The Obama-hating Neocon Right is trying to Swift Boat the expected nomination of Chuck Hagel to be Secretary of Defense, by making up a fantasy scare story that Hagel, former U.S. Senator from Nebraska, long-respected moderate and thoughtful voice on foreign policy, and decorated Vietnam combat veteran, is "anti-Israel." One would like to be able to dismiss this stuff as the ranting of people for whom no amount of warmongering can ever be too much. But such Swift Boat campaigns have worked in the past, regardless of the facts.
In times like these, don't you wish there were some Washington, DC-based Jewish-branded organization, which represented the pro-peace values and interests of the majority of Americans and the majority of American Jews, and which would push back against this kind of nonsense?
Blessed are Thou, Lord our God, King of the Universe. J Street is in the house.
The New York Times reports:
"There is a very systematic effort going on, and these things can have an impact," said Jeremy Ben-Ami, the executive director of J Street, a liberal pro-Israel group, which defends Mr. Hagel.J Street has a strong statement in support of Hagel on their website: "J Streets Supports Sen. Hagel, Rebuts Charges Against Him":
"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," Mr. Ben-Ami said.
J Street believes former US Senator Chuck Hagel would be a fine choice as Secretary of Defense and is appalled by efforts surfacing in recent days to question his commitment to the state of Israel and to Middle East peace.It's a mitzvah that J Street is very engaged on this. But if you think this is just a Jewish thing, then you just don't understand. The stakes in this battle are high for everyone who wants to end the war in Afghanistan sooner rather than later, everyone who wants to avoid war with Iran, and everyone who wants to see reasonable cuts in the bloated Pentagon budget.
Sen. Hagel has been one of the most thoughtful voices in Washington for two decades on questions relating to American policy in the Middle East. He has also been a staunch friend of the State of Israel and a trusted ally in the Senate, speaking out on behalf of America's commitment to Israel's security. He recognized, before many would talk about it publicly, that the peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in two states is in the national security interest of the United States.
The outrageous attacks on Sen. Hagel, many from unnamed sources, are being leveled at a decorated Vietnam War hero who is widely admired as a rational and independent voice on foreign and defense policy.
Sen. Hagel was among the first in his party to realize that the US occupation of Iraq had turned into a quagmire that was taking thousands of American and tens of thousands of Iraqi lives without a clear strategic rationale. He took a brave stand against the majority in his own party and led a crucial debate that helped pave the way for President Obama to withdraw American troops from Iraq.
Sen. Hagel believes in bipartisanship and compromise. He values diplomacy over the deployment of US military force. He backs international cooperation rather than unilateralism.
And he believes in peace between Israel and the Palestinians. In 2006, he wrote in an op-ed: "Until we are able to lead a renewal of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, mindless destruction and slaughter will continue in Lebanon, Israel and across the Middle East."
J Street urges all Americans to take an honest look at Sen. Hagel's honorable record rather than listening to unfounded and unsubstantiated attacks.
On Afghanistan, AP notes: ("Pentagon front-runner Hagel has strong Obama ties, likely favors rapid Afghanistan withdrawal "):
Former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel is a contrarian Republican moderate and decorated Vietnam combat veteran who is likely to support a more rapid withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan.AP noted that "Hagel's possible selection has been met with initial praise from key members of the Senate, including the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., who said Hagel would be 'terrific.' "
Often seeing the Afghan war through the lens of his service in Vietnam, Hagel has declared that militaries are "built to fight and win wars, not bind together failing nations." In a radio interview this year, he spoke broadly of the need for greater diplomacy as the appropriate path in Afghanistan, noting that "the American people want out" of the war.
On Iran, AP noted that "Hagel has criticized discussion of a military strike by either the U.S. or Israel against Iran. He also has backed efforts to bring Iran to the table for talks on future peace in Afghanistan. "
On the Pentagon budget, a Washington Post editorial noted that in September 2011 Hagel called for cuts to the Pentagon budget. On this issue, Hagel was an "early adopter," advocating a position which is now becoming mainstream in Washington. "The Defense Department, I think in many ways, has been bloated," Hagel said. "So I think the Pentagon needs to be pared down." To the Washington Post editorial board, Hagel's statement is still heresy; but for the majority of Americans, this is exactly what they want to hear.
The outcome of this battle is likely to be determined soon. If Obama nominates Hagel, easy Senate confirmation is expected. But it's possible that in the absence of a sufficiently broad and vigorous response, the neocon Swift Boaters could kick up enough dust to convince some of the Obama political people that, even though they could win the fight easily, it's not worth the fight, and life would be much easier politically if they would just appease the Right and appoint someone the Right won't object to, and move on to other things.
That outcome would be a shame, because far more than any other likely Obama nominee, Hagel represents the foreign policy that the majority of Americans voted for in 2008 and 2012: less war, more diplomacy.
The open question is whether Americans outside the Beltway could get engaged and change the dynamics. The neocon Right is very good at dominating the "inside game" in Washington. They have privileged access to DC media, like the Washington Post editorial pages. But outside the Beltway the neocon Right has little pull - most Americans, including most Republicans, don't support the endless war and empire-building agenda of the neocon Right.
So here's a little experiment. Suppose we set up a petition on MoveOn's community petition site, SignOn. Suppose we could get a bunch of Americans to sign, if for no other reason, then on the grounds that Obama won the election, and he should get to choose the person he wants at Defense. Maybe that could change the dynamics. It's worth a try, isn't it? As Rabbi Hillel said, "If not now, when?"
The petition is here.
Robert Naiman is Policy Director at Just Foreign Policy.