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. Though the battle is not yet over, the unprecedented push-back against their vicious campaign to prevent Hagel from being nominated is gaining steam: Tom Friedman has come out in favor of Hagel, four former National Security Advisors backed Hagel in the Washington Post yesterday, today the New York Times ran a strong op-ed by James Besser decrying the McCarthyist methods used against Hagel and the New Yorker's Connie Bruck used the by-now-mainstream term "Israel lobby" to describe Hagel's detractors.
Reality is that Hagel's prospective nomination should never have been controversial in the first place. Hagel is a highly respected military mind who served both in the military and in the Senate with dignity and courage. This earned him several military honors, including two Purple Hearts. In the Senate, Hagel's independence and courage made him one of the first Republican lawmakers to turn against the Iraq war -- no small feat mindful of the intense group think mentality guiding the Republican party at the time on this key issue.
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 ownmilitary background, he knows full well the cost of impatience and ill-conceived wars.
While Hagel's neoconservative detractors accuse him with being too slow to pull the trigger, America's problem in the past decade has been with leaders being to quick to pull the trigger. America simply cannot afford another Iraq disaster, and with Hagel as Secretary of Defense, America will be in a better position to avoid both a nuclear Iran and war with Iran. In short, he is the warmongers' worst nightmare.
Perhaps then, it isn't surprising that the neo-conservatives have launched a preemptive character assassination attack against Hagel. But in so doing, they have overreached. The vicious accusation of anti-Semitism is so bizarre it should not be dignified with a response. In regards to Hagel's record on Israel, pro-Israel defenders of Hagel such as J Street, Americans for Peace Now and Israel Policy Forum can address that more authoritatively.
But it is worth noting that while America's relationship with Israel is important, Hagel is being considered for Secretary of Defense of the United States of America, not Israel. Whether Hagel would be good for Israel or not cannot be a central concern -- and certainly not the cause to preemptively slander and dismiss this twice-Purple Heart decorated soldier.
I hope President Obama stands firm and nominates Hagel as Secretary of Defense because I think he would be a great Secretary of Defense for America at a time whentrue statesmanship is needed.
But at this stage, this is about much more than just Hagel. The extremist pro-Likud circles opposing Hagel -- and whose ideological cohorts in Israel have accused Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey of serving Iran's interests and even accused President Barack Obama of being an anti-Semite -- are seeking to establish a veto on US national security policy. Only policies and personnel that they approve of shall pass. Those who differ from them will be preemptively eliminated through McCarthyite witch-hunts. (And Obama, of course, cannot begin his second term by twice being bullied and humiliated by this crowd.)
It goes against the fundamental principles of the U.S. constitution -- with its emphasis on checking powers -- that any single group would have a veto on any policy. But for a group that hasn't even won a major U.S. election since 2004 to act as if they have a right to veto candidates and polices, begs the need to have the group checked and balanced for the sake of U.S. national security.
For that task, Hagel is your man.