Defense secretary nominee Chuck Hagel’s 2009 speech to J Street confirms that he’s long held views that are out of the mainstream, contrary to the president’s policies and entirely at odds with his new views adopted for his confirmation hearing.
Much of the speech, granted, is empty blather, the type that no one in elite foreign policy circles is likely to mock. But it is comical nevertheless (“Citizens of the world live within the sovereignty of man-made borders – but also within the realities of a global community. Either we understand this and accept these realities of a world of different religions and cultures, and attempt to accommodate these differences, or we will live in a world of perpetual violence and hatred.”) These comment are vapid (“That is also the stark question that presents itself to mankind – will we be wise enough and courageous enough to find man-made solutions to man-made injustice and problems?”) and assume that the audience is as well. (My personal favorite in the gibberish department: “Our character, our humanity and our wisdom must now find their way to a joining of global realities at another great confluence of historic proportions.”)
Unfortunately a great deal in the speech is laughably wrong and not so laughably dangerous. I’ll go through the speech, highlighting the most egregious passages.
He chastises those who say that at times we have to side with our close ally Israel against its Arab neighbors:
The United States support for Israel need not be … nor should it be … an either-or proposition that dictates our relationships with our Arab allies and friends. The U.S. has a long and special relationship with Israel, but it must not come at the expense of our Arab relationships. That is a false choice, and not in the interest of Israel or the U.S. This is a much used distortion that plays to the single-issue benefits of certain groups. The fact is we all need each other. U.S. interests are served by having strong relationships with both Israelis and Arabs. As is Israel’s interests, reflecting on its relationships with Egypt and Jordan. As long as nations continue to be driven by the lowest common denominator of conflict and instability, they will be incapable of rising above the swamps of conflict to clearly view their long term interests for more than just day-to-day survival. But rather they must give their people a future worthy of the dignity of man.
This divisive strategy – attempting to make the U.S. choose between its relationships with Israelis and Arabs – perpetuates the current state of instability and mistrust … and continues to drive us toward more and deeper conflict.
But of course sometimes we do have to choose, especially when the Arab governments, now including Egypt, engage in rhetorical attacks and fail to live up to their treaty obligations. Hagel, however, comes down foursquare in favor of moral equivalence.
Next is undistilled “linkage” that posits that Israel is the source of trouble in the region and that we can’t solve other threats unless Israel makes a deal with the Palestinians. “The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is central, not peripheral, to U.S. vital security interests in combating terrorism, preventing an Iranian nuclear weapon, stability in the Middle East and U.S. and global energy security.” This nonsense, until the Hagel nomination, has been rejected by the Obama administration. It has been contrary to U.S. policy, which for example, seeks to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons even though the peace process is moribund.
He then praises the 2002 Saudi plan that would have internationalized Jerusalem and given up all post-1967 lands. (“It was a significant breakthrough. It was significant because for the first time ever all 22 members of the Arab League had come forward with a unanimously agreed to peace initiative. This, after years of the U.S. telling the Arabs that they must get involved and take responsibility and leadership for helping resolve this conflict.”) He then tells a falsehood, namely that ” the last administration ignored it.”
In fact, as detailed in a number of memoirs and contemporaneous reports, Condi Rice and others tried to take advantage of the plan while maintaining our support (at least until President George W. Bush’s second term) for the “road map” that required Palestinians to give up terrorism before proceeding to final status issues. The Bush administration would not, of course, abrogate the Oslo Accords, which called not for an imposed peace plan from Saudi Arabia but a full negotiation by the parties themselves.
He then calls for unification of Fatah and Hamas with no mention of the requirement that Hamas adopt the Quartet Principles. (Again, this is contrary to U.S. policy for years and years.): “No peace will be possible nor sustainable as long as the Palestinians remain a house divided. And this vacuum of failure further limits Israeli leaders’ capacity to take calculated and difficult risks for peace for their people.”
In pushing for the peace process he suggests a role for United Nations troops, something that would in all likelihood be entirely unacceptable to Israel, which insists its security comes from a demilitarized Palestinian state and secure borders. (“The Multinational Force and Observers (MFO) has worked effectively since the treaty was signed, and currently has about 1,700 security professionals from eleven nations in the Sinai, including nearly 700 troops from the U.S. The MFO would not comply with every facet required for a guaranteed border security force in any Israeli-Palestinian Peace Treaty. But it is a model for an important role that the international community could play led by the U.S. NATO might also be tapped for such a mission.”)
Next up is Iran. “Sanctions … even multilateral sanctions … the only sanctions that have any effect … have a limited value and are limited in their effectiveness. Multilateral sanctions are tools and influences that nations can use, but only in coordination with other instruments of power.” So he is opposed (as of 2009) to all unilateral sanctions and not thrilled about multilateral ones, in essence the basis of the past four years of President Obama’s Iran policy. He also argues (again) that we can’t get Arab support against Iran unless there is a resolution of the Palestinian problem. “Arab states find themselves in a difficult bind when it comes to Iran. Anti-American and anti-Israeli agitation in the Middle East … spontaneous, contrived or organized … means they keep their counsel close. They worry about a hegemonic, potentially nuclear-armed Iran, as well as what might be the reaction to a military strike on Iran by Israel, supported by or perceived to be supported by the U.S. Tangible and substantive steps toward Arab-Israeli peace would give more flexibility and credibility to U.S. diplomats as they attempt to shape the regional political and diplomatic environment.” We know from, among other things WikiLeaks documents, that this is false and that Arab nations were pleading with us to act robustly against Iran.
His remarks on Syria show how atrociously wrong was his assessment: “I believe there is a real possibility of a shift in Syria’s strategic thinking and policies. For its own self interests … not because they want to do a favor for the U.S. or Israel. If we can convince Damascus to pause and reconsider its positions and support regarding Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas and radical Palestinian groups, we will have made progress for the entire Middle East . . . .The next bilateral peace treaty for Israel is with Syria.” Thunk.
Aside from the falsehoods, extreme statements and platitudes, one is struck by the absolute absence of any smart, cogent thinking or any sound judgment about events in the region. Why in the world would he be considered fit for the job of secretary of defense? And what guarantee do any of the senators have that once in office he won’t revert to the views he propounded so frequently and openly as he did in his 2009 speech? This nomination is not even a close call for those who see their role as more than a rubber stamp for a president who thinks Hagel is a foreign-policy guru.