Hagel: Why Him, Why Now?By Jerrold L. Sobel
Love him or hate him, one thing for sure, this president loves a good fight even when it's not necessary. Take this latest nomination of former Nebraskan Senator Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense.
As most people know by now, this controversial pick has stirred up a hornet's nest of controversy not only amongst friends of Israel on both sides of the aisle but also within the gay and lesbian community as well.
Prior to his nomination, President Obama made reference to remarks Hagel made in 1998 about President Clinton's nomination for ambassador to Luxembourg, James Hormel. Hagel characterized Hormel as being "openly aggressively gay" and claimed it would inhibit him from doing an "effective" job. He has recently apologized for these offensive remarks but for those born earlier than the day before yesterday, including Hormel, the sting is still there.
In a recent interview, the ambassador had this to say:
"I have not received an apology," Hormel, who is a major figure in Democratic politics, told me. "I thought this so-called apology, which I haven't received, but which was made public, had the air of being a defensive move on his part." Hormel added that the apology appeared to have been given "only in service of his attempt to get the nomination."
Obama, flush with victory, and with the mindset of a fullback smashing through the line, is set to push the nomination through. He had this to say:
"With respect to the particular comment that you quoted, he apologized for it," He continued. "And I think it's a testimony to what has been a positive change over the last decade in terms of people's attitudes about gays and lesbians serving our country. And that's something that I'm very proud to have led."
Really? If the president is correct, that's some change of heart Hagel has experienced over the last 15 years. In 1996 he said he would have voted for the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits federal recognition of same sex marriages. Likewise, in 1999 he also said he was opposed to repealing "Don't Ask Don't Tell," the ban on openly gay men and women serving in the military which was repealed in 2010.
The president and his proponents themselves must have recently undergone an epiphany. Just weeks ago they were blasting Mitt Romney for opposing gay marriage and for what they deemed were anti-gay positions.
Moving from one slighted community to another, the Hagel nomination has also rankled the feathers of the pro-Israel community.
In an article published in National Review Online, "Hagel: The Wrong Man," Alan Dershowitz, a lifelong liberal Democrat and strong supporter of President Obama, opines that confirmation of Chuck Hagel would be sending a wrong message to the mullahs of Iran. According to him, it would be interpreted by them as meaning the military option is off the table. It would also encourage them to ratchet up their pursuit of nuclear weapons without fear of a U.S. attack. The same message would likewise be sent to Israeli leaders, increasingly dubious that the U.S. would attack Iran in any event even if that were the only option.
Proving that opposition to the Hagel nomination surmounts partisan politics, Dershowitz goes on to quote a recent Washington Post editorial:
Mr. Hagel repeatedly voted against sanctions, opposing even those aimed at the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, which at the time was orchestrating devastating bomb attacks against U.S. troops in Iraq. He argued that direct negotiations, rather than sanctions, were the best means to alter Iran's behavior.
Mr. Obama has said that his policy is to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and that containment is not an option. Mr. Hagel has taken a different view, writing in a 2008 book that "the genie of nuclear weapons is already out of the bottle, no matter what Iran does.
From every tier on the American political spectrum, voices are cascading down against the Hagel nomination.
Lt. Col. Bob Maginnis (USA-Ret.), now senior fellow for national security at the Family Research Council (FRC), says that Hagel does not have the experience needed to run a vast and complex operation like the U.S. Department of Defense:
"You have a budget of $660 billion a year. It's a place that should be run by people who have spent their entire life learning these processes, and unfortunately, Mr. Hagel hasn't spent much more than two years in the Army; 45 years ago," Maginnis points out. "That does not qualify him to run the most complex armed forces in the world today."
Jordan Sekulow, an attorney at the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) has this to say:
"[Hagel] voted against sanctions on Iran. He voted against labeling the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as a terror organization. He encouraged the EU not to vote and adopt Hezbollah as a terrorist organization." .... "He encourages direct dialogue with Hamas, direct dialogue with Hezbollah, direct dialogue with Iran without any consequences for them. This is the wrong person for Secretary of Defense."
Despite these valid arguments against confirmation, Obama pushes on. Hagel may still carry the day but it won't be without a fight. Although none have come out publicly against him, several senators within the Democratic Party are, at the very least, tepid over his nomination.
Freshman Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), the first openly gay senator, promised to question Hagel on his aforementioned "aggressively gay" comments. Democratic Sen. Carl Levin (MI), Richard Blumenthal (CT), and Sen. Mazie Hironi (HI) also withheld judgment whether he deserves the job. From the president's perspective many others are deafeningly noncommittal.
Far less noncommittal are Republican senators such as Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. He's quoted as saying:
"This is an in-your-face nomination by the president to all of us who are supportive of Israel."
Abe Foxman, the head of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) who usually walks lockstep with Obama is with Graham on this one. He blasted Hagel for his 2006 derisive use of the term, Jewish lobby. Foxman isn't alone in the Jewish and pro-Israel community for this and other innuendos Hagel has uttered:
"The Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people. ...I've always argued against some of the dumb things they do".... "I'm not an Israeli senator. I'm a United States senator. I support Israel, but my first interest is, I take an oath of office to the Constitution of the United States, not to a president, not to a party, not to Israel."
In summation, Hagel's hurtful words are only exceeded by his actions:
● October 2000: he was one of only four senators who refused to sign a Senate letter in support of Israel.
● In July 2001, he was one of only two senators to vote against extending the original Iranian sanctions bill.
● November 2001: he was one of only 11 senators who refused to sign a letter urging President Bush not to meet with the late Yasser Arafat until his forces ended the violence against Israel.
● June 2004, he refused to sign a letter urging President Bush to highlight Iran's nuclear program at the G-8 summit and was one of only two senators in to vote against renewal of the Libya-Iran sanctions act.
● December 2005: he was one of only 27 senators who refused to sign a letter to President Bush urging him to pressure the Palestinian Authority (PA) to ban terrorist groups from participating in Palestinian legislative elections.
● In July 2006, at the outbreak of the Lebanon war, Hagel argued against giving Israel the time to break Hezbollah, urging instead an immediate ceasefire.
● In August 2006, he was one of only 12 Senators who refused to formally call upon the European Union to designate Hezbollah as a terrorist organization.
It should be quite obvious to people without an axe to grind. In word and deed, Chuck Hagel is the wrong man for secretary of defense. His confirmation would not serve the strategic interests of the United States or its allies and if anything, it would embolden the aspirations of our enemies. Other than unquestionable valorous service in Viet Nam, he has absolutely no bona fides for this job. With so many presumptive negatives and so many qualified and experienced alternates to choose from, one has to question, why him, why now?
FOLLOW US ON