Major Test for Israel Lobby As Obama Leans to Hagel for Pentagon

Jim Lobe
Inter Press Service / News Analysis
Published: Monday 7 January 2013
Chuck Hagel has expressed strong scepticism about—if not opposition to—war with Iran, and, despite a record of strong support for Israel’s defence needs, has not hesitated to publicly criticise both the Israeli government and its supporters here for pursuing actions that have, in his view, harmed Washington’s strategic interests in the Middle East.
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With President Barack Obama reportedly primed to nominate former Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel to head the Pentagon early next week, the powerful Israel lobby, led by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), faces a major dilemma.

If it mounts a vigorous campaign to fight Hagel’s confirmation by the Senate, it could put at serious risk its relations with the president, who is about to be inaugurated for another four-year term.

Worse, if it loses such a campaign, the aura of near-invincibility that it has assiduously cultivated over the past 30 years – and which has translated into virtually unanimous votes on resolutions in both houses of Congress in support of Israeli policies from the Occupied West Bank to Iran – will suffer a serious blow.

Yet, if it acquiesces in Hagel’s confirmation, it will result in the placement in a critical foreign policy post of a man who prides himself on his independence.

Hagel has expressed strong scepticism about – if not opposition to – war with Iran, and, despite a record of strong support for Israel’s defence needs, has not hesitated to publicly criticise both the Israeli government and its supporters here for pursuing actions that have, in his view, harmed Washington’s strategic interests in the Middle East.

“Hagel’s nomination presents AIPAC and other like-minded groups with a tough choice,” said Stephen Walt, a Harvard professor and co-author of the 2007 “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy.” “They may not like his reasonable approach toward Iran and his willingness to speak the truth about certain Israeli policies, but he’s a decorated war hero who is hardly hostile to Israel.”

That Hagel will indeed be nominated has not been officially confirmed, and two possible alternatives – Deputy Defence Secretary Ashton Carter and former Undersecretary of Defence for Policy Michele Flournoy – have reportedly been fully vetted for the post. Both have served under the Obama and Clinton administrations and are considered accomplished technocrats who, however, lack Hagel’s political experience and stature.

But a number of highly placed sources and well-connected journalists have reported over the past 24 hours that the former Nebraska senator, who has co-chaired Obama’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board since 2009, remains the president’s preferred candidate despite a furious three-week campaign led by neo-conservatives, such as Weekly Standard editor William Kristol Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin, the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page, and the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC), to pre-empt his nomination.

Among other charges, Kristol, who also heads the far-right Emergency Committee for Israel (ECI), Rubin, and other foes have accused Hagel, a highly decorated Vietnam War veteran, with anti-Semitism and hostility toward the Jewish state.

They have also tried to enlist – with some initial success that has subsequently dissipated – the gay community in their campaign by citing, among other things, his scepticism over easing the prohibition of gay enlistment in the military and his opposition to the nomination of an openly gay ambassador in the 1990s.

Hagel subsequently apologised, and both the ambassador and most LGBT organisations have accepted his apology.

While the neo-conservatives, whose political views are close to those of the ruling Likud Party and, in some cases, the settler movement, have led the anti-Hagel drive, the involvement of the more-cautious Israel lobby – which includes AIPAC and other major national Jewish organisations, such as the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and the American Jewish Committee (AJC) – not to mention numerous Christian Zionist groups, such as Christians United for Israel (CUFI) – has been more discreet.

Early on, the long-time head of the ADL, Abraham Foxman, for example, called Hagel’s views on Israel “disturbing” but said his group would not necessarily oppose the nomination.

AIPAC itself has not commented on Hagel, although its former spokesman, Josh Block, who now heads The Israel Project (TIP) but remains close to AIPAC, has been among the most active participants in the campaign.

Despite also enlisting the support of the Washington Post’s editorial page, which also expressed concern over Hagel’s generally non-interventionist positions and support for cutting the defence budget, the no-holds-barred nature of the neo-conservative campaign has spurred a backlash.

It is particularly visible among Republicans who hail from the more-moderate, internationalist wing of the party most closely identified with Dwight Eisenhower and George H.W. Bush.

There is also resistance from retired senior military, intelligence, and foreign service officers who share a “realist” foreign policy perspective and oppose the kind of adventurism favoured by neo-conservatives, including Kristol, who led the charge into Iraq 10 years ago and are now beating the drums for war with Iran.

For example, four former national security advisers, including Brent Scowcroft (Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan), Zbigniew Brzezinski (Jimmy Carter), Gen. James Jones (Obama), and a former Reagan defence secretary, Frank Carlucci, as well as several former chiefs of the U.S. Central Command (CentCom) have signed letters in support of Hagel.

Many observers close to the Pentagon believe that Hagel’s views, particularly regarding the folly of attacking Iran and the damage inflicted by Israel’s continued occupation of Palestinian lands on Washington’s strategic position in the Middle East, reflect those of much of the serving military brass.

Four former U.S. ambassadors to Israel have also backed his nomination, as has most recently Ryan Crocker, who was widely praised by neo-conservatives during his tenure as ambassador to Iraq and Afghanistan and who has also served as Washington’s top envoy to Lebanon, Kuwait, Syria, and Pakistan.

The sharpness of the neo-conservative campaign – particularly its allegations that Hagel is anti-Semitic and anti-Israel – has evoked charges of McCarthyism from his defenders, adding to the discomfort of the Israel lobby’s main organisations. Even CUFI, sometimes described as more Zionist than the Jewish organisations, disassociated itself from some of the charges.

Thus far, only three Republican senators have said they will oppose Hagel if he is nominated, while several others who have traditionally been close to the lobby, including Sens. John McCain and Lindsay Graham, have voiced strong reservations but refrained from committing themselves. Some Democrats have also quietly expressed concern.

But most observers believe that, if nominated, Hagel, who also heads the influential Atlantic Council think tank, will be confirmed by a solid – if not overwhelming – majority of senators. That makes the lobby’s position even more delicate.

During his two terms as senator, Hagel, a consistent conservative on social and domestic issues, was personally popular with his colleagues on both sides of the aisle.

“Americans are sick and tired of the smear tactics that Hagel’s main opponents have used, and going all-out against him would reveal that AIPAC cares more about Israel than it does about U.S. interests,” Walt told IPS. “Plus, why spend political capital on a former senator whose colleagues on the Hill are going to confirm him anyway?”

AIPAC and like-minded groups will no doubt be influenced by the views of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose right-wing coalition is favoured to win elections later this month.

The major U.S. Jewish organisations and AIPAC have historically given great weight to the policy preferences of Israel’s elected leadership, even as they have privately urged them to take a different course.

But for Netanyahu, who has been sharply criticised by retired senior officials of Israel’s national-security establishment for allegedly endangering the Jewish state’s strategic ties with the U.S. by repeatedly defying Obama, the stakes are also high.

If he is seen as backing any effort to defeat Hagel’s anticipated nomination, his ties with the White House – already tenuous given his scarcely veiled support for Mitt Romney in the November presidential campaign – will likely only worsen.



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7 comments on "Major Test for Israel Lobby As Obama Leans to Hagel for Pentagon"

Factkneader

January 08, 2013 12:18am

So the major opposition to Hagel's nomination comes from neocons and zionists.
Religion again raises its ugly and empty head. The neocon evangelicals long to bring on the prophesied Armageddon, ignoring the eight declarations by Jesus himself that the world would end in the lifetime of many of his hearers. Meanwhile the laughable bobbleheads at the wall hold forth that their rock-in-a-box god of the Old Testament decreed that the land should be theirs (and endorsed the genocide required to deliver it). And those capable of such myth judgements oppose rational policies in the Middle East and want to embroil us in another war . So much for the Religious WRONG!

JoeWeinstein

January 07, 2013 9:23pm

The article misleadingly depicts concerns about Hagel as primarily just about Israel. The featured Mr Walt is hardly an unbiased source: he has made a career of depicting an ‘Israel lobby’ - comprising AIPAC (American-Israel Public Affairs Committee) and other organizations - as an unduly powerful and nefarious influence in DC. In actual fact, in terms of policy and budgetary influence, this lobby is small potatoes compared with corporate and even other foreign-affairs-interests lobbies- which include well-funded ones representing interests of oil-rich Arab states.

This ‘Israel lobby’ certainly is used to not winning all its battles, so - contra the article - it will readily carry on no matter what happens to Hagel. Also, this lobby rarely gets 100% even when it does win. However, unlike most foreign-policy-focused lobbies, this one does represent the heartfelt concerns of millions of Americans - the millions who do want this country to support and partner with Israel, and for that matter with other small and at times embattled democracies overseas.

Owing not merely to isolated instances but to consistent features of Hagel’s overall record, serious concerns about Hagel arising from Israel are (contra the article's picture) hardly the only ones. The LGBT and antisemitism issues have not been totally quashed by a few apologies. And more serious is Iran: almost alone in Congress, Hagel has seemed unperturbed with the implications of the Islamo-nazi terror-sponsoring Iranian ayatollarchy being equipped with nuke weapons.

But all these attitudes are in principle irrelevant: Obama is free to relish Hagel’s maverick (if maybe formerly bigoted) positions without necessarily endorsing or adopting them. What will really count, however, is Hagel’s administrative competence - and ability to swallow hard and work for the president on defense department missions that he would prefer not to undertake. In this regard serious doubts about Hagel arise from a record of conflicts with his own staff and sometimes insensitivity to constituents’ concerns.

kofi123

January 08, 2013 3:20pm

Hagel is not the main issue. As long as Israel has a military advantage Israel will use that advantage to commit war crimes, take more land illegally, and keep the US using all our resource for Israel instead of building our own infrastructure.

"This lobby (AIPAC) is small potatoes". Bullshit! "This one represents the heartfelt concerns of millions of Americans". That's because the corporate media have painted a one-sided view of the Israeli/Palestinian Issue. People's opinion are changing when they are provided with a balanced view of the issue.

"Other small and embattled democracies". Israel is small only in geography. Israel's military is the fourth largest in the world and Israel is the only nation in the area to possess 250 nuclear war heads. Israel is not embattled. Israel is a provocative power that uses pre-emptive strikes against it's neighbors. Israel is not a democracy. A nation that calls itself a Jewish state is racist and religiously bigoted.

"What will count is Hagel's administrative competence". If you feel this way way not just let him crumble under his administrative incompetence? People like you will not be satisfied unless we have a flaming neocon zionist in every position of our government. But perhaps you have overplayed the Israel/Jewish victimization syndrome are public opinion is finally fed up with your shit.

drichey

January 07, 2013 2:54pm

Ok, this is exactly why i say the US gov. is being hijacked by a foreign gov. - Israel. It has cost us lives, money and world standing. Israel has the some of the worst human rights violations of anywhere in the world. WE ARE AMERICA> WE ARE NOT ISRAEL!! Hopefully, Hagel will be confirmed.

Arachne646

January 07, 2013 12:31pm

The real key in terms of the US would be a change in action--different amounts of money or military hardware going to Israel depending on Israel's actions--not just a change in what the President or diplomats said. Israel may grouse about one President, or love another, but the arms and cash pipeline never slackens its flow, and that's what really counts.

kofi123

January 07, 2013 11:28am

More balanced media outlets such as Al Gazeera, Link TV, Realnews, etc,. has began to give a much more balanced prospective on the Israeli/Palestinian issue. Now Obama is finally showing some independence from the Netanyahu regime of settlement building on Palestinian land.

Hagel's appointment signals that the US is now determined to get control of it's foreign policy from the neocons and AIPAC. The key is for Israel to negotiate a viable two state solution with the Palestinains instead of provocative illegal settlement building.

Hopefully this appointment leads in that direction.

Mycos

January 08, 2013 12:50am

It's not just Likud-niks here in Washington that are responsible for maintaining the same military posture today as that which was made possible by the threat of defending against a professional, standing army of millions equipped with advanced nuclear missiles mounted on stealth subs that may, or may not be sitting 20 miles of the coast of Maine at any given moment during the Cold War years.

With the USSR gone, Israel's importance as a strategic ally disappears. The French abandoned Israel after it too was stung by a nation that simply exists to take from others. Far right kooks in the US took up the slack by stepping in where France had always been since 1948. But after realizing how Israel is nothing more than a far-right nationalist enterprise run by people whose only concern in the world is expanding Jewish control over the M. East, and who will do it even if they contravene UN laws and resolutions at a rate Hitler himself would have had difficulty matching. Where are they now? 200 violations of UN laws? 300? When Saddam Hussein only managed a few dozen?
Every human rights organisation in the world knows Isreali behavior against Palestinians....immediately after Jews were treated so badly by Nazism...is to behave in a way strongly suggestive of having some sort of psycho-social disorder that has left you unable to see your own actions for what they really are,. rather than the way you want the world to see you.

Consider: Who.,...after having just been raped and tortured by someone themselves, immediately seeks out an innocent like you once were then sets about raping and torturing that person?? Who does that? Anybody sane? You do! And you tell yourself that this guy deserves it because he didnt agree with your demands to give up their homes so you can move in? Is there a single samne person in the world that would have agreed to give up their home, their land, their lives simply because you want to move in?

That's F'ing INSANE!! And what;s really frightening is your complete lack of any recognition of just how bizarre Zionist ideology really is in this century when the genocidal Brits wiped out entire people while engaging in the same belief you did....that Europeans have a right to go where they're not wanted, set up shop and move right in. So what if people die?
But when visions of Soviet nukes could no longer justified Cold War spending levels, the Pentagon scrambled to find a new justification for the status quo. They found it in the policy of Israeli antagonism toward the Muslim world. If the USA dove right in by attacking middle eastern countries, then that would provoke all the terrorist attacks needed to keep the USA angry at Israel's enemy. Combine the policies and the world gets two forms of right-wing nationalism bent on military expansionism within the ME. Yay us!!!
With the US fighting Zionisms battles now, the US defense industry can rest assured that the GWOT will provide job security into the distant future, while the neocons, likudniks, Zionist nutjobs...whadever! can move right in with US conservatives and the echo-chambers they use to keep themselves convinced they are doing the right thing.

From Einstein to Idiocy in only 60 years. !! Isreal has NO chance of surviving its own insanity.