Joining other groups and individuals opposing Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense, the generally liberal American Jewish Committee (among the older and better known Jewish organizations) has signaled it opposes the potential nomination. Executive director David Harris e-mails me the following:
The first AJC encounter with Sen. Hagel I recall was when we sought his support, in 1999, for a Senate letter to then Russian President Boris Yeltsin urging action against rising anti-Semitism. We were unsuccessful. On June 20, 1999, we published the letter as a full-page ad in The New York Times with 99 Senate signatories. Only Sen. Hagel’s name was absent.
Our concern then has only grown since, as we have witnessed his stance on a range of core U.S. national security priorities.
What is striking is that the opposition to him today is being labeled as “neocon,” when a number of his documented positions, in fact, have been contrary to the Obama Administration’s to date — on Iran sanctions, on a credible military option against Iran, on Hezbollah as a terrorist group, on the special nature of the US-Israel relationship, etc.
Against that backdrop, what message would the President be sending if he opted to go ahead with such a nomination?
Then there is the Senate itself. Yesterday, Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) sounded the alarm over a potential Hagel appointment. In response to press inquiries she replied, “I appreciate Senator Hagel’s record of public service. While he has not yet been nominated, I am concerned about his prior positions with regard to Israel and Iran. If he is nominated to serve as Secretary of Defense, I intend to vigorously question him on those prior positions.”
It is interesting that aside from the stray foreign policy allies of Hagel, lawmakers are not rushing to his defense, as many did to Susan Rice’s side. Perhaps that is because Republicans (both because of his foreign policy stances and party apostasy) don’t like him, Democrats have no use for him (he’d force them to take a distasteful vote and displace any number of deserving Democrats) and women’s groups on the left are increasingly miffed that not only did the president not stand up for Rice, but he’s now considering passing over an exemplary woman (Michele Flournoy) for someone who has not been a party loyalist or who would endear the party to any constituency.
Meanwhile, as Shmuel Rosner, an Israeli-based columnist points out, “The disbelievers find it hard to comprehend that Obama would want to appoint such a controversial personality to the job, thereby almost ensuring clashes with Israel over Iran and the Palestinian issue. In fact, some of them still expect Obama not to make the appointment.The smirkers are, well, smirking. These are the Israelis who never bought the Obama-is-a-friend-of-Israel line, and they see in a possible Hagel appointment proof that they were right all along.” Indeed, the irony of a Hagel appointment would be that Obama would have even less influence and credibility with the Israelis, whose unilateral action against Iran he has forestalled.
The notion that Hagel would be a good pick for the Pentagon is such a bone-headed idea you wonder who came up with it. I suspect authorship will be hard to trace if this turns out as badly as many suspect.