The Anti-Bagel Hagel
Resolved: if confirmed, Chuck Hagel is going to make a lot of decisions that will irritate conservatives, Republicans, and friends of Israel.
And maybe some folks outside those groups as well. The editors of the Washington Post surprise us this morning by opposing Hagel strongly for his views on defense cuts and Iran: “Mr. Hagel’s stated positions on critical issues, ranging from defense spending to Iran, fall well to the left of those pursued by Mr. Obama during his first term — and place him near the fringe of the Senate that would be asked to confirm him… Mr. Hagel was similarly isolated in his views about Iran during his time in the Senate. He repeatedly voted against sanctions, opposing even those aimed at the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, which at the time was orchestrating devastating bomb attacks against U.S. troops in Iraq. Mr. Hagel argued that direct negotiations, rather than sanctions, were the best means to alter Iran’s behavior. The Obama administration offered diplomacy but has turned to tough sanctions as the only way to compel Iran to negotiate seriously.”
Bret Stephens kicked off the debate over Hagel in the Wall Street Journal Tuesday:
Prejudice—like cooking, wine-tasting and other consummations—has an olfactory element. When Chuck Hagel, the former GOP senator from Nebraska who is now a front-runner to be the next secretary of Defense, carries on about how “the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here,” the odor is especially ripe.
Ripe because a “Jewish lobby,” as far as I’m aware, doesn’t exist. No lesser authorities on the subject than John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, authors of “The Israel Lobby,” have insisted the term Jewish lobby is “inaccurate and misleading, both because the [Israel] lobby includes non-Jews like Christian Zionists and because many Jewish Americans do not support the hard-line policies favored by its most powerful elements.”
Ripe because, whatever other political pressures Mr. Hagel might have had to endure during his years representing the Cornhusker state, winning over the state’s Jewish voters—there are an estimated 6,100 Jewish Nebraskans in a state of 1.8 million people—was probably not a major political concern for Mr. Hagel compared to, say, the ethanol lobby.
Alana Goodman: “Obama wouldn’t just be burning his pro-Israel voters by nominating Hagel. The reputations of pro-Israel Democratic leaders–who took to the op-ed pages to reassure Jewish voters that, despite evidence to the contrary, Obama would get serious on Iran in a second term–are also riding on this.”
Why do I get the feeling that Obama would not lose much sleep about burning the reputations of pro-Israel Democratic leaders who reassured Jewish voters? Hey, guys look out for that bus!
Jen Rubin sends along word from Abe Foxman, the head of the Anti-Defamation League, on the potential for Chuck Hagel to be picked as secretary of Defense: “Chuck Hagel would not be the first, second, or third choice for the American Jewish community’s friends of Israel. His record relating to Israel and the U.S.-Israel relationship is, at best, disturbing, and at worst, very troubling. The sentiments he’s expressed about the Jewish lobby border on anti-Semitism in the genre of professors John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt and former president Jimmy Carter.”
For some readers, Hagel’s invocation of the sinister-sounding “Jewish lobby” will be enough to urge Senate Republicans to strongly oppose his confirmation; for others, it will be his longtime interest in reaching out to unsavory characters in Hamas and the regime of Iran.
Still, there’s this nagging point – none of this is anything new, and neither a critical mass of American Jews or the electorate as a whole seem to care. The Obama administration’s persistent desire to hold talks with Iran were mentioned, time and again, in the campaigns of 2008 and 2012. Mitt Romney pointed out the spinning of Iran’s centrifuges over the past four years again and again on the campaign trail. Hagel’s been so pro-Obama, he was mentioned as a possible running mate in 2008, and has been mentioned for the Secretary of Defense job every time it was opened up under Obama. The unlikelihood that negotiations would advance any U.S. interest, and instead amount to a propaganda win for regimes and groups hostile to us, is pretty clear. And yet America elected and reelected the guy proposing it. And he carried the Jewish vote by a healthy majority both times.
How many times are we required to save the American people from the consequences of their actions, dragging them kicking and screaming from a bad outcome they keep trying to run towards? If only a small portion of the American Jewish community is willing to loudly oppose Hagel over his “Jewish lobby” comments, how vehemently should those of us outside that community fight a battle that we are quite likely to lose?