VPR208 INTRO : President Barack Obama’s nomination of former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel to be secretary of defense, will face stiff opposition in his upcoming senate confirmation hearings. This morning commentator and veteran ABC News diplomatic correspondent Barrie Dunsmore examines the reasons behind that opposition.
TEXT: Weeks before Chuck Hagel was announced as President Obama’s choice to run the Pentagon, a campaign against Hagel was launched by neoconservatives led by William Kristol, editor of the conservative Weekly Standard magazine. Kristol is not just any neoconservative. His father was known as the godfather of the movement of intellectuals who were once part of America’s far left- who in the 1960’s began flipping to the far right over their disenchantment with American liberalism. Irving Kristol used to joke that a neo-conservative was “a liberal who had been mugged by reality.”
One feature of neoconservatism is that it advocates an aggressive, hard line foreign policy. Another, is that it is strongly pro-Israel and historically has had close ties with Israel’s current Israeli prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Those two policy goals came together when neocons in George W. Bush’s administration pressed for the invasion of Iraq. They wanted to show the world that with the end of the Cold War America was The Top Dog and would not hesitate to use force to protect or advance its interests. And the over-throw of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein would make the neighborhood safer for Israel.
The opening shots of the campaign against Hagel were that he was not supportive of Israel. This past week Elliot Abrams, a noted neocon in the Reagan and Bush Administrations, went so far as openly calling Hagel an anti Semite. Abrams cited remarks Hagel once made, critical of the scare tactics of the “Jewish lobby” in Washington. Hagel now admits he should have said Israeli lobby because Christians, especially many Evangelicals, are also strongly pro Israel.
But the insidious suggestions that Hagel is an anti-Semite have been strongly challenged by a wide range of prominent American Jews. As Carl Bernstein of Watergate fame put it this week, being critical of the current hard-line Israeli government, doesn’t make one an anti Semite. Bernstein added that many American Jews, not to mention numerous Israelis, are unhappy with that government.
Actually, earlier this week two top officials from the current Israeli government praised Hagel for his record of strong support for Israel.
So what is going on here?
As a twice wounded and decorated Vietnam vet, Hagel believes that war must be an absolute last resort. He has been very cautious on the subject of a possible Israeli and/or American attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. The neoconservatives apparently fear that if Hagel is secretary of defense, he could become a roadblock to the use of force to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power. They worry that he will encourage the president to allow the Iranians to drag out negotiations that might eventually involve American concessions that neither the neocons nor Netanyahu will find acceptable. Perhaps.
But I believe most Americans, including most American Jews, would find a negotiated outcome in Iran far more preferable than another Mid East War- a war most likely to be even more costly than Iraq and Afghanistan combined.
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