Chuck Schumer — Hamlet no more

Chuck Schumer will support Chuck Hagel’s nomination for Secretary of Defense. With Schumer’s support, Hagel is likely to be confirmed. But then, as we have said, Schumer was always likely to support the nomination.

Schumer’s announcement follows a meeting with Hagel in which the nominee professed support for a series of pro-Israel positions including ones that are inconsistent with those he has taken in the past:

Schumer said that his support was sown up after Hagel — whom Obama formally nominated last week after a month of preparation — committed to several positions regarding Iran that met with Schumer’s preference. As a two-term senator, Hagel had been unique in positions calling for direct talks the Iranian regime and opposing unilateral sanctions by the United States against the renegade regime. In a very detailed statement, Schumer said Hagel left no doubt that he would support a very aggressive posture toward Tehran.

“Senator Hagel rejected a strategy of containment and expressed the need to keep all options on the table in confronting that country. But he didn’t stop there,” Schumer said. “In our conversation, Senator Hagel made a crystal-clear promise that he would do ‘whatever it takes’ to stop Tehran from obtaining nuclear weapons, including the use of military force. He said his “top priority” as secretary of defense would be the planning of military contingencies related to Iran.

Hagel also pledged to continue supporting the delivery of F-35 Joint Strike Fighters to Israel and in general supported Israel’s right to a strong “qualitative military edge,” as its leaders like to assert.

I could find no information as to whether Hagel asked Schumer if, in extracting these assurances, the New York Senator was acting on behalf of the “Jewish lobby” or serving as the Senator from Israel.

Hagel’s statements plainly represent a confirmation conversion. He fancies himself as the one politician in Washington willing to utter “the truth” about Israel in the face of the all-powerful pro-Israel lobby. But when push came to shove, Hagel did an about-face, saying whatever was necessary to satisfy his personal ambition.

Schumer is too smart to deny Hagel’s about-face. So he tried to dress it up as a response to changed conditions in the Middle East:

Senator Hagel realizes the situation in the Middle East has changed, with Israel in a dramatically more endangered position than it was even five years ago. His views are genuine, and reflect this new reality.

This is nonsense. The threat to Israel is essentially the same as it was five years ago — the threat posed by Iran’s quest to develop nuclear weapons. To be sure, Iran is closer now to developing nukes than it was five years ago. But everyone knew five years ago that Iran would be closer now. It’s as if a politician were to claim he’s changed his position on the need to buy snow ploughs because winter has arrived.

To my knowledge, Hagel never qualified his statement that the military option against Iran “is not a viable, feasible, responsible option” by adding that if Iran reaches a certain point, the military option would become viable, feasible, or reponsible. Schumer’s rationale doesn’t even rise to the level of a fig-leaf.

All that’s left is for Hagel — the tough guy, plain speaking iconoclast — to repeat his craven performance in public under questioning from the likes of John McCain. Presumably he’ll be able to remember his lines and hold his tongue. Either way, it should be an amusing spectacle.

But it won’t be amusing to watch Hagel try to administer the Pentagon — a task for which, as far as I can tell, he lacks both the skill and the intellectual fire power.

UPDATE: Hagel supporters may point to a Washington Post op-ed he co-signed with four others in September 2012 as evidence that Hagel had by then revised his views on military action towards Iran. Of course, by last September, Hagel was already angling for the Secretary of Defense job. In any event, as I argued here, the op-ed doesn’t really alter his longstanding opposition to the military option.


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