As of February 18, 2013, the Dublin based betting site, Intrade, has Chuck Hagel as a 95% favorite to be confirmed as US Secretary of Defense. I support Hagel and would hope his chances are that good, but I would put them at closer to 75%.
Let's look at the parties and issues in this confirmation drama.
The Nominee. Chuck Hagel was born in Nebraska, and spent two terms as a Republican United States Senator from that state. He is a highly decorated Vietnam War veteran. He worked in the Reagan campaign in 1980, and was appointed by Reagan as Deputy Administrator of the Veteran's Administration. While in the Senate, Hagel served on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, along with Senator Barack Obama. They traveled together to Afghanistan, Iraq, and Russia. They got on well, and found they had similar worldviews. Having seen war, Hagel was and is a strong believer that you talk to your adversaries, and that force is always a last resort.
The Opposition. Sheldon Adelson has a net worth of around $25 billion. In the 2012 election cycle, he spent $150 million supporting Republican right wing candidates, and has indicated that he is willing to spend $300 million in the 2016 election cycle. Adelson's spending in the political arena dwarfs that of any other individual in US history. Mr. Adelson owns a newspaper in Israel, Israel Hayom, that gives consistent support to Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, dismissive contempt for President Obama and, for the last two months, non stop opposition to Chuck Hagel. Those who have been in his presence report that he "loathes" President Obama.
Adelson split with AIPAC, a more centrist Israel support organization, back in 2007, over the Palestinian issue. Adelson does not favor a two state solution. As far back as 2008, he has voiced approval of political figures who want to bomb Iran, and contempt for those who don't. If Sheldon Adelson put his wallet back in his pocket, the effective opposition to Chuck Hagel would evaporate in a heartbeat.
Hagel's Supporters. Hagel's two biggest supporters are Barack Obama and Joe Biden, both of whom served with Hagel when they were in the Senate. They like him, value his judgment, and want him on the team. They will not quit on him. He has the support of all 55 Senate Democrats and 2 Republicans. His nomination failed to advance on February 14, when Senate Democrats were unable to achieve the 60 votes necessary to break a Republican filibuster, and get an up or down vote.
The Issues. Does Hagel love Israel enough, and is he too reluctant to support a "preemptive" war with Iran? When in the Senate, Hagel supported all aid to Israel bills that came before him. He has stated unequivocally that he supports the President's position that Iran must be prevented from obtaining a nuclear weapon. He is, by nature, a blunt man who has short patience for those who did everything in their power to avoid military service but are hell-bent to send others off to unnecessary and unwinnable wars. For that reason, there is an element of "score settling" amongst those whom Hagel may have treated brusquely in the past.
Unintended Consequences. Some of the tactics and personalities involved in the opposition to Hagel have caused a backlash in his favor. The far right wing echo chamber has tried and failed to create momentum against his nomination. The Senator who took the lead role in opposition to Hagel at the hearings, Ted Cruz of Texas, was so creepy and obnoxious that he's become radioactive even in his own party.
Where is Rachel? What is necessary to push Hagel across the finish line is an effective TV advocate to swat away the most ridiculous attack lines and open up a little bit of a window into Sheldon Adelson. Nobody can do this better than Rachel Maddow. She annoys the heck out of me sometimes, but she is the best at handling a reasonably complicated story and making sense out of it while advocating a left-of-center point of view. Like the President, Hagel is slightly left-of-center on foreign and defense policy. He needs and deserves more public support in the next eight days.
Path Forward. The Senate will meet next on February 26 to take up Hagel's nomination. Between now and then, there will be an exhaustive effort to find something … anything … in Hagel's background that can be twisted, distorted, and/or taken out of context to justify further delay of an up or down vote. The opposition is, obviously, well financed. Expect the worst.
Bottom Line. What is at play in the Hagel nomination battle is unique in American history. You have a man, Sheldon Adelson, an American, who was instrumental in getting Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu elected Prime Minister of Israel for the first time in 1996, and the second time in 2009, and who continues to sustain and support Netanyahu through his widely circulated newspaper, Israel Hayom. At the same time that Adelson is giving support and assistance to the Prime Minister of Israel, he is doing all in his power to undermine the President of his own country, the United States.
Is that illegal? No. Is it unusual? Extremely. Is it worth having somebody with a big megaphone, like a TV show, advising the public that the situation exists? Absolutely. Is there career risk in getting too involved on the wrong side of Mr. Adelson? I don't know. I don't have a career. Ask Rachel.
This is a special post. I will post again on Wednesday, March 6, 2013 (or before, if the news flow dictates) 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.