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Chuck Hagel and the malignant neglect of Israel

Chuck Hagel is now thought to be the front-runner for Secretary of Defense. He would be an extremely poor choice. For one thing, he is overly averse to sending U.S. forces into harm’s way. Skepticism about doing so is healthy, of course. But Hagel’s overreaction to the Iraq war seems to have made him so reluctant to support the deployment of troops to battle that his job performance might well be affected. We need a Secretary of Defense made wise by experience, not scarred by it.

Moreover, Hagel is terrible on issues relating to Israel. As Eli Lake reports:

Hagel’s real opposition will likely come from the pro-Israel lobby in Washington. While the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) never takes formal positions on nominees, if the group is asked by senators for its view on Hagel, it’s unlikely AIPAC will have a kind word. A senior pro-Israel advocate in Washington told The Daily Beast on Thursday, “The pro-Israel community will view the nomination of Senator Chuck Hagel in an extremely negative light. His record is unique in its animus towards Israel.”

This is no overstatement. Consider that, as a Senator, Hagel voted against designating the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization, refused to call on the E.U. to designate Hezbollah a terrorist group, and consistently voted against sanctions on Iran for their illicit pursuit of nuclear weapons capability. Thus, as Josh Block, head of the Israel Project, says, “It is a matter of fact that [Hegal's] record on these issues puts him well outside the mainstream Democratic and Republican consensus.”

Hagel’s anti-Israel animus has been too much even for Democrats who defend Obama’s Israel record to stomach. Ira Forman, who was in charge of the Obama reelection campaign’s outreach to Jewish voters, said in 2009, after Hagel was named co-chairman of the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, that he would have opposed Hagel’s nomination for a more substantive position.

If Obama nominates Hagel for the quintessentially substantive job of Secretary of Defense, will that make Forman a useful idiot?

Lake also notes that, in addition to being a reliable “no” vote on sanctions against Iran, Hagel also serves on the board of directors of Deutsche Bank, which is reportedly being probed by U.S. authorities for possible violations of the very kinds of sanctions Hagel opposed when he was in Congress.

If Obama nominates Hagel, will that make Jews who worry about Iran but voted for Obama useful idiots?

Hagel isn’t just soft on Iran and Hezbollah; he’s also soft on Hamas. In 2009, he signed onto a letter from the U.S. Middle East Project that urged Obama to begin talks with Hamas, a U.S. designated terrorist group, in an effort to revive the peace process.

It cannot plausibly be argued that Hagel’s pro-Hamas stance is based solely on a pragmatic recognition that Hamas has supplanted the PA as the “main game in town” when it comes to the “peace process.” Like his positions on Iran and Hezbollah, Hagel’s stance on Hamas stems from animus towards Israel. Indeed, the Atlantic Council, chaired by Hagel, has today published a column called “Israel’s Apartheid Policy.”

During the presidential campaign, Team Obama fended off accurate charges that the president has tilted away from Israel by arguing, accurately, that military cooperation between the U.S. and Israel has, if anything, been strengthened since Obama took office. But under a Hagel Defense Department, it is doubtful that such strong, seamless cooperation would continue. It is also doubtful that Israel could count on the active assistance of the U.S. in a military crisis.

Peter Beinart claims that Obama’s second term policy towards Israel will be characterized by “benign neglect.” With Hagel at the Pentagon, the neglect, if any, will probably be malignant.

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