Why Israel-Bashers Love Hagel
Jonathan S. Tobin
With President Obama still letting Chuck Hagel’s putative nomination as Secretary of Defense hang in the wind, it’s not clear whether the former Nebraska senator’s stock is up or down. But so long as he remains in the running, critics of Israel are going to keep doing everything they can to keep his name in play. Today’s column on Hagel by the New York Times’s Thomas Friedman cuts to the heart of their motivation.
As far as Friedman is concerned, Hagel has two qualifications for high office: his distaste for Israel and a willingness to make nice with Iran and Hamas. That makes sense to those who share his distaste for the bipartisan support for the U.S.-Israel alliance that prevents the Obama administration (egged on by kibitzers like Friedman) from pressuring the Jewish state to make pointless concessions that undermine its security. It also fits in with the desire of those who want a nuclear Iran to be contained or accommodated rather than forestalled and for the U.S. to embrace Hamas the way it has the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt. But these are good reasons why Hagel’s views — which Friedman rightly characterizes as out of the mainstream — ought to disqualify him from leading the Pentagon.
Friedman thinks its “disgusting” that many friends of Israel hold it against Hagel that he attacked what he called the “Jewish lobby” in language that resonated with specious charges of dual loyalty that rightly bring to mind anti-Semitism. It’s hardly surprising that Friedman would think calling Hagel to account for this is a “smear” since he has been guilty of the same tactic in his quest to delegitimize those Americans who oppose his stands on Israel.
Just a little more than a year ago, Friedman disgraced himself in a column where he used the same meme made popular by Israel Lobby authors Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer when he said the only reason that Congress cheered Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s defiance of President Obama was because they were “bought and paid for by the Israel Lobby.” As I wrote at the time:
The notion that the only reason politicians support Israel is because of Jewish money is a central myth of a new form of anti-Semitism which masquerades as a defense of American foreign policy against the depredations of a venal Israel lobby. This canard not only feeds off of the traditional themes of Jew-hatred, it also requires Friedman to ignore the deep roots of American backing for Zionism in our history and culture.
Though Friedman tried to backtrack a bit from this scandalous canard, his explicit support for Hagel’s use of the same charge shows that he is an unrepentant support of the pernicious Walt-Mearsheimer thesis.
But there is more to Friedman’s support of Hagel than his desire to see a secretary of defense with an attitude about Israel and its backers. He is also hopeful that Hagel will act as a brake on any U.S. effort to stop Iran’s drive for nuclear weapons and that he will persuade the president to recognize the legitimacy of the Hamas regime in Gaza.
Friedman makes the false argument that the U.S. needs Iran’s good will to achieve its foreign policy objectives in the Middle East. But he fails to understand that stopping the Islamist regime in Iran is the prerequisite for stability in the region.
President Obama pledged in both 2008 and 2012 that he would never allow Iran to go nuclear but there has never been much secret about his desire to avoid a confrontation over the issue. He wasted most of his first term on a feckless effort to engage Tehran and was slow to adopt serious sanctions. Another round of dead-end diplomacy that only gives the Iranians more time to achieve their nuclear ambition won’t solve the problem. The appointment of Hagel would be a signal to both Iran and the world that the president wasn’t going to go to the mat on the issue.
That is a dangerous development that could only make Iran more intransigent and set the stage for violent upheaval in the region that will damage American interests. Such non-mainstream views about Iran and Hamas exactly why Hagel ought not to be nominated. Friedman’s open advocacy for appeasement as well as his rationalization for the dual loyalty slur should make it even more obvious than before how disastrous this appointment would be.