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At first, many people thought that they could just ignore the neocons' pre-emptive Swift Boat attack on President Obama's expected nomination of Chuck Hagel to be Secretary of Defense. After all, these right-wing war-firster voices backed Romney in 2012 and McCain in 2008. Who cares whether they support President Obama's nominee to be Secretary of Defense? Vae victis, they taught us in school about elections. To the victor go the spoils.

But unfortunately, much of our elite media doesn't see it this way, when it comes to "national security issues." As far as a lot of the elite media are concerned, the neocons are always credible voices that always have to be taken Very Seriously, no matter how many elections they lose or how many disastrous wars they get our country into. And that's because the neocons have disproportionate influence in the elite media. You can vote out the President, but you can't vote out the Washington Post Editorial Board. So, because of the neocon pull of the elite media, if the neocons throw a temper tantrum, it's a Very Serious Issue which could threaten the nomination.  

Therefore, the diplomacy champions and war skeptics are starting to push back.

Nicholas Burns, former Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, and Ambassador to NATO and Greece; Ryan Crocker, former Ambassador to Iraq and Afghanistan; Edward Djerejian, former Ambassador to Israel and Syria; William Harrop, former Ambassador to Israel; Daniel Kurtzer, former Ambassador to Israel and Egypt; Sam Lewis, former Ambassador to Israel; William H. Luers, former Ambassador to Venezuela and Czechoslovakia; Thomas R. Pickering, former Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, and Ambassador to Israel and Russia; and Frank G. Wisner, former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, and Ambassador to Egypt and India have an open letter in Foreign Policy declaring their support for the nomination of Chuck Hagel to be Secretary of Defense.

The letter says:

We support, most strongly and without qualification, President Obama's reported intention to nominate Senator Chuck Hagel to be the next secretary of defense. Each of us has known the senator over the past twenty years and has found him invariably one of the best informed leaders in the U.S. Congress on the issues of U.S. national security. Senator Hagel's credentials for the job are impeccable. As a decorated Vietnam veteran, an extremely successful entrepreneur in the private sector and as a two-term senator, he brings unusually high qualifications and experiences to the Department of Defense at this time of budget constraint and challenges to reshape America's military power while keeping it strong for the coming decades.

Senator Hagel's political courage has impressed us all. He has stood and argued publicly for what he believes is best for the United States. When he was attacked for opposing the war in Iraq as "unpatriotic," he replied, "To question your government is not unpatriotic - to not question your government is unpatriotic."
[...]
We can think of few more qualified, more non-partisan, more courageous or better equipped to head the Department of Defense at this critical moment in strengthening America's role in the world. If he is nominated, we urge the speedy confirmation of Senator Hagel's appointment.

What's most significant about this letter is not what it says, but who signed it. Of the nine signers, five are former Ambassadors to Israel. Two are former Under Secretaries of State and one is a former Under Secretary of Defense. Pickering and Luers have for years led efforts outside of the government - but "nearby" - to promote serious diplomatic engagement with Iran towards a resolution of the nuclear file and other issues in dispute. Crocker was Ambassador to Iraq and Afghanistan in Republican and Democratic Administrations during periods when the U.S. was working, sometimes successfully, to engage Iran over Iraq and Afghanistan.

The letter doesn't refer to any of that. It doesn't need to. We all know what we're fighting about. We're fighting about U.S. policy towards Iran in Obama's second term.

Since the Bush Administration, there's been a kind of stalemate in Iran policy. Diplomacy advocates have worked to block war to force a turn to serious diplomacy. The necons have worked to block serious diplomacy to force a turn towards war. As a result, so far we have neither war nor serious diplomacy. Instead, we have a "compromise": escalating sanctions on Iran, which have begun to "succeed" in producing a lot of civilian suffering in Iran, but haven't succeeded at all, as yet, in producing progress towards a diplomatic agreement.

The problem - as most analysts, including Hagel, acknowledge - is that whatever one thinks about sanctions from a humanitarian point of view, they can't work to help achieve a diplomatic agreement unless they are accompanied by a serious diplomatic track. And a serious diplomatic track means putting serious offers on the table - offers that the other side could plausibly be expected to give serious consideration to accepting.

So far, the neocon lobby has been largely successful in obstructing the Obama Administration from putting serious offers on the table. Now, with Obama re-elected, with Joe Lieberman leaving the Senate, with the influence of the McCain/Graham faction ebbing, a little bit of optimism was starting to emerge that the Obama Administration could start putting serious offers on the table.

And this is the backstory of the neocon lobby's pre-emptive strike on Chuck Hagel. Their real target isn't Hagel. Their real target is Obama. They want to bully Obama into backing off of any plans to engage in serious diplomacy with Iran, and to effect this bullying they want to make an example of Hagel.

And this is why the neocon lobby can't be allowed to win. We have a window in the next few months to pursue serious diplomacy with Iran before the impending Iranian elections make compromise with the U.S. next to impossible, just as impending U.S. elections made compromise with Iran next to impossible. If the neocon lobby is allowed to blow up the Obama Administration in this window, then the window for serious diplomacy will be gone, and all we'll be left with is more escalation towards war.

This is why even Americans who aren't former U.S. Ambassadors need to speak up. Many Americans thought they were done when they voted against Romney, but they weren't. If they meant it, they need to speak up now. There is a petition here.

Robert Naiman is Policy Director at Just Foreign Policy.

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