The War Against Chuck Hagel

December 22, 2012   ·   6 Comments

Source: NYTX

Chuck Hagel

By Murray Polner:

There’s a not-so-subtle war raging against former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel, a twice-wounded Vietnam veteran, who is rumored to be President Obama’s choice as Secretary of Defense. When word leaked out articles and editorials appeared in newspapers such as the Washington Post and Los Angeles Times. The Wall Street Journal has run two Op Eds—both highly critical of Hagel—and another, an evenhanded article by Peter Nicholas and Julian E. Barnes (12/21) covering the growing Republican opposition. So far, for the New York Times, it is apparently a minor and inconsequential story on the Washington scene: two articles, the second essentially irrelevant, but no editorial denouncing or supporting Hagel’s possible candidacy. Not even an Op Ed, attacking or defending Hagel’s reputation.

Mark Landler’s initial Times article on December 19 was fair enough, raising the question of whether Hagel is sufficiently supportive of Israel and whether there is in fact an Israel lobby which has the power to coerce politicians. In an interview with Aaron David Miller, a veteran American diploma writing a book, Hagel once unfortunately mentioned the Jewish rather than Israel lobby, a mistake for which he promptly apologized, given that the lobby contains many non-Jews. But he also said, “I’m a United States senator, not an Israeli senator.”

The article went on to quote the ubiquitous Abraham Foxman of the ADL (aren’t there any other Jews available for quotes? Landler did manage to find a lesser known group called the Israel Project to quote, apparently not a Hagel backer). He also cited anonymous   Jewish “leaders,” many of whom  represent  “pro-Israel” groups, few of whom have any paid members though they seem to present themselves as speaking for all American Jews, which by no means is the case. Landler did quote Jeremy Ben-Ami of J Street, another pro-Israel group which, like the Israel Policy Forum, supports Hagel. Landler’s follow-up piece two days later dealt almost entirely with Hagel’s negative past record on gay rights.

But that’s hardly why Hagel’s been assailed with such vehemence. Yes, he has long seen the Pentagon budget as far too swollen and yes, he has called for a go-slow approach to Iran. “He has a checkered past on Israel,” Foxman told Landler. “At the least, it’s disturbing; at worst, it’s troubling.”

But the key reason why neoconservatives and American Jewish organizations who rarely if ever seriously question any Israeli policies are furious may be that Hagel dared mention out loud the words “Israel lobby” which supposedly “intimidates” politicians, editors and journalists. As a former AIPAC writer, M.J. Rosenberg, who is now viewed as a turncoat by some of the same people who condemn Hagel, put it this way: “The reason is because he dared to refer to the existence of the Israel Lobby.” Then, too, to those of Hagel’s critics who believe Israel’s interests are America’s as well, it renders him potentially anti-Israel.

Hagel does have some defenders. The New Republic’s John Judis, William Buckley’s biographer, wrote “Don’t Let Chuck Hagel’s Hardline Israel Critics Sink His Nomination. In the Atlantic, James Fallows takes aim at neoconservatives and others in “The Bogus Case Against Chuck Hagel.” The uproar caught Michael Cohen’s eye in The Guardian (12/20), writing: “…it was the self-appointed protectors of Israel who determined Hagel suspect because he finds the efforts of the pro-Israel lobby to punish any public official who diverges from the notion that Israel can do no wrong somewhat problematic.” Cohen adds that “the ‘pro-Israel’ lobby is both predominantly Jewish and intimidating to politicians is a surprise, of course, to no-one who lives inside the Beltway.”

Yet where is the Times in all this? Trembling in editorial fear or busy assigning a team of crack reporters to investigate? To date, in addition to the two articles there have been no editorial, no Op Eds, no news analyses. Is not the existence of a powerful pro-Israel pressure group newsworthy? Perhaps even a well-researched magazine piece like the one that recently carved up Oliver Stone’s book “The Untold History of the U.S.”?  If the NRA, oil lobby, Cuban lobby and all the other lobbies aren’t off-limits why is the Israel lobby?  How and in what forms does it operate? To what extent does it or doesn’t it play a significant role in shaping American foreign policy?  Peter Beinart’s book “The Crisis of Zionism” (which didn’t receive a rave review in the Times’ Book Review) is not especially loved in many quarters (he was recently banned from speaking in Atlanta) because he denies that American Jews are no longer victims but do have power, “and that without moral vigilance, Jews will abuse power just as hideously as anyone else.” So why is the Times consistently silent about these issues?

And if the Times is absent from the conversation the same may be said about our President, who recently allowed Susan Rice to withdraw from a possible role as Hillary Clinton’s successor before withering, often unfair Republican criticism?  To their credit, Nicholas and Barnes in the WSJ give ample space to Zbigniew Brzezinski who blames the President for permitting the disparagement of Hagel to mushroom. “I find that, unfortunately, a symptom of being not willing to stand up for people you want to surround yourself with. That’s not a good way to protect presidential territory.”

Nor is it a good way for the Times to protect its journalistic territory—and integrity.


Murray Polner served as editor of Present Tense for 18 years, a magazine published by the American Jewish Committee. He is the author and editor of four books about Jewish life and culture.


Readers Comments (6)

  1. One looks at the Hegel affair and the observer of this melodrama cannot be surprised at the incestuous narrowness of American politics. The Conservatives,Neo-Conservatives, Neo-Liberals all worship at the shrine of Reagan,although each in their own way. But one cannot forgive the New Democrats/Neo-Liberals and their willful discarding of the New Deal legacy. Within that historical context Mr. Hegel had the temerity to speak his mind, for that we can be grateful. AIPAC,and it’s fellow travelers, they are legion, cannot allow even the slightest deviation from the political consensus representing that troika. Hegel represents only a small but meaningful deviation from that theology, the current political legitimism is under dire threat,Israel being sacrosanct.
    With the extra added bonus of Mr. Hegel’s homophobia makes for a powerful propaganda assault. Combined with the political cowardice of President Obama the troika will win.

  2. carlyle says:

    The broad, vigerous, multi faceted attacks against Hagel are in them selves prima facie evidence of the evil power of those that place the welfare of the United States second.
    Obama must show some resolve and confidence in his own decisions or hand over the keys to all powerful interests.
    The late President Truman knew where the buck stopped, President Obama seems unaware of the damage to the Presidency of being “rolled.”

    • Jean says:

      why would an Iran with Nuclear weapons and ICBM’s pointed at the US be in our interest?

      Why is discrimination against gay military
      families be in our interest?

      why would considering racists like Strom
      Thurmond be in our interest?

      These are all Hagel positions that harm the US.

  3. simom says:

    The Invisible Obama is going to do to William Kristol what he did to Netanyahu –

    Perhaps Hagel is not the nominee for Sec of Defense – but instead the anvil upon which Kristol is to be crushed.

    Could The Invisible One be undoing the Neocon and Israel Lobby Coup running this country in response to the clear and present preeminent need of America – that which everyone here really knows HAS to happen?

    Nah – no one could be THAT good…?

    Could Zen Master be so masterfully undoing EXACTLY the thing that most needs to be undone – so masterfully as if it appears to be happening almost by magic – effortlessly conducting the soft 2nd American Revolution which freeing ourselves from the Neocons and Israel Lobby would actually be?

    Who better than Hagel to help him? Is there anyone else who even could?

    When King Kristol regains consciousness his Neocon Empire will be laying in tatters at his feet – just like King Netanyahu found a couple of months ago after he woke up after tangling with the Shao Lin Master

    During Netanyahu’s run-up to what became a desperate sprint to trying to shove Obama into Iran this last fall – I started first wondering and then convincing myself that Obama was playing Netanyahu like a violin.

    (con at Part 2 of 3)

    He had ‘seen Netanyahu coming’ (hey, who didn’t) but with the patience of a Zen Master or rattlesnake had just waited…waited….waited…until Bibi was fully committed, come too far to try going back on his gambit, had shot his last wad, had Israel itself trying to put Bibi in a mental institution – and then and only then finally striking and simply flattening Netanyahu out, paying no political price, winning the election, and then (in my mind at least), silently looking back at the stunned prostrated Netanyahu as if to say, ‘is that all you got?’

    Netanyahu has been enraged ever since – over the hill certifiably mad – just witness the whole E1 debacle, losing the EU, the finger to the UN, and the Faustian bargain with Luciferman himself. Obama so un-cooled Netanyahu’s cool that Netanyahu will never ever even have his cool again.

    Obama made him look like a sucker so BADLY that Mr MIT was actually SEEN actually still thinking Romney was going to win – when everyone else on the planet besides Karl Rove knew otherwise.

    Now Netanyahu is in a manic out of his mind phase, completely unbalanced, wrongfooted, unnerved and just ‘out of control’. He’s not just playing mad dog – he IS mad dog – and the whole world also SEES it and knows what to do with this kind of mad dog. It has organizing power. Again, a masterstroke just taking it’s natural masterful course

    He made Netanyahu not only look like a fool, but a fool who had done it to himself, and even worse, that it was true that in fact he HAD done it to himself, and even worse, the whole world saw him as a fool even when he himself couldn’t, and even worse, the whole world was just laughing at him by the time he got up for his Wylie Coyote bomb speech – and that is masterful, folks. And it happened…

    It was a masterful ambush and even more amazingly – it worked like magic. And it didn’t happen by accident. Someone made it happen and that someone was the ‘invisible Obama’

    I think the same thing is happening now with William Kristol and his merry band of hubris-filled neocons. Is King Kristol of the Neocons any different or more formidable than King Netanyahu? Does anyone think Obama can’t take Kristol?

    Is this not just Part 2 of the same story, of which the dethroning of King Netanyahu was just Part 1? Is it not the same people, the same neocons, all rounded up, all out in the open, all in the k*ll zone? Did Kristol not just come a’running to Obama’s silent whistle?

    Hagel was just good bait.

    Kristol is way past ‘all in’, fully committed, ‘ain’t no going back’. He’s out in the open – and he rounded up all his friends to be with him. This will be the end of Kristol’s career if he is humiliated here and now…. Perfect.

    And even more delicious, Kristol doesn’t even remember he just saw this movie a month or so ago. Kristol will have the opportunity to prove, as his last public act, that he was ineducable. Ah – the blindness of narcissism… such a powerful tool to use against one’s foe, laughs the Buddha.

    Ain’t ever going to happen? Tell it to what’s left of Netanyahu…

  4. Jean says:

    There are many reasons to oppose Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense besides Israel, Anti-Semitism and Iran.

    You can argue that singling out only Jews for exerting too much influence is not anti-semetc. You could argue that the US should accept an Iranian nuclear weapons program or even an Iranian ICBM program. You could argue that Israel should withdraw to the 1967 armistice lines from which it was attacked in return for nothing and still be pro-Israel.

    But to me he is the stereotypical Archie Bunker type bigot. His policies have been anti gay (even now after his late and self serving apology he doesn’t support equal benefits for gay military families. He is anti-African American (with a 17/100 rating from NAACP and admires Strom Thurmond as a great role model. anti Woman (vs choice and contraception)


    Hagel has drawn additional heat from insiders who claim he lacks the credentials needed to manage a department as large and essential as the Pentagon.

    “Yes, Hagel has crazy positions on several key issues. Yes, Hagel has said things that are borderline anti-Semitism. Yes, Hagel wants to gut the Pentagon’s budget. But above all, he’s not a nice person and he’s bad to his staff,” said a senior Republican Senate aide who has close ties to former Hagel staffers.

    “Hagel was known for turning over staff every few weeks—within a year’s time he could have an entirely new office because nobody wanted to work for him,” said the source. “You have to wonder how a man who couldn’t run a Senate office is going to be able to run an entire bureaucracy.”

    Others familiar with Hagel’s 12 year tenure in the Senate said he routinely intimidated staff and experienced frequent turnover.

    “Chuck Hagel may have been collegial to his Senate colleagues but he was the Cornhusker wears Prada to his staff, some of whom describe their former boss as perhaps the most paranoid and abusive in the Senate, one who would rifle through staffers desks and berate them for imagined disloyalty,” said Michael Rubin, a former Pentagon adviser on Iran and Iraq. “He might get away with that when it comes to staffers in their 20s, but that sort of personality is going to go over like a ton of bricks at the Pentagon.”

    Multiple sources corroborated this view of Hagel.

    “As a manager, he was angry, accusatory, petulant,” said one source familiar with his work on Capitol Hill. “He couldn’t keep his staff.”

    “I remember him accusing one of his staffers of being ‘f—ing stupid’ to his face,” recalled the source who added that Hagel typically surrounded himself with those “who basically hate Republicans.”

    Sources expressed concern about such behavior should Hagel be nominated for the defense post. With competing military and civilian interests vying for supremacy, the department requires a skilled manager, sources said.

    “The Pentagon requires strong civilian control,” a senior aide to former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld told the Free Beacon. “It’s already swung back in favor of the military over the past five years. A new secretary of defense should push it back in its rightful place, but it’s doubtful Hagel would be that guy.”

    “It’s not clear that [Hagel] has the standing, the managerial prowess, or the willingness to gore some oxen,” said the source.

    One senior Bush administration official warned that Hagel is ill informed about many critical foreign policy matters.

    “He’s not someone who’s shown a lot of expertise on these issues,” said the source, referencing a recent Washington Post editorial excoriating Hagel’s record. “That [op-ed] was extraordinary.”

    “Only in Washington,” the official added, “can someone like [Hagel] be seen as a heavy weight. He’s not the sharpest knife in the drawer.”

    Hagel is likely viewed positively by the administration mainly because he is a Republican who often criticizes his own party, the source said.

    “He’ll dance to a tune played by the White House,” said the former official. “That I think is the real problem.”

    As lawmakers consider a deal to avoid sweeping budgets cuts and tax hikes, Hagel’s support for slashing spending at the Pentagon has irked many defense hawks.

    “This is a time when a secretary of defense needs to be raising hell about the sequestration cuts,” said the Rumsfeld aide. “It’s not clear that Hagel has any interest in picking that fight.”

    Hagel’s reluctance to chastise Iran also remains a central concern.

    As chief of the Pentagon it is expected he would avoid planning for a military intervention should Tehran refuse to end its clandestine nuclear enrichment program.

    “The military brass is already reluctant to offer up any military options on Iran even though it’s their job to have something on the books and to leave the options of the commander in chief open,” said the Rumsfeld aide. “Hagel will only reinforce these worrisome tendencies.”

    “Chances are he’ll view any legitimate effort to talk about military options with Iran as some plot by the ‘Israel Lobby’ to box him in,” the source said.

    • john nihau says:

      such a tirade against hagel indicates that he is considered by the morally bankrupt israel-firsters as someone who would stand up their pressure, rather than yet another mole for israel polluting the administation of our federal government. such a tirade indicates that, insofar as israel needs to be checked, humbled, contained, and cornered, hagel is not a bad choice for secretary of defense at all.



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