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Imagining Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense

How the role of defense secretary is being defined

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Chuck Hagel(Getty)

The mere mention of former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel as a possible nominee for defense secretary has inspired massive wiggings out across the commentariat–first in criticisms of his spotty record on Israel and later (and slightly hysterically) about his alleged anti-Semitism. Others yet have written in defense of him as a veteran who served admirably in battle and as a public servant who has often broken with party orthodoxy.

As the response to the issue rumor of the nomination grows, the various questions about Hagel–here’s a smart, respectful set by David Ignatius–seems to want to define the way we look at the position of defense secretary. For the sake of argument, here’s one more.

Let’s imagine some of the potentially objectionable things that Hagel could do with regard to Israel as defense secretary in an administration that has proven itself to be both pretty pro-Israel in words and deeds and very aggressive in forming an international coalition to isolate and sanction Iran. (For those who need reminding here, it’s the president sets the policy.)

A short list:

1. Criticize or seek to hinder Israel’s arms deals with other countries.
2. Call Israel an ungrateful ally and even say that the United States benefits nothing from the relationship.
3. Publicly state his opposition to an Israeli attack on Iran.
4. Criticize Israel’s occupation of the West Bank.
5. Sell weapons to the Arab allies of the United States including Saudi Arabia.
6. Blame Israel for its own international isolation.
7. Oppose establishing red lines on Iran’s nuclear program.
8. Urge Israel to return to peace negotiations, giving it the appearance of being the intransigent party.

For many, myself included, this would be a pretty troubling order (with a light touch of some perhaps needed tough love). This list also represents the actions and statements undertaken or said by the last two Secretaries of Defense, Robert Gates and Leon Panetta. Despite these deeds, if either one of them were to stand in the running to be defense secretary again, I can’t say I’d object. After all, I think they both did a honorable job in executing their duties and in maintaining a cooperative security relationship between Israel and the United States. I also think both men also excelled at the task that matters most: keeping Americans safe.

I’m not saying Hagel is the right pick–it’s becoming pretty clear that he’s not–but I’m not sure that an American president should view a nominee for defense secretary with Israel as the absolute highest priority. The tenor of some of the commentary about Hagel seems to imply that President Obama should. That’s not a good thing.

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marcospolo3 says:

he has my vote, and i’m a liberal

marcospolo3 says:

when it comes to israel he is right ON!

Binyamin says:

Robert Gates was never a “general.” Prior to his becoming SecDef, he was Director, CIA.

politackler says:

About your short list of why you wouldn’t want Hagel to be Secretary of Defense, Adam, you list some things that Hagel (or anyone else) could POTENTIALLY do:

1. Criticize or seek to hinder Israel’s arms deals with other countries.

So you think Israel should be allowed to sell the state of the art military technology provided by US taxpayers to China, as Israel wanted to do?

2. Call Israel an ungrateful ally and even say that the United States benefits nothing from the relationship.

Glad you pointed out that ROBERT GATES, who was GW Bush’s Secretary of Defense before he was Obama’s, did some of the things on the list. This is one of them:

3. Publicly state his opposition to an Israeli attack on Iran.

Meir Dagan, the former head of Israel’s Mossad, has already done so publicly, as have numerous other Israeli leaders.

4. Criticize Israel’s occupation of the West Bank.

Ah! So you do admit it is an “occupation”!

5. Sell weapons to the Arab allies of the United States including Saudi Arabia.

Israel did not object to the recent sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia once it was assured that the weaponry would not be as advanced as the state of the art weaponry being provided to Israel.

6. Blame Israel for its own international isolation.

Are you saying Israel is internationally isolated? I thought that was Iran!

7. Oppose establishing red lines on Iran’s nuclear program.

Red lines are pointless unless there is agreement on where they should be drawn and how to respond if they are crossed.

8. Urge Israel to return to peace negotiations, giving it the appearance of being the intransigent party.

OMG! He wants Israel to return to peace negotiations! (I think you are confusing the Secretary of State’s job with that of the Secretary of Defense.)

BTW, U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz
cautioned President Reagan’s National Security adviser Robert McFarlane
that “Israel’s agenda regarding Iran ‘is not the same as ours’ and that
relying on Israeli intelligence concerning Iran ‘could seriously skew
our own perception.’”

Nonetheless, the neoconservatives who are screaming about the threat Hagel would pose to Israel LOVE Reagan. How do you explain that?

Jacob Arnon says:

All the typical Jew haters are for Hagel.

This is the main reason Obama will nominate him.

Jacob Arnon says:

Are you Marco? So why do you sound like a Jew hater.

Jacob Arnon says:

Excellent the echt Jew hater Binyamin so called is for Hagel. Normally he hates Republicans but in Hagel’s case he will endorse a fellow anitsemite.

Ethan grangaard says:

kraut, oops sorry sausage eater

Adam_Chandler says:

That list contains many of the things that supporters of Israel were upset about viz. the last two defense secretaries. You’re confusing my listing them with wholesale endorsement or rejection of them. The whole point is that Israel shouldnt be the prism through which Hagel should be solely judged. But props for knowing what you know.

Adam_Chandler says:

Nice catch. My mistake.

Adam_Chandler says:

Jacob, why don’t we take it down a notch with the name calling.

marcospolo3 says:

i like jews; is Zionists i cant stand.
Is like ” i like country music, is rednecks i cant stand”

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Imagining Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense

How the role of defense secretary is being defined

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