This post has been updated.
There is good reason that J Street, until publicly shamed into releasing the video of its 2009 conference, did not want Chuck Hagel’s speech and, more important, the Q&A seen by senators and the public at large. The prepared remarks are bad enough, evidencing a slew of bizarre views and embarrassingly wrong analysis of the Middle East. I will get to that in a separate post, but first let us look at what was in the video but not in the prepared remarks.
At the onset Hagel praised Victor Kovner, who founded J Street and was being honored by the group. Kovner expressly set up J Street to protect those like Hagel from criticism for their anti-Israel views. The New York Times reported, “He [Kovner] said candidates would also be able to use the group’s endorsements as a shield against accusations that they were anti-Israel.”
Moreover, we can see why Hagel thinks well of Kovner, whose words were gleefully reported by a viciously anti-Israel Web site:
“Some Members of Congress have felt intimidated and resentful, and have been forced to take positions against their better judgment, out of fear of retribution….” Then this careful attorney, who does not say anything without carefully weighing its impact, uttered something delightfully bold, knowing full well that I would probably use it here and in my forthcoming book: “I would like to restore the First Amendment rights of Jewish Americans and non-Jewish Americans to speak their minds on Israel-Palestine issues, without being subjected to baseless, vicious calumnies.”
In the Q&A, Hagel makes a number of outlandish comments. In the past he has said many times that the United States should engage with Iran and negotiate directly with Hamas. At the J Street conference, he doubled down: “How in the world do we think isolating someone is going to bring them around to your way of thinking?” Had the president followed his advice, no sanctions would have been imposed on Iran and the entire effort to, yes, isolate the republic would have been stymied.
Next, Hagel affirmed the infamous “linkage” idea, favored by many who want a harsh stance toward Israel. The notion is that unless we pressure Israel into making peace with the Palestinians we can’t have peace in Afghanistan or Iraq. This is nonsense, of course, since the Taliban cares not one wit about the plight of the Palestinians. But here is Hagel with host Steve Clemons:
Hagel: “I have never believed you go to war in Iraq, you go to war in Afghanistan, and believe that you can deal with those battlefields, those countries, in microcosms, or narrow channels. These are regional issues. There will not be any peace in the Middle East or in Afghanistan, central Asia, without Iran somewhere…”
Clemons: “So Iran is connected to Afghanistan, and Afghanistan is connected to Israel and Palestine, and connected to Syria…”
Hagel: “It’s all connected.”
This has not only been proved false, but the Obama administration implicitly rejected that line of thinking by pursuing sanctions against Iran while the “peace process” collapsed entirely.
Next up was Hagel’s fawning praise for former national security advisers Brent Scowcroft and Zbigniew Brzezinski. In September 2009 shortly before the J Street conference, Brzezinski uttered these infamous words about a potential Israeli strike on Iran: “They [the Israelis] have to fly over our airspace in Iraq. Are we just going to sit there and watch? … We have to be serious about denying them that right. That means a denial where you aren’t just saying it. If they fly over, you go up and confront them. They have the choice of turning back or not. No one wishes for this but it could be a ‘Liberty’ in reverse.” This is the man Hagel a month later praised to the skies.
Moreover, both Scowcroft and Brzezinski have favored an imposed peace on Israel, an anathema to Israel and so far resisted by the Obama administration. Both were party to a meeting on March 24, 2010, in which they and others urged the administration to impose a peace plan on Israel. But the views of these advisers, infamous in pro-Israel circles for their confrontational stance toward Israel, were widely known when Hagel cooed praise in concert with the J Street host. Does Hagel still look upon these advisers as “good,” “wise” and “smart”? Will he take their counsel if he is confirmed?
The doozy comes at the very end when Hagel expressed his concern about the slow progress of the peace process. At that time special envoy George Mitchell was pummeling Israel, demanding a settlement freeze (that ultimately proved disastrous and unwound the entire peace process). Hagel said, “I think Mitchell has got the right amount of patience, although I would say, and he will speak for himself, and he does it very eloquently, that I think we are getting close to the time where something has to be laid down here on this.” This appears to be an embrace of the imposed peace idea that Scowcroft and Brzezinski were pushing.
The video reveals what the transcript does not: Hagel’s wholehearted embrace of the views and outlook of the far-left crowd that sees Israel as a problem (to be manhandled if need be) and our most dangerous foes as future pals merely awaiting our entreaties in order to have peace in our time. The danger is not only that Hagel’s views are so misguided and dangerous, but that he will make “progress” in moving U.S. policy where more controversial figures like Brzezinski could not. Later today I will look at the speech itself, which is replete with red flags.
UPDATE (12:40 p.m.): Republican Sens. John Cornyn, Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, David Vitter, Jim Inhofe and Roger Wicker have sent a letter to Hagel demanding information on a variety of investments and entities with which he is connected. They inform the nominee if he does not provide answers at least 24 hours before the start of his confirmation hearing, it may be delayed. Refusal to provide needed information to senators may be the basis at some point for a filibuster, if it comes to that.