The war over Hagel is on

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Chuck Hagel
Chuck Hagel, from the BBC

The war over Chuck Hagel’s possible appointment to be Secretary of Defense has begun in earnest, but right now at the fringe: leading the attack are neoconservatives at the Weekly Standard and the Republican Jewish Coalition who surely hope to nip this idea in the bud lest a Republican who has been openly critical of Israel gets a top policy job. 

Following an earlier anonymous threat he published from an alleged congressional staffer to paint Hagel as an “anti-Semite,” neoconservative godfather Bill Kristol has published “a fact sheet circulating widely on Capitol Hill” (who knows what that means?) that seeks to portray Chuck Hagel as an Israel-hater who would appease Iran. Some of the fact sheet’s assertions will please those who seek a balanced American policy in the Middle East: 

 In December 2005, Hagel was one of 27 Senators who refused to sign a letter to President Bush requesting the U.S. pressure the Palestinians to ban terrorist groups from participating in legislative elections…

In August 2006, Hagel was only of 12 senators who refused to sign a letter asking the EU to declare Hezbollah a terrorist organization…

  In July 2002, in a Washington Post op-ed, after several of the most deadly months of Palestinian suicide bombings, Hagel wrote that the U.S. was erroneously “making Yassir Arafat the issue,” that Palestinians could not be expected to make democratic reforms as long as “Israeli military occupation and settlement activity” continue, and that “Israel must take steps to show its commitment to peace.”…

 In calling upon President Bush to demand an immediate ceasefire after Israel responded to a Hezbollah attack in 2006, Hagel said: “This madness must stop,” and accused Israel of “the systematic destruction of an American friend — the country and people of Lebanon.”

Other neocons are echo-chambering Hagel’s “anti-Israel” positions, and landing on the fact that Stephen Walt, co-author of The Israel Lobby, is for Hagel.

It doesn’t matter that Hagel is a Republican; on its twitter feed, the Republican Jewish Coalition has cited Hagel’s “fond” reflections of Iranian diplomats, retweeted an article saying that Hagel has “malignant” feelings about Israel, and has challenged the National Jewish Democratic Council to condemn Hagel, based on the 2009 statements by former NJDC leader (and Obama Jewish point man) Ira Forman that he saw Hagel as a concern for Israel supporters. RJC’s Matt Brooks calls the possible nod a slap in the face to Israel supporters:

The Jewish community and every American who supports a strong U.S.-Israel relationship have cause for alarm if the President taps Hagel for such an important post. 

But Peter Beinart argues that AIPAC won’t be able to defeat Hagel if he’s nominated and that it will fold its hand and let the hard-right howl. Also at Beinart’s shop, Ali Gharib quotes one Democrat who’s supportive of Hagel:

 I asked [Aaron David] Miller if he still viewed Hagel as “pro-Israel.” “I don’t think there’s a Senator of note in the Senate who is not pro-Israel,” he responded. “But there is a difference between a special relationship with Israel and an exclusive relationship with Israel. I believe in the former and Chuck Hagel believes the former.”

Miller is being approached because he reported Hagel’s view of the “Jewish lobby” in the notes to his book back in 2008. I picked that up then and wondered whether journalists would pick up on the charges:

[Hagel told Miller,] “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.” Gee.

Several writers have suggested that Chuck Hagel could get the Bobby Ray Inman treatment. Admiral Inman was nominated by President Bill Clinton to be Secretary of Defense in the mid-90s but was opposed by the Israel lobby. “It was [the late] William Safire who went after him,” Peter Voskamp recalled in a note. “Then, after Inman held a press conference explaining why he pulled himself out of the running, the media gave him the Howard Dean treatment, suggesting that he showed himself to be a rambling weirdo and good riddance.”

I wrote about Inman in 2006, with Voskamp’s help. Here’s my post, in which Inman described the Iraq war as the work of pro-Israel zealots, a view that I would guess Chuck Hagel shares.

H/t Ilene Cohen for headline.

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