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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.


I support President Obama's choice of Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense

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38%15 votes

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Comment Preferences

  •  I have a serious problem trusting any Repuke. (5+ / 0-)

    In your list of ambassadors, you didn't note which administration they served. I know Crocker served W and Obama because it made me queasy when Obama selected him. I just heard this morning that Petraeus was being influenced by neocons while he was serving Obama in Afghanistan. Will it be the same with Hagel?

    •  Neocons are attacking Hagel (5+ / 0-)

      This is all about neocons vs. people who want diplomacy.  Neocons are the people who are trying to blow up Hagel's nomination.

      •  No, you don't get it, Robert. (1+ / 0-)

        Nice try at framing ("it's all about evil vs. my position"). I'm sure you're well-intentioned, a 'smart' guy (intellectually, policy-wise), and in the 1950s-70s your approach would make sense. I believe in the goals of your non-profit, Just Foreign Policy.

        But you fail to understand the dynamic of domestic US politics that has emerged over the past 30 years. Your strategy and tactics are wrong. You need to throw off the non-partisan veneer (while barely retaining your non-profit status) and join the reality of 21st c. politics.

        The right-wing moves the goalposts further and further right, every time. (The 'Tea Party' is batsh*t crazy; you should say so, publicly, in those words, on your website, rather than treating them as an adversary worth compromising with.) If Democrats make a concession, rather than reaching for compromise the GOP moves the goalposts again.

        This needs to end, at every level, every issue, and every appointment. Your nonpartisan approach is not winning over either average Americans (who are flooded by right-wing media) or insiders (who see the partisan reality).

        Hagel is better than many Republicans. But the message his appointment would send is that even after 6 years of campaigning for and then being President, Obama still can't find a Democrat who is qualified to run the Defense Department, and that Democrats are somehow still 'soft' on defense. That's nuts, there are plenty of good Democratic candidates. Appointing a Republican is an appeasement-bone that is not only unnecessary, but counter to the wishes of the majority of Americans who voted for a Democratic President.

        Just for example, Hagel is not going to lead the kind of massive budget cuts in DOD that are needed (50%?) -- and that your group seeks to achieve.

        In 8 years, Bush Jr had one (1) Democrat in his Cabinet, Norman Mineta as Transportation Secretary (wtf). Norm quit in 2006 and was replaced by an AZ Republican.

        •  you're missing/avoiding what matters (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          Maybe because you haven't followed the debate.

          Here's who's leading the charge against Hagel's nomination:

          Kristol and the Weekly Standard
          The Republican Jewish Coalition
          The Israel Project
          The Wall Street Journal
          The National Review
          Jennifer Rubin
          The Washington Post editorial board.

          Here's who's for it:

          Former US Ambassadors who are pro-diplomacy
          J Street
          Americans for Peace Now
          Think Progress

          Can you still say with a straight face that this is about whether Hagel has a D or an R after his name?

          •  When Arabs say that Israel sets US foreign policy, (1+ / 0-)

            is this what they have in mind? That kind of thinking used to be derided as conspiratorial and anti-Semitic. But you're saying it's true.

            The debate is framed as one pro-Israel coaloition, versus another pro-Israel coalition? Then, below, you deny ("on the contrary...") that this is about Israel?

            Hrm, now I'm thinking that Kucinich was too conservative a suggestion. How about Jerry Brown? He's a fiscal conservative, knows politics, and brings support from the largest Electoral College voting bloc. And, he's Pacific Rim -- looking West, not (Middle-)East.

            The neocons need to be publicly mocked then ignored, not compromised with.

            Kristol (and WS) has become a joke -- even he couldn't believe his own words in the 2012 campaign. Democrats will never win the WSJ. The National Review is a conservative Republican rag, ignore them. The point is: they lost the election. "Elections have consequences." Screw them. They can't block a Dem SecDef in the Senate. (If they try, they lose big-time in the public's eye, and Obama can make interim or recess appointments.)

            There are other debates out there. Perhaps we should weigh in as heavily on the Japan-China conflict, in our pivot to Asia? Or the precarious peace in Congo, after the roughly 5 million (sic) killed there in the past 15 years?

    •  Most were career foreign service officers. (6+ / 0-)

      Pickering, for example, served as Ambassador to Jordan and India under both Republican and Democratic Presidents, ,to Nigeria, El Salvador, Israel and the UN under Republican Presidents, and to Russia, as well as as UnderSecretary of State, under a Democratic administration.

    •  That's my first impression too, BUT (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      OIL GUY, Robert Naiman, Lepanto

      He's probably more liberal than Leon Panetta on defense issues, so it's a net gain from that perspective.  And I haven't forgotten how Kerry voted for the 2002 AUMF.  Hagel did, as well, but his later opposition to the war was politically riskier for him than Kerry's later change was.  And he became hated in the Republican Party for it.

      So the neocons hate him.  Good.  No more nice guy.  Maybe it will take a Republican to have the guts to make them clean out their desks.

    •  Two things: (4+ / 0-)

      First, his appointment buys into the meme that Republicans are the only ones who are serious about Defense.

      Two, he led the charge against appointing a gay man as ambassador to Luxemberg in 1998.  Until he apoligizes, and strongly states that this was in error, and that he unequivocally supports the repeal of DADT, he is unqualified to be SecDef.

      6/24/05: Charlie the Tuna Creator Dies En lieu of flowers, please bring mayonnaise, chopped celery and paprika.

      by LunkHead on Thu Dec 20, 2012 at 03:27:12 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Hmm, I thought we were Democrats here. (4+ / 0-)

    I mean, would it just be possible  . . . . I know it's a lot to ask . . .  to get a Democrat into the position, perhaps someone who didn't vote for the Tragitastrobacles in both Iraq and Afghanistan?

    I know I know. I am of the CrazyTown.

    Obama stole my Sig Line for his campaign. Forward. daveinchi's World at Large

    by daveinchi on Thu Dec 20, 2012 at 01:19:14 PM PST

  •  Remind me again why I voted straight ticket (5+ / 0-)


    so to get a Republican as Secretary of Defense?

    Yeah, paint me as a huge sucker, maybe someday I'll learn better.

    •  re: Remind me again why I voted straight ticket (0+ / 0-)

      I guess it depends what you care about. Many of us voted for Obama because we want less war and more diplomacy. I care more about having a Secretary of Defense who will help us have less war and more diplomacy than I do about whether he had a D next to his name when he was in the Senate. That's Hagel. Hagel is the less war, more diplomacy candidate.

      •  Hagel, compared to whom? (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Roadbed Guy

        How about Joe Nye as SecDef?

        Or, to push back and re-set the goalposts, how about Dennis Kucinich? He's available.

        Some on the left would object to Colin Powell, after he misled the public about WMD in Iraq, but at least he endorsed Obama.

        How about Sam Nunn? Boll-Weevil, Yellow-Dog, but knows South, was Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and now head of the Nuclear Threat Initiative.


        Again, nice attempt at framing: "If you want less war you'll support a Republican SecDef." Yeah, right, that's worked so well in the past, every time.

        •  Dennis Kucinich? that's not serious (0+ / 0-)

          I love Dennis, but in a Washington context, that's a bad joke. Either you are not being serious, or you just don't have any idea about Washington dynamics at all.

          •  Why is it a 'bad' joke? (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Roadbed Guy

            I actually think it would be really funny, and I'd love to see Obama do it dead-pan. The right-wing is going to attack Obama non-stop for the next four years, no matter what. We may as well reset the playing field while we give them something to chew on. Of course Dennis couldn't get Senate approval, so Dems would then have to compromise on... another Democrat? Hagel, then?

            He's available.
            Did you detect just a little snark, there?

            Part of the problem is the "Washington context" and the "Washington dynamics". Maybe you're a little too embedded in the Beltway vapors?

            •  embedded in the Beltway vapors? (0+ / 0-)

              I live in Illinois. :)

              But, the point is, if you're talking about what you want Obama to do, it makes sense to speak in terms of what Obama might plausibly do. It's quite plausible that Obama would nominate Hagel, because the White House indicated that they wanted to do that. Not in ten million years will the White House contemplate nominating Dennis Kucinich or Barbara Lee.

              •  vapors are a state of mind (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                Roadbed Guy

                Again, you're missing the political point.

                Politics is not about guessing what some powerful person might plausibly do, and then supporting it. Politics is about shaping the political space (Overton Window) in which the decision-maker operates.

                Of course Obama won't appoint as SecDef Jerry Brown, Dennis Kucinich (I'm not his biggest fan, btw), or Bernie Sanders (that would be an interesting choice). And I doubt any of these three could get Senate confirmation -- although it would sure make for an interesting media circus. That doesn't mean you shouldn't push for one of them, if you believe he is the right choice. Your role is not that of crystal ball, nor are you trying to curry favor so you can get a political appointment yourself... oh, wait a moment, maybe you are one of those?

                Btw, most Dems who are mentioned as 'plausible candidates' would get confirmation, e.g.: Bob Kerrey, Bill Richardson, Jim Webb, Jack Reed, Sam Nunn, Wesley Clark, Joe Nye, quasi-Republican/Obama-endorser Colin Powell, etc. -- there's a host of lesser-known back-benchers.

  •  I don't have anything against Hagel, (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Roadbed Guy, Garrett, Sharon Wraight

    but, it is necessary, in my opinion, for a Democratic President to nominate a qualified Democrat for SecDef, if only to explode, once and for all, the myth of Republican steadfastness on defense.   For example, Wes Clark would make an excellent SecDef, as would others out there.  Why must we always appoint Republicans to this position?  When was the last time a Republican President appointed a Democrat as SecDef?

  •  What no suitable Democrats (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Roadbed Guy, Sharon Wraight

    elections should have consequences. This is too plum a position to give away.

  •  There are plenty of... (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Roadbed Guy, sandbox, Sharon Wraight

    ...qualified Democrats for the position, including the first ever female secretary of defense in Michele Flournoy.

    And it's not a bad idea to have someone who would have a better working relationship with our closest ally in the Middle East.

    I find it amazing how some so called progressives will support conservatives so long as they harbor some antipathy for Israel.

    If missiles were falling where my two daughters sleep, I would do everything in order to stop that. -- President Barack Obama

    by JPhurst on Thu Dec 20, 2012 at 01:30:39 PM PST

  •  Make him ATF head (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Sharon Wraight

    and put a Democrat in defense.

    States' rights? Corporate rights? Militia rights? Government rights? Hell no! Only individuals have rights. Proud lifelong human supremacist.

    by happymisanthropy on Thu Dec 20, 2012 at 02:07:35 PM PST

  •  Right now bipartisanship is a sucker's game (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Sharon Wraight

    Obama held onto Gates to assure the officer class that he was not some crazy surrender black dude.   Osama got killed. nuf said.  The President and his party should get a Secretary of Defense who shares all of the Democratic Party's core principles.  Chuck Hagel will not bring the President one more Republican vote for anything that he could possibly get without Chuck Hagel.

    Did the President not win an overwhelming victory in the 2008 and a convincing victory in 2012?  The default in the media should be that any of his picks are by default confirmable.

    It is funny how all the rules of politics are turned on their head when it comes to Democratic presidents particularly one with more melanin than most of our media, "think tank" and money elites.


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