Chuck Hagel faces bothersome opposition to his nomination for Defense Secretary from folks on both the left and right. Chicken hawks such as William Kristol are leading the way, troubled by Hagel’s views on Middle East politics. In reality, they are concerned about his views concerning Israel. Ironically this opposition only confirms some of Hagel’s cautioning criticism of political intimidation.
The Hagel quote that causes the biggest outrage comes from a 2006 interview with former diplomat Aaron David Miller. Hagel said “The political reality is that you intimidate, not you — that the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here.”
I’ll concede that the “Jewish lobby” reference is a poor choice of words if you consider that not Israelis are Jewish and not all Jews support Israel. It is also true that a lot of pro-Israel support comes from non-Jews, especially in the United States. Therefore it would have been more accurate for Hagel to say “Pro-Israel lobby.”
But that doesn’t change the tenor of his argument, does it? In fact Aaron David Miller praised Hagel for his candor and willingness to say what most American lawmakers will not say because they are intimidated by the US-Israeli political lobby.
In the same interview, Hagel further explained, saying “I’m not an Israeli senator. I’m a United States senator.’ I support Israel, but my first interest is I take an oath of office to the Constitution of the United States.” Absolutely outrageous, isn’t it?
Chuck Hagel also pointed out that American support “has tilted toward Israel.” Who can argue with that? The United States consistently kowtows to the whims of the pro-Israeli lobby. We often stand alone in opposing international resolutions and sanctions condemning Israel human rights violations, caving to rhetoric that declares we are Israel’s unquestioning ally. Peace in the Middle East, which is a vital US interest, will not happen by taking one side and one side only. Hagel’s pragmatism therefore seems both refreshing and appropriate to our interests in this region.
I find myself supporting a guy who has had some narrow and backward views on domestic issues, such as women’s health, but he was a relatively sane voice opposing blind warmongering in Iraq. It strikes me that his foreign affairs — especially military affairs — are tempered by a sense of caution and responsibility that has been lacking in American diplomacy, especially in the Middle East and US-Israel relations. Evaluating his Defense Secretary nomination on those grounds is appropriate.
In the end doesn’t the opposition to Hagel’s nomination confirm the comments he made and which are now turned against him? After all the bulk of criticism against Hagel comes from pro-Israel interests. These criticisms have little to do with his overall qualifications and more to do with securing more tolerant position favoring the uncompromising pro-Israeli status quo. Standing up against that sort of knee-jerk threat represent the strength of Hagel’s nomination.
- Hagel Nomination: Stakes Are High, But Far from Over (huffingtonpost.com)
- Report: Schumer Expressing Reservations About Chuck Hagel (VIDEO) (algemeiner.com)
- Israel OK with Hagel as Secretary of Defense (news.yahoo.com)
- Ed Koch: Obama reneging on support for Israel… (algemeiner.com)
- Does Chuck Hagel Really Have a ‘Jewish Problem’? – Bloomberg (bloomberg.com)