Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Haggling Over Hagel

Hagel and Obama in Jordan in July of 2008
Courtesy Jim Young/Reuters

Those politicians currently clucking and frowning about the fact that President Obama chose Chuck Hagel to succeed Leon Panetta as Secretary of Defense really tick me off.

The 66-year-old Hagel, a former Republican U.S. Senator from Nebraska, is the perfect nominee: he says what he thinks regardless of polls and partisan talking points. He refuses to genuflect at the altar of Israel and has the audacity to express concern about the plight of persecuted Palestinians. He’s a straight-talking, hard-to-pigeonhole politician who served admirably in Vietnam – earning not one but two Purple Hearts – and became a multi-millionaire after founding Vanguard Cellular, a mobile phone service carrier.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
A former investment banker who worked in the Reagan administration, Hagel represented Nebraska in the U.S. Senate from 1997 to 2009 – serving on the Committee on Foreign Relations and the Select Committee on Intelligence (and voting for the Secure Fence Act of 2006, which appropriated $1.2 billion for a 700-mile fence along the U.S./Mexico border, and the vile Patriot Act) – and became a public affairs professor at Rutgers’ Eagleton Institute of Politics after retiring from the senate. Colin Powell, the former GOP Secretary of State and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recently said Hagel is “superbly qualified.”

Seems like Republicans would embrace this guy, doesn't it?

But in the eyes of many conservatives, apparently, he’s unqualified. Why? Because his support for Israel isn't strong enough and he’s not threatening enough when it comes to Israel’s #1 enemy, Iran.

Never mind that this is a crock of crap. As Huffington Post’s Sabrina Siddiqiu wrote two days ago, “The former Nebraska senator's voting record shows strong support of funding for Israel and tough sanctions on Iran. Hagel also reaffirmed his belief that all options should be considered with respect to Iran, including military action, during a recently held meeting with senior Pentagon staff.”

The Pentagon
On January 6, the Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin, a conservative, wrote “[The right] can with much justification claim that Obama is revealing his true preferences and instincts, which lead him to go to the mat for the most anti-Israel nominee in recent memory (in either party).” Rubin quoted The Weekly Standard’s Philip Terzian, who said, “Simply stated, there is no evidence that Chuck Hagel has the experience or temperament to master the gigantic defense establishment, or deal effectively with Congress on delicate issues. On the contrary, there is every indication that he would quickly suffocate in the details of running the Pentagon, and run afoul of his political masters in the White House.”

There was no evidence that Dubya could run a lawn mower, let alone the richest country in the world, or that Ronald Reagan could greet his wife in the morning without a teleprompter but that didn't stop Republicans from getting behind the former and canonizing the latter.

My friend Rob Ellsworth, who knows more about national politics and is a better writer than I, posted an endorsement in Facebook yesterday that included the following:

“He'll cut wasteful spending without jeopardizing our security, he'll fight terrorism without creating new generations of terrorists, he'll send our troops into battle prepared and as a last resort (a man still carrying shrapnel from Vietnam has a bit more credibility than most of his critics...and supporters), and he'll remember our troops when they come home and need work and medical treatment. We owe it to the bravest men and women among us to put Mr. Hagel in charge.”

Powell, Ellsworth and Obama aren’t Hagel’s only supporters. Jeremy Ben-Ami, executive director of a pro-Israel group, defended Hagel, saying, “It is simply beyond disturbing to think that somebody of Chuck Hagel’s stature and significant record of national service is being slandered in this way.”

You think this is beyond disturbing, Mr. Ben-Ami? Let me tell you how much we spend each year on congressional salaries and allowances...

Incidentally, there’s a petition at Change.org demanding that the White House stop forcing American taxpayers to provide the $3 billion in foreign aid that we send to Israel each year. We don’t forward this kind of cash to Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand or our other allies, the petition reads, and we shouldn't be “footing the bill for Israel” when we have to make tough decisions about important domestic needs like Medicare, Social Security and education. Over 1,000 folks have signed it so far.

For more information, read “Chuck Hagel and Israel in context: A guide to his controversial statements” and “Comments on Israel by Top Contender for Defense Secretary Are Scrutinized.

Sources: New York Times, Huffington Post, Change.org, Washington Post, The Weekly Standard, Congressional Research Service, NBCNews.com.

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