by Annette van de Kamp-Wright
Editor of the Jewish Press
So, Hagel it is. We no longer have to wonder: is he, or isn’t he; as of last Sunday, Chuck Hagel’s appointment as secretary of defense in Obama’s cabinet is a done deal. At least, it appears that way. As has become the custom with any pending appointment, everyone has an opinion. Many, both within and outside of Washington, are not brimming over with enthusiasm.
Why? First of all, there are those Republican Party members who bear a bit of a grudge against Hagel — in spite of his conservative voting record during his time in the senate; he supported Barack Obama in ’08, and voted against both the surge in Iraq and the one in Afghanistan. He supports (oh my) cuts in defense spending. He publicly questioned President George Bush in 2002 regarding Saddam Hussein’s alleged weapons of mass destruction. A Vietnam veteran, he considers war a measure of last resort. His approach is a decidedly un-hawkish one, and it worries many on the right, especially against the backdrop of Iran’s nuclear aspirations.
Then there is the Israel issue. Of course, the question “is it good for Israel” is a relevant one, particularly when you are talking about the U.S. Secretary of Defense. But we are currently hearing so much noise about what exactly that position is, it is becoming almost impossible to maintain objectivity.
The Republican Jewish Coalition issued a statement denouncing the pick as a “slap in the face.” Matt Brooks, the coalition’s executive director, said:
“Chuck Hagel’s statements and actions regarding Israel have raised serious concerns for many Americans who care about Israel. The Jewish community, and every American who supports a strong U.S. – Israel relationship have cause for alarm.” (Source: Omaha World Herald)
South Carolina senator Lindsey Graham described it as an “in-your-face nomination,” and said Hagel would be the most antagonistic secretary of defense towards the State of Israel in our nation’s history.
Mitch McConnell concurred: “His views with regard to Israel and Iran and all the other positions that he’s taken over the years will be very much a matter of discussion in the confirmation process.” (Telegraph.com)
It gets worse: the Weekly Standard’s William Kristol calls Hagel “out on the fringe,” and writes “to have blocked Rice and then roll over for Hagel would be a disgrace.” According to him, “Republicans have an obligation to embrace their role as Obama’s antithesis, and to block him.”
All this adds up to an unhealthy discussion.
“The former senator and prospective Secretary of Defense,” Chemi Shalev writes in Haaretz, “is the victim of a vile campaign of vilification, which, one suspects, is really aimed at Barack Obama.”
The fact remains that in the past, Hagel has been cautious as well as clumsy. His statements about the Jewish Lobby in Washington “intimidating” people will haunt him for many years. Hagel voted against certain Iran sanctions; he is in favor of diplomacy, and does not want to “bomb, bomb, bomb” Iran. In 2008, when questioned, he stated: “I am not an Israeli senator. I am a U.S. senator.” Although that statement itself says nothing about whether Hagel is pro – or anti Israel, it was and continues to be enough for many to call him an anti-Semite.
In case you’re wondering what I really think of Chuck Hagel: I don’t know. And to be honest, I’m comfortable with that. It’s fine, sitting back and waiting for what comes next. Sometimes, when we watch politics, we think we know all the answers. We treat the issues at hand as if we live in black and white. Are you for or against? Do you love it or hate it? Is this the end of the world, or the best thing that ever happened?
How about neither?
Let’s stop this hysterical behavior, and bring back the grey scale. Let’s wait and see, and give the man a chance. For goodness’ sake, it’s not as if Obama is appointing David Duke. Besides, I think we can trust that Hagel won’t go rogue; he will represent the Obama administration and its current policies towards the Middle East. If those policies change, and we suddenly find there’s tangibly less U.S. support for Israel, there will be plenty of opportunity to scream then. Right now, we should all calm down and just breathe.