Hagel: I’ve shown “unequivocal, total support for Israel”; Update: AIPAC standing down?
posted at 6:01 pm on January 7, 2013 by Allahpundit
Yeah, listen. If we’re going to confirm this guy, let’s please confirm him without sugarcoating his record.
Chuck Hagel said Monday an accurate assessment of his record will demonstrate “unequivocal, total support for Israel” and endorsement of tough international economic sanctions against Iran…
[T]he fact is that there is “not one shred of evidence that I’m anti-Israeli, not one (Senate) vote that matters that hurt Israel.”…
Critics have hammered Hagel for not joining most of his Senate colleagues in signing on to a number of policy pronouncements that sometimes were sought by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the influential pro-Israel lobbying organization in Washington.
“How does that further the peace process in the Middle East?” Hagel asked. “What’s in Israel’s interest is to help Israel and the Palestinians find some peaceful way to live together.”
There’s not one shred of evidence that he’s anti-Israel? Go read Alana Goodman’s post at Commentary quoting extensively from a 2007 critique of Hagel on Israel published by — ta da — the National Jewish Democratic Council. He’s a “bipartisan pick” insofar as both Republicans and Democrats have raised eyebrows at him over this subject for years. But for the White House, that’s a feature, not a bug: Half the reason that liberals are rallying behind him is that he hasn’t shown unequivocal support for Israel. The left is willing to overlook the fact that he’s a Republican precisely because his elevation to SecDef would help move opposition to Israel further into the political mainstream. (Turns out people who say things like “Let the Jews pay for it” are Israel’s “true friends,” you see.) The other half of the reason is that after four years of shrugging at Obama’s Bush-like counterterror policies, replete with scores of drone strikes across the world and military action in Libya unsanctioned by the War Powers Act, the left thinks it can regain some of its anti-war brand by pushing Hagel through at the Pentagon. Never mind that he voted to invade Iraq, like so many of the Wise Men and Women who populate Obama’s cabinet; never mind that his position on the surge was both wrong and embarrassingly grandstand-ish. Nominating him is Obama’s way of reclaiming his own, and the wider left’s, dovish cred on the cheap.
The point here is that almost nothing about the battle over Hagel has to do with his actual qualifications. Will he be an effective manager of an enormous bureaucracy at a moment when it’s facing budget cuts? Will he demonstrate the same keen foreign-policy insight as SecDef that he did as a senator when he greenlit the Iraq war and then railed against the surge? Dunno. Doesn’t seem to matter. I don’t think I’ve seen a single piece online making the case that Hagel would be better on the merits than Michele Flournoy or Ashton Carter or any of the other shortlisters. Given his lack of Pentagon experience, he might be considerably worse. But who cares? His nomination fight will be a political proxy war, which is loads more fun than having the best possible person fill the most important cabinet position at a critical moment, and it’ll let President Buckpasser share responsibility with a nominal Republican if things go sideways on foreign policy (especially post-withdrawal Afghanistan) in his second term. Although, given O’s interventionist tendencies, I wonder if that might backfire on the left: Philip Klein thinks nominating Hagel is O’s way of signaling to Iran that there’ll be no bombing over the next four years, but I’m less sure. He might also be a political insurance policy in case things do come to that, someone at whom Obama can point and say, “Even my dovish, anti-interventionist, Israel-critic defense secretary thought a military strike was a good idea.” The One hates taking blame; even on Benghazi, he waited until Hillary admitted culpability before doing so himself. Having Hagel around at the Pentagon will be useful cover to him if/when the no-fly zone over Damascus comes or we start ramping up drone strikes in Mali or wherever his next target is.
Update: I’m increasingly convinced Hagel will be confirmed relatively easily, and this is one reason why:
“Staffers and members are trying to find out what AIPAC thinks of Hagel and we are not getting anything,” one Senate Republican staff member said. Another Senate staff member said, “AIPAC will be sitting this one out.”…
The group’s apparent neutrality on Hagel is likely a big relief to the White House. On Sunday, senior White House staffers began reaching out to prominent members of the Jewish community to address concerns about Hagel. On Monday, White House chief of staff Jack Lew called AIPAC executive director Howard Kohr to discuss the Hagel nomination, according to administration officials…
AIPAC is not the only pro-Israel group holding its fire. Foxman, of the Anti-Defamation League, backed away from the tone of earlier comments, saying Monday that “Senator Hagel would not have been my first choice, but I respect the President’s prerogative.”
Jeffrey Goldberg saw that coming this morning. Obama’s heavily invested in getting Hagel through — more so than he was with Susan Rice, which is bizarre — and if AIPAC goes to the mat on this they’ll spend the rest of his term at war with the White House. Which might not be so bad if they thought they could torpedo his nomination, but the odds seem slim. Josh Marshall is unfortunately right that Democrats don’t want to blow up O’s first big post-reelection appointment, and while there’s been critical noise for Hagel from the GOP, there’s no guarantee that the entire caucus would vote against him. Six Democrats would have to cross Obama to kill the nomination even if the Republicans vote unanimously; if just four GOPers vote yes (Paul? Murkowski? Lee?), suddenly you need double-digit Democratic defections to block Hagel. How likely is that when AIPAC and the ADL are backing off, people like Tom Ridge are coming forward to endorse him, and wayward Democrats like Barney Frank are being brought back into the fold? Not very.