downside if he backs down. Pat Buchanan also backs him, citing Eisenhower, so the liberal-paleo alliance is in full flower.”

Here is Buchanan at the American Conservatives, saying that Hagel is the inevitable battle of Obama and the War Party, over Iran, and that Obama should nominate Hagel now to get the battle going:

In 1957, President Eisenhower told Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion to get his army out of Sinai. Would that disqualify Ike from being secretary of defense because, to quote Kristol, this would show Ike was not “serious about having Israel’s back”?

If a senator or defense secretary believes an Israeli action — like bisecting the West Bank with new settlements that will kill any chance for a Palestinian state and guarantee another intifada — what should he do?

Defend the U.S. position, or make sure there is “no daylight” between him and the Israeli prime minister?

As for talking to Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iran, what are we afraid of?

…If Hagel’s view that a war with Iran is not a “responsible option” is a disqualification for defense secretary, what are we to make of this statement from Robert Gates, defense secretary for Bush II and Obama:

“Any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should ‘have his head examined,’ as Gen. (Douglas) MacArthur so delicately put it.”

…Neocon hostility to Hagel is rooted in a fear that in Obama’s inner councils his voice would be raised in favor of negotiating with Iran and against a preventive war or pre-emptive strike. But if Obama permits these assaults to persuade him not to nominate Hagel, he will only be postponing a defining battle of his presidency, not avoiding it.
For Bibi Netanyahu is going to be re-elected this January.

Oh and, coalition-building, here is Kelley Vlahos at antiwar.com, “Give us Chuck Hagel for Christmas:”

Many of us see Hagel’s impact in much broader terms than just the Israel question.  We’ve had too many armchair generals and dutiful yes men at the levers of power, cleaving to an unsustainable post-9/11 orthodoxy that has militarized our foreign policy and politicized our military. The neoconservatism of the Bush years has bled literally into the so-called humanitarian interventionism of the Obama era, and for the first time, there is an opportunity to check that with the presence of a known Realist

Thanks again to Annie for digging up the developments. Follow her @anniefofani

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