Hagel’s appointment would send another disturbing message to the bigots of Tehran, who believe that the only people calling for military action against Iran are “the Jews.” Hagel speaks their language. He is the only mainstream American politician to talk openly about how “the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people.” Others refer to the “Israel lobby,” which includes Jews, Christians, and others. They understand that not all supporters of Israel are Jewish, and that not all Jews are part of the Israel lobby. But Hagel apparently sees things in terms of Jewish interests versus American interests.

This is a delicate time for American policy with regard to Iran in particular and the Middle East in general. Syria, an ally of Iran, is on the verge of collapse. Egypt is in turmoil. Jordan is having difficulties. The Israel–Palestine peace process seems to be at a standstill. This is not the time to be sending the wrong message, or even a confusing message, to Iran and its surrogates by nominating a man who is widely seen as out of the American mainstream when it comes to support for Israel’s security.

Even if Hagel were to be nominated and then not confirmed by the Senate, the Iranians would get the wrong message. They would see the nomination as representing President Obama’s real views on the possible use of force against the Iranian nuclear program, and they would see the Senate’s negative vote as a reflection of the power of the “Jewish lobby” over the legislature.