(MintPress) – The blogosphere and op-ed sections from across the political spectrum have been abuzz with talk of the potential nomination of two-time former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) to be Obama’s next secretary of defense. The outspoken Hagel is being targeted by an eclectic mix of varying political forces for his America-first stance on Israel, Iran and other contentious foreign policy issues.
Hagel’s nomination was initially leaked by Bloomberg, which revealed that Hagel had already discussed the position with Obama, though little fanfare surrounded the nomination in its early days. It wasn’t until pro-Israel advocates began to weigh in on Hagel’s potential nomination that the proverbial political shitstorm ensued.
It began with interviews and statement’s from AIPAC officials. Although the statements were unofficial, as the organization tends to flex political muscle through implied action, it was sufficient to bring about an onslaught of political attacks from those eager to demonstrate that Hagel wasn’t just bad for Israel, but bad for America.
A gay Republican group, Log Cabin Republicans, paid for a full page ad in last Thursday’s New York Times, urging Obama to reconsider his nomination of Hagel, claiming he was homophobic for a statement he made 14 years ago in which he called President Clinton’s choice for ambassador to Luxembourg, James Hormel, “openly aggressively gay.”
Hagel later issued an apology for the statement, adding, “My comments 14 years ago in 1998 were insensitive. They do not reflect my views or the totality of my public record, and I apologize to Ambassador Hormel and any LGBT Americans who may question my commitment to their civil rights. I am fully supportive of ‘open service’ and committed to LGBT military families.” Of course the ad closes with the standard lockstep Republican policy, reading: Chuck Hagel: “Wrong on gay rights, wrong on Iran, wrong on Israel.”
The aforementioned ad also states, “Help us create a stronger and more inclusive Republican Party,” a short sighted and maliciously dishonest statement considering many mainstream Jewish leaders, including Dianne Feinstein, Carl Levin and even the often hawkish Abe Foxman of the Anti Defamation league, have expressed support for Hagel. Foxman did add, as is par for the course for those who oppose unwavering support for Israel, that some of Hagel’s comments did border on anti-Semitism.
The comments Foxman was referring to stem from a 2006 interview about the pro-Israel lobby, in which Hagel refers to the loose conglomeration of pro Israel groups as a “Jewsih lobby” that “intimidates a lot of people.” Of course many in the beltway tacitly acknowledge the disproportionately large influence of Israel-first advocates, but for a long standing senator to openly acknowledge this is tantamount to political heathenry in Washington.
It’s not just the aforementioned statements that are drawing the ire of the far right. Hagel has always been openly “America first” in his politics. In fact, much of the disdain on display for Hagel stems from the threat he poses to the U.S. foreign policy status quo. This is seen especially when it comes to his support for a more nuanced and dovish approach to resolving the Iran nuclear issue, which the Iranian government has repeatedly stated is solely for the production of energy. Hagel has voted consistently against harsher sanctions on Iran, advocating for dialogue and pushing to keep America out of another quagmire in the Middle East, which it can ill-afford, and which most Americans oppose.
The threat of Hagel derailing what amounts to years of lobbying, pressure and a media dog and pony show to convince America to gear up for battle on Israel’s behalf, is one that hawkish neo-conservatives are not going to take sitting down. Emboldened by a combination of the successful derailing of Susan Rice as Obama’s first choice for secretary of state and the very loud silence that the administration has displayed thus far on defending Hagel, the former senator and winner of two purple hearts faces a lonely uphill battle.
There have been a few voices brave enough to muster support for the embattled Hagel. Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of J-Street, which advocates for a more balanced hand in the U.S.-Israeli relationship, has come out in strong defense of Hagel’s nomination. Stating,
“He’s one of the most experienced and knowledgeable people in American policy today when it comes to national security matters, and I think the president would be very well-served by a veteran with a deep grasp of both the potential and the limitations of military power.
“The notion that Chuck Hagel is anti-Israel is ludicrous. The notion that he is anti-Semitic is slanderous. He may have used one poor choice of words, but that doesn’t make someone subject to these labels.”
Hagel’s policies are unarguably contentious. He opposed the war in Iraq, he openly advocates for a more balanced approach to resolving the Israel-Palestine conflict, he is an outspoken supporter of veterans rights, he represents a real sea change in American foreign policy and a threat to the well entrenched forces that have, in the past decade, led us into multiple wars, emptied our coffers and have done irreparable damage to our civil liberties.
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