Chuck Hagel, or more likely one of Hagel’s handlers on his behalf, has written a letter to Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) in an effort to shore up his foundering nomination as defense secretary. The letter, however, is incoherent in the extreme to even the casual observer, let alone to senators and advocates of a strong Israel-U.S. relationship.
Republican whip and Armed Services coommittee member Sen. John Cornyn threw a bucket of cold water on the letter, telling Right Turn: “Throughout his career, Chuck Hagel has made several concerning statements, particularly with respect to rogue nations like Iran. Retractions of long-held positions raise serious questions about where he stands on critical issues of national defense. Senator Hagel is an honorable man, but our nation and our men and women in uniform need a Secretary of Defense who says what he means and means what he says.”
Regarding his past opposition to sanctions against Iran, Hagel claims now to “completely support” a unilateral-sanctions policy. Quite a switch, given that he’s repeatedly voted against unilateral sanctions and has never — until now — publicly embraced the idea. Did he change his mind before his nomination? After years and years of speaking and voting against sanctions, he will now vigorously advocate on their behalf? Does he have no intellectual integrity?
His explanation regarding his position on Hezbollah is equally confusing. He says he routinely referred to it as a terrorist organization. But why then refuse to sign on to a letter to the European Union in 2006 designating it as such?
Then there is his apology for his “Jewish lobby” remark, which his supporters have either denied or dubbed trivial. Hagel now says he apologizes for a “poor choice of words.” But Boxer apparently neglected to ask him about his even more noxious declaration that he is not the senator for Israel. Was that also a poor choice of words? Moreover, this is not a mere choice of words. Hagel said that the Jewish lobby “intimidates” lawmakers. Which lawmakers? Was he intimidated? Was Hillary Clinton intimidated when she supported unilateral sanctions against Iran?
Finally, Hagel wrote to Boxer that he fully embraces gays in the military and abortion services for servicewomen who are raped.
None of this hangs together. Nor does it answer the many questions surrounding Hagel, among them his comments warning against “isolating” Iran, his refusal to designate the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist organization, his belief that Israel and its conflict with the Palestinians is at the root of all the Middle East’s problems or his call for direct negotiations with Hamas.
It is noteworthy that, despite his endorsement of Hagel on Sunday, not even Colin Powell would defend Hagel’s assertions of moral equivalence between Israel and the Palestinians. There was this exchange on NBC’s “Meet the Press” between Powell and host David Gregory:
GREGORY: “What I fear more today is that desperate men do desperate things when you take hope away,” Hagel said, “And that’s where the Palestinians are today.” There is a sense among his critics that he views this in an evenhanded way, that they equally share the blame, Israelis and Palestinians fear a failure to achieve peace. Is that his view?
POWELL: Well, I’ll let– you know, he should be able to give his views which he will do at the confirmation hearing. I don’t believe that these moral equivalency between the two sides which is the suggestion of that article…
GREGORY: You believe he believes there is moral equivalency?
POWELL: You will have to ask him what he believes.
Hagel didn’t bother to address that point in his letter to Boxer.
If this is the best he is going to do, Hagel’s nomination is in deep trouble. A longtime Capitol Hill staffer who has worked on Israel issues tells me, “By sidestepping or obfuscating the key objections to his nomination, the letter fails to meet even the ordinary low standards of a confirmation conversion. It requires a serious suspension of disbelief to accept this letter as an admission ticket to mainstream thinking on Israel and the Iranian nuclear threat.” A Senate adviser whose boss has expressed concern but not opposed the nomination derisively remarks, “Looks like he is having an identity crisis.”
I suspect Hagel’s letter will satisfy few, if any, critics and raise new questions about his intellectual consistency and candor.