The Chuck Hagel debate has moved into a new phase: the neoconservatives are completely on the defensive. NYT op-eds by Tom Friedman (“Give Chuck a Chance“) and James Besser (“Don’t Let Pro-Israel Extremists Sink Chuck Hagel”) have now successfully positioned Hagel as a centrist being attacked by extremists. And the neoconservatives have got their back up, as you will see below.
This is what MJ Rosenberg– who framed this mainstream debate as much as anyone by sticking to his guns on Israel-firster, thereby calling out the Iran-war neocons for dual loyalty, a strategy that played out in the presidential election– always said: the minute that politicians begin to get sharp questions at press conferences (from mainstream reporters) about their reflexive support for Israel, the debate will change. This new phase suggests that even if Obama, subject to his usual “invertebracy” (as Idrees Ahmad puts it), doesn’t put Hagel’s name forward, the neoconservatives have become a punching bag in the discourse. Though of course many of those delivering the blows supported the Iraq war, as Hagel himself did.
The American Jewish Committee has responded angrily to James Besser’s “Pro-Israel Extremists” article in the New York Times. Note ahead of time that Besser was the Washington correspondent for The Jewish Week from 1987 to 2011 and was a syndicated columnist for several Jewish newspapers. AJC’s David Harris wants to portray him as a nutjob. But Harris is himself shrill:
Essentially, the author argues that a group of wealthy right-wing zealots now call the shots in American Jewry. They have either taken over or, at the very least, intimidated mainstream groups like AJC into supporting, openly or quietly, their extremist agenda. This includes settlement expansion and seeking to silence anyone who doesn’t yield to their political orthodoxies. To be blunt, this is absolute and total rubbish. ……..
Decision-making and direction are determined by AJC’s Board of Governors through discussion and debate, involving close cooperation between lay leadership and staff. We welcome different points of view among our leaders and outside speakers who inform our thinking, a long-standing hallmark of AJC.
David Harris, please show me any meaningful statements the AJC has made against settlement expansion.
Here are some more defensive misleading statements, which culminate in Harris’s real concern, Hagel won’t support a war on Iran:
Third, our stance on Israel-related issues is staunchly centrist and non-ideological. An incredibly long paper and voice trail underscores that point, as do the daily examples of our diplomatic and political advocacy……
Project Interchange, AJC’s educational initiative bringing leaders from different sectors in the U.S. and other countries to Israel, visits Ramallah regularly to meet with the Palestinian Authority. AJC’s Board of Governors, during its upcoming visit to Israel, also will meet with PA leaders, as it has consistently done on previous trips….
There are good reasons to be concerned about Hagel in the Pentagon, and one need not be a “zealot” or “extremist” to hold such views….. Hagel’s voting record and statements on Iran-related issues alone should give pause to anyone who wonders what message his appointment could send to Tehran.
At the neoconservative Weekly Standard, Daniel Halpern is also on the defensive. The attacks are hitting a nerve:
Instead, these articles (and many more like them) just attack those concerned that Hagel is not the right man for the job.
No one, I believe, is actually making the argument that Hagel is well qualified to be secretary of defense
Let’s move on to the Hagel supporters. Trita Parsi of the National Iranian American Council has a prominent op-ed at Huffington Post that begins by stating that the right is now on the run over the Hagel possibility:
The right wing pro-Israel forces — described by the New York Times today as “extremists” — seem to be falling on their swords. They are learning that Senator Chuck Hagel is the wrong guy to pick a fight with…
Hagel’s detractors appear to be motivated by two factors. First, vengeance over Hagel’s push to have the U.S. leave Iraq and end the neoconservatives’ pet project. Second, fear that Hagel’s independence and insistence on asking tough questions and ensuring that force is only used as a measure of last resort will complicate the neoconservatives’ other pet project: preventive war with Iran.
Hagel is no pacifist. There is nothing in his record that suggests that he would categorically oppose using force. After all, he did vote in favor of the Iraq war. But on Iran, his presence in the Obama administration would inject a much-needed dose of clear-sighted realism and strategic thinking. He would provide Obama’s national security team with the patience needed to ensure that America doesn’t commit another strategic mistake such as Iraq. Precisely because of his own military background, he knows full well the cost of impatience and ill-conceived wars.
I’m glad that Parsi brought up Hagel’s Iraq war vote. Hagel tries to rationalize it in his 2008 book, but it’s completely inconsistent with the antiwar mindset he supposedly brought, wounded, out of Vietnam.
At Al Jazeera, Muhammad Idrees Ahmad marvels that the Israel lobby, “an interest group lobbying on behalf of a foreign state,” has been able to impose a rigid litmus test on White House appointments. First he surveys the anti-Hagel forces:
The ECI [Emergency Committee for Israel], a relatively new actor, has not been alone in targeting Hagel. It has been ably assisted by the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League, AIPAC, the Republican Jewish Coalition, the National Jewish Democratic Council, The Israel Project, and the Zionist Organisation of America. Affiliates from both within and outside the government have gone on the offensive.
The op-ed pages of the Washington Post, the Weekly Standard and the Wall Street Journal have all helped amplify the smears. The chorus has been joined by the familiar cast of Israel apologists in Congress, led by Chuck Schumer, Joseph Lieberman and Eliot Engel. Besides accusing Hagel of “endemic hostility towards Israel”, one of them, Engel, has also detected a “prejudice”.
Then he laments the influence of the lobby.
“Every appointee to the American government”, [Natasha Mozgovaya of Haaretz] wrote, “must endure a thorough background check by the American Jewish community.”
This is a curious position for a democracy to find itself in where an interest group lobbying on behalf of a foreign state can exercise veto power over government appointments based on ideological litmus tests. The distortion it engenders has been obvious in the disastrous course of recent US foreign policy.
For the majority of Americans who are tired of perpetual war, the battle over Hagel’s appointment presents an opportunity to check this decline. They can finally confront the forces of militarism and restore much-needed sanity. It is not a coincident that the line-up of Hagel’s detractors looks remarkably similar to the line-up that promoted the Iraq war and is eager to bomb Iran. Hagel is far from a perfect candidate but he has many qualities that make his candidacy worth defending.
(P.S. If Haaretz reports that the “Jewish community” is vetting appointments, then isn’t Hagel excused for speaking of the Israel lobby as the “Jewish lobby”?)
It’s interesting that J Street, the kinder gentler Israel lobby, is now fundraising using the Hagel possibility as a benchmark battle against the neocons– “Extremism in our community”:
We’re pushing back hard against fierce, personal attacks against Senator Chuck Hagel’s possible nomination to be Secretary of Defense – the kind that intimidate politicians and policy makers into silence. Now, Washington knows that a serious pro-Israel lobby will have their back if they’re attacked for refusing to take only the most hawkish positions on Israel.
Though the statement is also aimed at the likes of me, for being too critical of the blessed Jewish state in the face of sensible moderate liberal Zionists, the impact of the statement lands almost entirely on neocons, who are “in our community.” I.e., inside the Jewish establishment.
In that vein, Robert Naiman, another two-stater, has a list of all those supporting Hagel against the “jackboot of the neocons.”
What do we want the next four years to be like? Do we want to spend the next four years under the jackboot of the neocons, even though we beat them in the last three presidential elections, starting with the 2008 Democratic primary?
If we don’t want to spend the next four years under the jackboot of the neocons, then we have to stop the neocons from blocking the nomination of diplomacy advocate, war skeptic and decorated Vietnam combat veteran Chuck Hagel to be the next Secretary of Defense.
Oh and here’s a CNN panel trashing Hagel, mostly over his “aggressively gay” slur (14 years old, for which he’s apologized) and featuring Republican pundit Ana Navarro saying that a Hagel appointment would be “obtuse,” offending critical constituencies, including the pro-Israel crowd, and is therefore “DOA.” She also says that Israel advocates are not a “special interest.” Huh.
Thanks to Annie, and James Wall.