Four months later, did Hagel’s confirmation make any difference at all?

Israel/PalestineUS Politics
on 32 Comments

As we gear up for another round of Congressional theatrics with the confirmation hearings for Samantha Power and Susan Rice, Charles Davis takes a look back on Chuck Hagel’s first four months as Secretary of Defense for Al Jazeera and asks “what was all the fuss about?” Or perhaps more importantly – why did anyone on the left support him in the first place?:

On his first trip to the Middle East, Hagel did not link arms with democracy activists in Palestine and the Gulf, but formalised a$10bn arms deal to their anti-democratic rulers in Israel, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. While sold (and demonised) as an advocate of diplomacy, Hagel also gave Israel the public go-ahead to launch a first strike on Iran, telling reporters that the Islamic Republic “presents a threat in its nuclear programme and Israel will make the decisions that Israel must make to protect itself and defend itself”. 

“The bottom line is that Iran is a threat, a real threat,” Hagel declared

Planning military operations against Iran is also Hagel’s “top priority” as defence secretary, or at least that is what he told New York Democrat Chuck Schumer during the confirmation process. Instead of cutting and running from Afghanistan, something the right feared and the left hoped he would hasten should he be confirmed, Hagel is helping plan the long-term occupation of the country, including the installation of at least nine permanent US military bases and stationing of more than 100,000 private contractors. Meanwhile, cruise missiles are still being fired into Yemen at “suspected militants”, otherwise known as brown-skinned males who have hit puberty. Troops that came home from Iraq and were lucky enough to miss out on Afghanistan are now being deployed to fight an increasingly bloody war on drugs in the Americas. 

In other words, the US empire is getting along just fine, for better or worse. Military spending may be cut in the future, but America will continue to spend almost as much on its armed forces as the rest of the world does combined. Standing armies tend to find ways to make themselves useful and politicians would rather slash Social Security anyway. The identity of the Pentagon’s top bureaucrat, it turns out, does not change much of anything. It makes even less of a difference than the party that controls the presidency. 

“Hagel wants to end the war in Afghanistan” and “prevent war with Iran”, declared a blast email from the liberal list-builders at The former senator has a strong record of “taking on the military-industrial complex“, claimed, another liberal group named after its website. 

The right, meanwhile, was warning that Hagel would help his boss finally bring down Israel, the US military and probably Betty Crocker too. A writer in National Review declared Hagel an anti-Semite for not signing every pro-Israel letter that crossed his desk, breaking US Senate tradition. 

Jennifer Rubin, a neoconservative columnist at the Washington Post, wrote that “the best argument against Chuck Hagel” was a speech he gave a few years back calling for a solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict and other banalities, arguing his views – think a little before you embargo and bomb Iran; Israel is capable of error – are “contrary to the president’s policies”, which even if true would warrant the question: Yes, but whose views would he be implementing as policy, his or the president’s? 

Much ado about nothing 

What made the debate over Hagel particularly strange was the notion that it really mattered; that it would somehow alter the chain of command and do more than impact the small-talk in Washington for a week or two. Both liberal and conservative pundits acted as if there was a different Obama than the one we have seen since 2009, one who secretly sides more with the poor foreigners he is bombing than perhaps even the men and women in uniform he is ordering to bomb them. His pick of Hagel was a potential game-changer. The real, second-term Barack was beginning to show himself, the smart pundit told the cable news anchor. This stuff matters! 

The president’s decision to pick was nothing less than “marvellous” wrote the Nation’s Eric Alterman in a column, “Hooray for Hagel“, because it would expose the diminishing influence of the invade-everywhere right that opposed him. Josh Marshall, editor of Talking Points Memo and sometime-guest at the White House, claimed that “it signals a real closing of the door on the Bush era”. This savvy move, savvy observers noted, would remind Washington insiders that neoconservatism is unpopular the way every election since 2006 has not. Those were the careerist left’s talking points, anyway.

Davis ends:

The left has continually made the mistake of falling for corporate-sponsored imperialists who are just not that into them, a myopic focus on short-term “pragmatism” and a never-ending campaign mode blinding many to the long-term reality that they are played for suckers by folks who would rather slash Social Security than the nuclear weapons budget. Perhaps if those who prefer peace and prosperity to war and structural unemployment quit looking for allies among their enemies – those who bail out Wall Street while bombing brown people on their own personal kill list – they might even start to be taken seriously outside of their own drum and social media circles. In the future, a liberal Democrat might even have reason to offer his base something more than a pro-war Republican. But there needs to be a reason.

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32 Responses

  1. hophmi
    June 10, 2013, 3:28 pm

    “formalised a$10bn arms deal to their anti-democratic rulers in Israel, Saudi Arabia and the UAE…”

    Only on Al-Jazeera. Can anyone write for Al-Jazeera? Are there any requirements besides being anti-Israel? This guy is credentialed as a “writer currently based somewhere in the Los Angeles underground.”

    • Shingo
      June 10, 2013, 7:25 pm

      Can anyone write for Al-Jazeera? Are there any requirements besides being anti-Israel?

      Yeah right Hop. That’s why they invite Nakba deniers to discuss the Nakba and offer Susan Abuela an opportunity to appear as a token Palestinian.

    • Woody Tanaka
      June 10, 2013, 9:11 pm

      And he makes 10 times the sense that our Israel-Firster, fifth-column media in the US has ever made.

  2. shachalnur
    June 10, 2013, 3:40 pm

    Hagel’s message:

    “We’ve destabilized the Middle East through supporting Al-qaida and the Muslim Brotherhood.
    Iran and Assad are a “real threat”.
    We’re gonna give you all the weapons you need.
    And now,go ahead, blow each other to pieces.”

    Obama ,Power,Rice,Hagel,Kerry will keep repeating this message,as will Debka,ADL and Dershowitz.

    Guess who’s leaking Benghazi-,IRS-,AP-,NSA-gate?

    Who’s the elusive “DHS-insider”?

    Why are there so many leaks damaging Obama,after leaks damaging Israel?

  3. W.Jones
    June 10, 2013, 3:43 pm

    Naturally, it makes “a” difference. It’s only questionable how much of one.

    This reminds me of whether it makes a positive difference that there is a small but significant amount of US Aid to Palestinians. One claim is that yes, it is good because it helps them at least somewhat. They use it to build some infrastructure, like home gardens. It also goes to some charities that disagree with the situation there.

    The opposite claim is that the Aid “coops” Palestinians, and makes them less likely to to develop their own independent economy or oppose the system. The Aid does give them a more positive image of the US, and you can make up your mind whether that’s good or bad, but it’s certainly good from the US government’s interests.

    Personally I think the Aid is good, because it improves their lives at least alittle. A similar debate could be made about US-funded Aid to the refugees.

  4. pabelmont
    June 10, 2013, 4:04 pm

    Unless Obama is gearing up for a pro-Palestine “surprise” — which I doubt — the good feelings some of us may have for this or that appointee is unwarranted, whatever their individual persuasions. Unless he is gearing up to change USA’s direction, it makes no difference that his SoD or A-UN or whatnot may harbor (inwardly) pro-H/R feelings.

    After all, this is Amerika! Home of the corporation, AIPAC, big-money, and — but only incidentally — the people who live here.

  5. American
    June 10, 2013, 4:15 pm

    I didnt expect Hagel to make a difference in foreign policy..after all he works for the Obama WH….just as the UN Amb and Sec of State do.
    I veiwed him more of a possible stop gap against Israeli infiltration ‘within” the pentagon..but we have no way to know if he does anything internally against that influence or not….certainly I think he would operate to keep out the zionist we saw installed at the pentagon during Bush’s adm.
    But who knows really?
    However the furor of I-First venom his appointment caused will always be valuable arrows in our quiver of traitor accusations against all the I-Firsters.
    Gave us hundreds of quotes for our name and shame the traitors use.
    I plan to use them on my senator when she hits her re election campaign trail.

  6. Keith
    June 10, 2013, 4:19 pm

    ADAM- “Or perhaps more importantly – why did anyone on the left support him in the first place?”

    Are you picking on Phil? Good! I’m sure that Dan Crowther will appreciate this post. As for the upcoming confirmations, you have to know that Phil is sweet on Samantha. She smiles so fetchingly as she calls in the humanitarian ordinance.

    • Taxi
      June 10, 2013, 9:37 pm

      “Phil is sweet on Samantha”.

      She’s got that Pre-Raphaelite quality that (ehm) self-professed writers tend to fall for. She even kinda looks like she’s related to Jane Morris: muse and model who embodied the Pre-Raphaelite ideal of beauty. Jane was a supporter of Irish Home Rule, so at least her politics was in alignment with her purpose – unlike Samantha whose politics is in alignment with her inner Dersh.

      • Daniel Rich
        June 11, 2013, 3:05 am

        @ Taxi,

        off topic:

        Q: …unlike Samantha whose politics is in alignment with her inner Dersh.

        R: Thanks for a good laugh. Appreciated.

    • Justpassingby
      June 11, 2013, 4:27 am

      Its indeed shameful that people here support these people (Hagel / Samantha). Why are people so naive?

  7. atime forpeace
    June 10, 2013, 4:35 pm

    Hagel himself has proven to be just another tool but, his show trial did bring about a breakthrough.

    I think that the Donkey fellatio skit on SNL was a very important piece simply because it shows that we are on the verge of a major breakthrough on this issue…and the breakthrough will not come until the American people on main street become aware that there is a very powerful foreign lobby that works very hard to send their sons and daughters to wars in the middle east at their behest.

    if comedy is the chosen vehicle to get the message across to middle america then so be it…colbert and the daily show are built around just that.

    Nothing short of this type of breakthrough will impact the power of that lobby, they have no fear, but the regular jew on the street that might be impacted by this fear which will raise their hackles and send the lobby scurrying back home to the country they lobby for.

    You already see how people are choosing between being zionist supporters and zionist amenders or zionist rejecters.

    just my read of this dilemma.

    what is that lobby’s name, therein lies the problem…identifying that lobby by name and associating it with a foreign nation…do not be surprised that the lobby has cultivated the ziochristians for that moment if it ever arrives.

  8. peterfeld
    June 10, 2013, 5:36 pm

    no confirmation hearings needed for Rice as NSA.

  9. ToivoS
    June 10, 2013, 7:00 pm

    As someone who supported Hagel’s nomination I will answer this question: why did anyone on the left support him in the first place?

    Because it was a test of strength with right wing Zionist. We fought the fight because there was a chance to win it. I had very little hope that having him in would make much difference. But the confirmation hearing showed that the lobby was not bullet proof. It also turned into great political theater — after all we got the donkey fellatio metaphor out of it. All in all, a good fight.

    Now will he make any difference. At the time I was convinced that Obama had decided to do nothing with respect to the Palestinian struggle for justice. No administration can buck the lobby on this issue. All Obama would accomplish would be to burn up political capital and be weakened on other issues.

    Two areas where Hagel can make a difference. One he will oppose any moves that will lead to war with Iran. In this case, he will muster those in the military who can see what a nightmare that would turn out to be.

    The second area I suspect (might be wrong) he will advise against getting more involved in the jihad against Syria. It looks like that is what Obama is doing right now so it hard to say if Hagel played any role in this policy.

    My views are pragmatic and may seem to some divorced from principle, but I do think avoiding another ME war is a principle worth pursuing. Too bad about the Palestinians, but America is not going to come to their rescue by stopping Israel from whatever Israel “wants to do”.

  10. biorabbi
    June 10, 2013, 7:25 pm

    Personally, I like Samantha Powers a great deal. But if you examine her academic writings and entire philosophy, she’s 100 % neoconservative. Even her off the cuff comments on invading Israel with troops smacks of staunchly interventionist leanings. She would be the strongest neoconservative person ever at the UN and that includes John Bolton.

  11. Blank State
    June 10, 2013, 10:20 pm

    “Or perhaps more importantly – why did anyone on the left support him in the first place?”

    Chuckling, here. Not one to say I told ya so…but uh….

  12. CloakAndDagger
    June 11, 2013, 12:03 am

    Well, I am not on the left, but I don’t regret supporting Hagel, even if he doesn’t make all my dreams come true. Just the drama of the senate fight was worth the popcorn. It was clearly visible to the citizenry and had to have had some positive impact, if only by pouring sunlight on the vermin. The fact that he won had to have had a negative impact on the lobby by challenging the concept that they were unbeatable. It has to give more courage to the next such encounter.

    As for Hagel himself, I had posted earlier that I expect him to do his deed in silence while maintaining his outer subservience. He did a recent housecleaning by firing a bunch of pentagon officials. I suspect that some of them were Israeli insiders and spies installed during the Bush regime. I expect that his work won’t be visible until later.

    In the meantime, I fully expect him to mouth pro-Israel BS.

  13. Kathleen
    June 11, 2013, 1:59 am

    Great post Adam. So far Hagel not making much of a difference but as Phil pointed out the other day could the difference mean not going to war for Israel against Iran.

    Just spent five and a half hours at Boulder City Council special meeting on the proposal for at Boulder/Nablus Sister City. Tired. The first 20 or so speakers were against the proposal claiming the effort was too political and then went on and on about 9/11 (mentioned 12 times) the Holocaust mentioned 22 times, the divisiveness that this Nablus/Boulder sister city has brought to Boulder over and over again could not keep up. Those who were against seldom brought up the actual town of Nablus. Those for were a mixture of Jews, Palestinians, Christians, non Religious, students, professors etc. Those who were for brought up specifics about Nablus many having traveled to Nablus interacted with Palestinians, teaching, living with etc. Talked about the humanitarian efforts that the Boulder/Nablus sister city project had all ready been involved with. One thing that was so apparent was that the standard and criteria that had been applied to Boulders other controversial sister cities was not applied the same way in this case. In the end even though quite a few of the city council members made actual fools of themselves by trying to cover their asses by making it seem that the very organized folks proposing the sister city scenario should come back when the concerns expressed about the Sister city project (basically they would have to solve the middle east conflict before they could come back) be resolved. After the Boulder City Council rolled over and voted 7 against the proposal to 2 for it was quite a visual and verbal circus as they exposed that the Boulder City Council has no clothes. And that there are many myths about Boulder being such a progressive community.

    • Annie Robbins
      June 11, 2013, 2:09 am

      that’s really sad kathleen. i read on twitter things were not going well at the meeting.

      there are many myths about Boulder being such a progressive community.

      lots of PEPs

      • Kathleen
        June 11, 2013, 2:55 am

        Anna Baltzer was there. Other very powerful speakers. Was so apparent that those opposing were focused on Holocaust, 9/11, terrorism. The Nablus Boulder sister city group was so well organized, so many impressive speakers addressing relevant issues about Nablus. 45 speakers for 21 against 2 not sure what they were talking about. And those against were against because of I know painful issues but nothing to do with Nablus. The Council ended up acting like a bunch of buffoons at the end. Really worth it to get the 5 hour tape and watch the end discussion. So pathetic that it as painful to watch and listen. A real circus

        Essria (sp) the main speaker for the Boulder/Nablus sister city group was incredibly impressive. So articulate, fact based, compassionate, on topic. So well organized…but facts just did not matter

      • seafoid
        June 11, 2013, 4:24 am

        I remember that Boulder was featured in the opening credits to “Mork and Mindy” back in the 1980s.

        Maybe the bots are from outer space too. Nanu nanu may just be an alternative way of pronouncing Netanyahu…

      • Citizen
        June 11, 2013, 7:16 am

        @ Kathleen

        A comment posted under a local article on the decision:
        boulderliving · 5 hours ago
        You are exactly right. He put a torpedo right through it. The ironic thing is that the council didn’t vote against it because of the arguments raised by the those in opposition to the proposal. It was more about the idea being decisive and therefore they couldn’t support it because the community wasn’t ready for it, nor should Boulder insert itself into Middle East politics.

        I thought the council showed a lack of moral courage in how they voted it down, not that they voted it down, but to be fair none of them had the contextual experience to honestly make much of an informed decision, but as Cowles pointed out the proposal did meet the requirements as set forth in the sister city program and should have been passed on that alone. That was supposed to be the standard and the council didn’t follow its own guidelines.

      • Kathleen
        June 11, 2013, 2:59 am

        Yep and on other issues. When I lived here 40 years ago not so many huge trucks, SUV’s on the road with many empty buses headed down the road. More myths about Boulder than just the PEP issue which has been the case for decades

    • Shmuel
      June 11, 2013, 2:40 am

      One thing that was so apparent was that the standard and criteria that had been applied to Boulders other controversial sister cities was not applied the same way in this case.

      Lhasa (Tibet) and Yateras (Cuba) do kind of stand out.

      On the subject of twinning, I was at a Palestine event in the town of Cerveteri a couple of months ago, and the mayor suggested a twinning with one of the “unrecognised villages”, particularly in the Naqab/Negev. I think it’s a fantastic idea, if anyone knows of any truly progressive town councils.

  14. Kathleen
    June 11, 2013, 2:49 am

    Some of the comments..
    Boulder Mayor Matt Applebaum.”This is not a numbers game.”
    Retired attorney Bill Cohen “who is this group aligned with..C.U. Divest BDS.” Cohen was focused on cultivating racism and misunderstanding

    “why Nablus why not Sydney Australia?”
    Gordon Pedrow “this application meets all of the requirements of Resolution 631, support this application.”

    Many Holocaust stories, references to 9/11, causing divisiveness in Boulder, references to the people in Nablus being terrorist.

    Dan Winters “those in opposition are making this political”
    Alice Trimbaur asked Boulder city council to have “political courage”
    Miriam Schiff talked about the human rights of “Palestinian children”

    Mimi Ito claimed that the people of Nablus had “sexually assaulted peace activist.”

    Jane Rubenstein said that her reason for opposing the application of the Boulder Nablus sister city proposal was because of feminist issues. That Arab women had been “beheaded, strangled, doused in gasoline and pushed off buildings in Nablus.”

    Will Weathersby a U.S. military man talked about how important the “power of engagement could be.”

    An alleged professional film critic Kathryn Bernheimer said that because the sister city group had shown films on CU.s’ campus like “5 Broken Cameras” that this demonstrated this was a radical group with a political agenda.

    Finally by the 27th speaker Sergio Atallah the fact that Nablus was under “illegal Israeli occupation” came up. The next 45 speakers were almost all in support of the Nablus/Boulder sister city project

    There were several young women who had taught in Nablus including Sheila Winters who asked the Boulder City Council to actually be “progressive” on this critical issue, Kathryn Griffin said a yes vote would be “relationship building.

    Tom Mayer a retired sociology Prof whose parents were Holocaust survivors was especially articulate and talked about his father teaching him “follow justice wherever it leads.” Talked about opening doors to new directions not turning back and allowing fear to rule. Prof Mayer also lambasted some for “demonizing” one of the activist Guy Benitelli and how “McCarthyite tactics were being used by the opposition.

    Wisam Alshabl a Palestinian asked the Boulder council to “step forward” not backward.

    Ida Autch a Palestinian brought up how the group had met the criteria to become a Boulder sister city
    Kristine Walcher “Arab people the most misunderstood people by Americans at this time”

    Cameron Power asked council to be directed by “Love and the future not fear and the past”

    Stephen Ruby “what is the difference between a conservative nay sayer and a liberal nay sayer?” Conservative nay sayer says “never.” A liberal nay sayer says “can’t do anything new right now.”

    Mary Axe who had been involved with the 1983 Dushabe sister city application process in the early 80’s talked a bit about this same criteria that was applied in that situation was not being applied in this effort.

    Anna Baltzer asked Boulder city council to demonstrate that “they care.”

    Neal Feldman talked about how appalled he was by the anti Arab hate speech out of those who call this issue political and have made it so political

    Lisa Suehn a Palestinian student asked the council “if not now when”

    Saib Jarrar asked the council to “build bridges” not make a decision “rooted in fear” and not based on facts.

    Axman Alawnah asked council to send Nablus a “sign of hope” To “fight for peace” and to “promote goodwill.”

    That is not what happened. Council voted 7 against the application and 2 for.

    • Kathleen
      June 12, 2013, 11:30 am

      The Boulder city council fumbled and bumbled around so much while they were trying to take a vote on the application that Suzanne Jones who seemed to be trying to cover her and the council’s hind end for voting against an application that so clearly met the criteria that other city sister proposals that have passed that she clearly switched her vote. So it ended up being 6 to 3. She could flip her vote like this knowing it was still not going to pass. Kind of creepy. Lisa Morzel and Mason Cowles were the best informed about the application, the history of sister cities and the other sister cities passed by previous Boulder city councils.

  15. Kathleen
    June 11, 2013, 3:00 am


  16. Citizen
    June 11, 2013, 7:27 am

    Refresher: Guide to Hagel’s past controversial statements:

    Remember Obama’s Pre-POTUS advocacy of government transparency? And look at his record as POTUS now!

  17. Citizen
    June 11, 2013, 7:42 am

    Here’s an inteview with Hagel from mid-April: Clearly he will do nothing, say nothing without Obama’s blessing. I guess that’s why Obama chose him for SOD; he was sure Hagel would implement Obama’s agenda as to internal changes in the military and to it’s outside macro goals. The plus for Obama was that Hagel has cred in the US military that other candidates didn’t have.

  18. gingershot
    June 11, 2013, 8:54 am


    Dear Mondoweiss – are you guys interested in the involvement of Israeli Tech companies in the NSA/Edward Snowden stories that are breaking?

    This in my opinion is a HUGE story and even bigger than the AIPAC/Rosen-Weissman spying scandal. Haaretz has been running DAILY ARTICLES regarding the ‘Israeli backdoor’ and red-handed involvement in spying on the US – citing James Bamford’s ‘Wired’ expose and others

    Today’s Haaretz has a choice article summing up Israeli concerns in this area – essentially about Israeli firms being outed and for Americans to realize that Israeli has been spying on them

    There’s an GOLDMINE article in today’s Haaretz that lays it all out:
    ‘In U.S. snooping affair, Israeli firms at risk’

    or cached copy:–

    Here’s yesterday’s Haaretz on the NSA Spying Story and a couple of other links referred to in this Haaretz Article:

    Haaretz article:

    ‘What was the Israeli involvement in collecting U.S. communications intel for NSA?’

    Here are the other Links:

    ‘Shady Companies With Ties to Israel Wiretap the U.S. for the NSA’

    ‘DID YOU KNOW?: Two Secretive Israeli Companies Reportedly Bugged The US Telecommunications Grid For The NSA’

  19. Tuyzentfloot
    June 11, 2013, 3:37 pm

    My question is whether Hagel can make a large difference as Secretary of Defense anyhow in foreign policy and would it have been different if he had filled John Kerry’s job, that of Secretary of State.
    Kerry is the one who’s talking to all the foreign leaders.

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