The first few hours of Chuck Hagel’s confirmation hearing have been sickening. I thought he was named to be United States Secretary of Defense, not Israel’s defense. The most urgent questions were about Israel, and many came from liberal Democrats insisting that Hagel is pledged to going to war against Iran if it acquires a nuclear weapon.
Hagel was suitably craven. “I’ve said that I’m a strong supporter of Israel… I’ve said that we have a special relationship with Israel… Ive never voted against Israel in my career… I’ve been to Israel many times,” he told Jack Reed of Rhode Island.
While Kirsten Gillibrand of New York made no bones about “the most urgent issues– Israel and Israel’s security issues… We are fundamentally tied to [Israel].” Then Gillibrand demanded that if there has to be a continuing resolution in the event of a budget crunch, Hagel’s Pentagon will take pains to keep money going to Israel for its Iron Dome missile defense.
Does she believe this or is this just now the religion of Washington?
Hagel repeatedly asserted that he regards Hezbollah, Hamas, and the Revolutionary Guard of Iran as terrorist organizations. He abandoned every bold stand he has taken on Israel. Republican Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi said Hagel was reversing himself for political expediency, and that a week after Hagel had told the Omaha World-Herald that he opposed unilateral sanctions (American-only) against Iran, he reversed that position in a letter to progressive Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer.
But the most revealing part of the spectacle was watching Hagel stand up to John McCain when McCain said he had been wrong to oppose the Iraq surge in 2007 and the Afghanistan surge in 2009– and then watching Hagel fold pathetically when Lindsey Graham asked him to condemn Israeli settlements.
So: it was alright for Hagel to criticize the U.S. But not alright to criticize Israel.
Here’s Hagel’s show of spine with McCain [transcript from contemporaneous notes]:
“Do you stand by those comments?” McCain asked.
“I stand by them because I made them.”…
“I want to know if you were right or wrong.”
“I’m not giving you a yes or no answer. I think it’s far more complicated than that. I’ll defer that judgment to history.”
Later Graham the former military prosecutor badgered Hagel as though he had been un-American when he told Aaron David Miller that the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people on Capitol Hill and gets Congress to do “dumb” stuff; and Hagel ate his words.
The critical moment in this exchange comes when Hagel refuses to say what dumb stuff the Congress did. In the Miller interview, he was surely referring to the license that the Congress gave to Israel to keep building settlements, savaging the two-state solution.
Graham: Name one person in your opinion who’s intimidated by the Jewish lobby in the US Senate.
Hagel: I don’t know…
Graham: I cant think of a more provocative thing to say about the relationship of the U.S. and Israel… [Next, Graham challenged Hagel, tell me one dumb thing Congress did because of the pressure.]
Hagel: I have already stated that I regret [the statement].
Graham: You can’t name one senator intimidated [or] give me one example of dumb things pressured to do… One thing!…
Hagel: Well I can’t give you an example.
Graham: Do you agree with me that you shouldn’t have said that?
Hagel: Yes I agree with you.
Years back, Hagel repeatedly criticized Israel for building settlements and wrecking the two state solution. But not now. So, again, it is OK for Hagel to criticize the US troop increases in Iraq and Afghanistan, but he can’t say a word against a blatantly illegal practice, building settlements in occupied territory.
Graham drew more blood when he savaged Hagel for being one of four senators in 2001 to fail to sign a letter expressing solidarity with Israel during the Second Intifada and denouncing Arafat and the Palestinian Authority.
“It was a very big deal. At a very important time. The lack of signature from you sends chills up my spine,“ Graham said. `
Graham asked Hagel to reconsider the letter: to say whether he would tell the world at large and Israel that he had made a mistake in not signing. And Hagel said he would have a look at the letter.
Then Richard Blumenthal, the progressive Connecticut Senator, said he also wanted Hagel to reconsider that letter.
This hearing is a wonderful event because it demonstrates the naked influence of the Israel lobby in our political life. But, you say, Lindsey Graham is a South Carolina senator; he is operating out of his nationalist understanding of imperial interest; the Israel lobby cannot also reach him? But I think it has. I think Zionism has so influenced the American political culture, via political money and thinktanks and columnists and editors, that it has folded Israel’s war against Hezbollah, Hamas, the Palestinians and Iran into our outlook on the Middle East. The conflation of American and Israeli interests has become an article of faith in the establishment. Graham is the latest example of a Scoop Jackson, the national security hawk/intellectual who has listened to neocons and merged the two nations’ futures.
Now it’s the afternoon, and Hagel is walking away from his comment that Israel keeps Palestinians “caged up like animals.” Under questioning from Utah Senator Mike Lee, Hagel regrets that statement too. Pathetic.