Chuck Hagel is a decorated Vietnam War veteran. He's a former Republican two term Senator from Nebraska. He has close ties with President Obama and Vice President Biden. He's generally considered to be the President's first choice to be the next Secretary of Defense.
Like many who have seen combat, he is reluctant to advocate the use of force absent a compelling national interest. His governing philosophy dealing with foreign adversaries seems close to that expressed by former Secretary of State James Baker … "Talk to everybody. Force is always a last resort."
Hagel has never been shy about expressing his disdain for those who did all in their power to avoid military service, but are eager to advocate military engagements for others to fight. His penchant for speaking bluntly and sometimes politically incorrectly is causing at least two interest groups to voice opposition to his nomination.
THE LGBT COMMUNITY
While Hagel was in the Senate, he supported Don't Ask Don't Tell, which banned gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military. He also opposed the nomination of an openly gay ambassador, stating that being "openly, aggressively gay" would inhibit the nominee's role in representing the US in a foreign post. Hagel made these comments 15 years ago and, as President Obama has noted, has since apologized for them. It's safe to say that Hagel is not the only 66 year old guy in Washington whose views on LGBT issues have evolved in the last 15 years.
There are, no doubt, pockets of opposition to a Hagel nomination in the LGBT community. That opposition has not yet reached a level of intensity where it, by itself, is likely to derail or defeat a Hagel nomination.
THE RIGHT WING OF THE ISRAEL LOBBY (RWIL)
First, there is an Israel Lobby. Second, it is not a monolith. Third, the RWIL is pulling the center of the Israel support community to the right.
The problems the RWIL have with Hagel go to style and substance.
Stylistically, Hagel has used language describing the Israel Lobby as "the Jewish Lobby" when, in fact, many of the most fervent supporters of Israel are right-wing fundamentalist Protestant preachers in the mold of Rev. John Hagee and the late Jerry Falwell.
Substantively, Hagel believes in talking to adversaries and that force is always a last resort. The RWIL is more interested in isolating adversaries, building walls, expanding settlements, and executing preemptive strikes on adversaries … real, potential, and imagined.
They think and act like everybody is against them. Eventually, they'll probably be right.
The RWIL expresses itself on the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal, in Commentary Magazine, in Bill Kristol's weekly standard, and in Sheldon Adelson's Israel Hayom. The defacto chairman of the board of the RWIL is Sheldon Adelson.
In the past, Mr. Adelson was a strong supporter of the American Israel Political Action Committee (AIPAC), including funding its building in Washington. In 2007, Adelson broke with AIPAC over positions he thought were too accommodating to Palestinians, stating, "I don't continue to support organizations that help friends commit suicide."
Subsequent to 2007, Mr. Adelson increased his funding of hard-right Israel advocacy groups, became more active in contributing to candidates who share his views on US-Israeli relations, and started his own newspaper in Israel (Israel Hayom) that provides space for a number of US Neo-Cons, espousing his right-wing views, gives consistent support to Bibi Netanyahu, nonstop hostility to Barack Obama, and outspoken opposition to Chuck Hagel as a nominee for Secretary of Defense.
One would be hard pressed to identify a single non-elected individual in the 64 year history of Israel who has simultaneously exerted as much political influence in the United States and Israel as Sheldon Adelson.
With 25 billion dollars in his wallet and a demonstrated willingness to spend it, Mr. Adelson expects to get his way.
PATH FORWARD FOR CHUCK HAGEL
While Chuck Hagel is not without friends, he needs more. J Street, the more liberal counterpart to AIPAC, supports him as do a number of former National Security Advisors and former Ambassadors to Israel.
Commentator Tom Friedman of the New York Times, Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic, Aaron David Miller of Foreign Policy, and Peter Beinart of The Daily Beast are all well-known, widely read and generally well respected in the Jewish community. All have been supportive of Hagel.
There is, however, one person who has not been heard from. Barack Obama.
Hello, Mr. President. Did you learn nothing from the Susan Rice fiasco? You let her twist in the wind so Lindsey Graham and John McCain could beat up on her. Are you going to give Sheldon Adelson and Bibi Netanyahu veto power over your cabinet appointments?
If you want Hagel, nominate him. Sooner, not later. Then get in the foxhole with him and fight for his confirmation like a President of the United States should.
People are starting to talk.
I will post again on Wednesday, February 6, 2013 and, for the time being, I will post on the first Wednesday of each month.
Comments are welcome at tomc[at]wednesdayswars[dot]com. Name and town if you wish to opine. Comments will be addressed in subsequent posts.