CON: Should Chuck Hagel become secretary of defense?

Even in the fractious environment that is Washington, DC, Democrats and Republicans have for more than a decade joined together in the belief that Chuck Hagel’s views on the Middle East are beyond the pale.
January 9, 2013

Even in the fractious environment that is Washington, DC, Democrats and Republicans have for more than a decade joined together in the belief that Chuck Hagel’s views on the Middle East are beyond the pale.  The National Jewish Democratic Council once noted that Hagel “has a lot of questions to answer about his commitment to Israel” while the Republican Jewish Coalition called Senator Hagel, Republican of Nebraska, “one of the most anti-Israel senators.”  And while one might facetiously applaud Chuck Hagel’s bringing the two parties together, albeit in mutual concern, there is nothing to applaud about President Obama’s nomination of Chuck Hagel to the position of Secretary of Defense.

As Secretary of Defense, Hagel would be a key player in the making of national security and military policy.  Nowhere is the making of this policy more important than the Middle East, our most pressing strategic challenge today.  Yet Hagel’s record is one that demonstrates hostility to our allies and sympathy for our adversaries, most clearly evidenced by comments made on a visit to the region in 1998, when Hagel accusing Israel of “having stopped the [Oslo] process” while defending Palestinian terrorists as “desperate men do[ing] desperate things…that’s where the Palestinians are today.”

Sadly, this demonstrated ideology of appeasement spans Chuck Hagel’s career:

In 2001, he was one of just two Senators to vote against the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act, designed to “deny Iran and Libya money that they would spend on supporting terror or acquiring [nuclear] weapons.”

In 2002, the National Review noted that “Pro-Israeli groups view him almost uniformly as a problem” as Hagel was one of just 10 nay votes on a bill to ban the import of Iraqi oil until Iraq stopped payments to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers.

In 2005, Hagel refused to sign a letter calling for the Palestinian Authority to ban terrorist groups from participating in legislative elections.

In 2006, Hagel ruled out any military option with respect Iran’s nuclear facilities as “not a viable, feasible, responsible option.”

In 2007, he refused to sign a letter asking the European Union to declare Hezbollah a terrorist organization. 

In 2009, he sent a letter to President Obama endorsing a “pragmatic” approach toward Hamas.

Perhaps most troubling, after penning a letter calling on the United States to pursue “direct, unconditional, and comprehensive talks with the Government of Iran”, according to congressional aides Chuck Hagel was “solely responsible” for blocking Senate legislation that would classify the Iranian Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist organization in 2008. Hagel’s refusal to acknowledge the Revolutionary Guards as the storm troopers of the radical mullahs in Tehran is a particularly disturbing example of his near-sighted and naïve view of the planet’s most dangerous neighborhood.

One need not wonder why then, in 2013, while Iran’s Foreign Ministry applauded the Hagel nomination, Israel’s Knesset Speaker expressed worry.  As Secretary of Defense, Hagel’s appeasement philosophy would provide the President with the worst possible advice on how to protect and advance our interests, as well as those of our allies, in the Middle East.

Worse yet, Hagel’s poor policy judgment extends to poor personal judgment as well.  He has in the past opposed a diplomatic nominee because he was “openly, aggressively gay” and charged that the “Jewish lobby” — not the pro-Israel lobby, but the Jewish lobby – “intimidates a lot of people” while offering the gratuitous reminder that “I take an oath of office to the Constitution of the United States…not to Israel.”  In making such statements, Hagel raises the old saw that strong supporters of Israel, including Jews, are guilty of “dual loyalties.”  Indeed, the Simon Wiesenthal Center this week described those comments as “hateful” and made clear any implication of dual loyalties “crosses the line.” 

The Constitution provides that the President “may require the Opinion…of the principal Officer in each of the executive Departments, upon any Subject relating to the Duties of their respective Offices.”  The Constitution is therefore clear in holding that the most important role of a Cabinet officer, like a Secretary of Defense, is the exercise of his or her judgment.

We believe that Chuck Hagel’s judgment on matters of great moment, from Israel to Iran to religious tolerance to sexual orientation — as Defense Secretary, will he adequately enforce the right of gays and lesbians to openly serve in the armed forces? — would imperil our national security and military posture.  We regret that Senator Dianne Feinstein has already announced her support for Hagel’s nomination but call on California’s other distinguished Senator, Barbara Boxer, and her colleagues to exercise their Constitutional prerogative to withhold their consent to the Hagel nomination.  

We further call on Democrats and Republicans alike to exercise their Constitutional prerogative to petition their government and register individual opposition to the Hagel nomination by contacting senators via the U.S. Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121.  Together we, Democrats and Republicans both, can renew the bipartisan consensus that his existed for so long: that Chuck Hagel’s worldview has no place in either of our political parties.  

Bruce J. Einhorn is a retired federal judge, a professor of law at Pepperdine University, a Democratic Party activist, and an advisor to the 2008 Obama Presidential Transition Team. 

Arie Lipnick is the California Regional Director of the Republican Jewish Coalition – learn more at www.RJCHQ.org.

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