Hagel on short list to replace GatesWith Secretary of Defense Robert Gates having announced that he will retire in 2011, the Jewish community is wary that former Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel will be appointed as
Gates' replacement. I have discussed Hagel's dismal record on Israel at length several times, most recently here in connection with his endorsement of Pennsylvania Democrat Joe Sestak for the Senate. How does the Secretary of Defense influence US policy toward Israel? Let's look at some of the ways.
Anything short of automatic support for Israel by America's defense secretary could be disastrous for the Jewish state, according to several Jewish political and pro-Israel observers.Read the whole thing.
"I would regard him as the bottom of the class as far as Israel goes," said Morris Amitay, a former executive director of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and treasurer of the Washington PAC, a pro-Israel political action committee.
Hagel reportedly is being touted by National Security Adviser Jim Jones, who is said to believe that Hagel could serve as a prominent Republican defender for the administration, according to a report by Politico.
"Hagel would be in a position to reinforce the worst aspects of the administration's current Middle East policies, which would be very dangerous for Israel," Amitay noted, pointing to what he said are the former senator's "troublesome" foreign policy views.
Last year, for instance, Hagel signed a missive urging Obama, whom he had backed for the presidency, to open direct negotiations with Hamas. As a lawmaker from Nebraska, he had refused to sign several congressional statements backing Israel, and he has advocated direct, unconditional talks with Iran, a stance that irks many Jewish politicos.
"Given his long, questionable record and the clear problems his nomination would cause -- not to mention the volumes of criticism by other Democrats for his rank hostility to Israel -- it is hard to believe that the White House would want to make such a risky choice at precisely the time we are asking the Israeli to 'trust us' on Iran and the Arab-Israeli conflict," said a longtime Jewish political operative, who declined to speak on the record so as not to be seen prematurely criticizing the Obama administration. "I wonder how [Hagel's] career-long effort to derail sanctions to stop Iran's nuclear problem will comfort the Israelis or our Arab and European allies at this critical juncture?"
Even at this early stage, the source added, Jewish insiders are concerned: "It's obviously a source of serious concern that the administration has not knocked these rumors down and made clear they're not considering Hagel for any such job."
A White House spokesperson declined comment last week, and Pentagon spokesperson Geoff Morrell said via e-mail: "I don't play these silly Washington parlor games. Such speculation is an absolute waste of time."
Shoshana Bryen, senior director for security policy at the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, explained that Hagel is attractive to the administration for several reasons: He "shares the president's belief that Iraq was a bad war," aims to cut the defense budget and seeks closer relations with the Arab world.
What do these views mean for Israel?
"A slowdown in things Israel needs or wants," such as military equipment, Bryen said.
Now, some of you might be wondering why an administration that has had so much trouble with the Jewish community and with Israel, and that is just starting to get back into the good graces of both, would make an appointment like Hagel that is bound to anger this important constituency. The answer is simple: After November 2, it may not matter. Obama may be a lame duck with no chance of a second term in office.
What could go wrong?