Former Sen. Chuck Hagel’s confirmation as secretary of defense was really never much in doubt, despite the clamorous complaints of a few vocal conservatives. Still, Hagel’s likely confirmation has gained additional support in recent weeks that make his success all but certain. Despite the concerted efforts of a few outside Republican interest groups and a steady stream of hostile coverage from conservative media outlets, Hagel has received the public support of numerous former national security officials, diplomats, and retired military officers, as well as securing endorsements from several senators even before his hearing began today. Excluding members of the Bush administration, Hagel’s nomination has been endorsed by every living former secretary of defense and secretary of state. Faced with an unprecedented campaign of character assassination and misrepresentation in the media, Hagel has become a rallying point for Americans across the political spectrum interested in greater prudence and restraint in the way the U.S. acts overseas.
While it shouldn’t make a difference to the final outcome, Sen. Lindsey Graham’s threat to put a hold on Hagel’s nomination until outgoing Secretary Leon Panetta testifies on the Benghazi attack is a reminder that issues that are mostly irrelevant to Hagel’s competence to run the Defense Department have dominated the debate over this appointment. Hawkish Republicans have argued that then-Sen. Hagel’s relatively mild dissent on issues related to Israel and Iran disqualify him for the job. However, most of these have no bearing on the responsibilities Hagel will have at the Pentagon, and those that do should increase the public’s confidence in Hagel rather than undermine it. This has underscored the overwhelmingly ideological nature of the campaign against him, which has had more to do with policing what current and future politicians can say on foreign policy than it does with selecting the right people to serve in the Cabinet.
So it appears that the anti-Hagel campaign has failed. The Democratic defections that conservatives coveted never materialized, and this week, the first Republican, Thad Cochran of Mississippi, announced his support for the nomination. The anti-Hagel campaign has mainly managed to waste its donors’ money, and it has made the politicians that have sided with it appear foolish and bellicose, and all for the sake of “taking a stand” against a nominee who, lest we forget, is a Republican.
Still, at least 15 Senate Republicans have declared their opposition to Hagel or are reported to be leaning in that direction, which reflects just how committed a large number of the party’s leaders still are to a hard-line foreign policy vision that has brought the GOP and the country nothing but woe for the last decade. The failure of the anti-Hagel effort could be a final straw that breaks the hold that the worst hard-liners have had on the party, but so far, there is not much evidence of that. In the meantime, the message that most people will receive is that leading Republicans have learned nothing from their past failures and seek retribution against those in their party that have.
After all, Hagel was one of the few national Republican figures who saw the potential pitfalls in Iraq before the invasion, and later came to recognize the full extent of the folly of the U.S. war there. Most of his Republican colleagues in Washington have still not fully reckoned with the disastrous decision to invade in 2003, and to make matters worse, they insist on holding Hagel’s skepticism about the wisdom of attacking Iran against him. Each charge they make against Hagel for being too “soft” on Iran bounces back on them and marks them as the reflexively, dangerously aggressive people that they are.
The good news for the country is that a competent and qualified nominee for the Defense post will almost certainly be approved by the Senate in the near future. Unfortunately, a large number of Hagel’s fellow Republicans have done their best to use this confirmation process to inflict even more damage on their party’s battered reputation on foreign policy and national security. Hagel’s nomination should have been a chance for Republicans to start repairing the party’s image in the eyes of the public. They are well on their way to squandering it.
ByDaniel Larison, The Week, January 31, 2013
“Most Antagonistic Toward Israel?”:That Would Be Ronald Reagan’s Defense Secretary, Something Lindsey Graham Should Know
When Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) warned on national television over the weekend that Chuck Hagel “would be the most antagonistic secretary of defense toward the state of Israel in our nation’s history,” either his memory served him very poorly — or he was simply lying to smear his former Senate colleague. For whatever Hagel’s perspective on Mideast policy may be, it would be absurd to compare him with the Secretary of Defense whose hardline hostility toward Israel became notorious during the Reagan administration.
That would be the late Caspar W. Weinberger, of course.
Weinberger, a longtime Reagan confidant, ran the Pentagon from 1981 until 1987, when he was forced to resign over his involvement in the cover-up of the Iran-Contra affair (a ruinous scandal that involved the secret sale of missiles to the Iranian mullahs and the illegal transfer of profits from those sales to the Nicaraguan contra rebels – and that almost sent Weinberger to prison along with more than a dozen administration officials).
In contrast to other members of the Reagan cabinet known for their sympathy toward the Jewish state, including Secretary of State George Shultz and the president himself, Weinberger developed a reputation not only for opposing Israel’s interests directly but for seeking to prevent any action, including counter-terrorist operations, that might upset Arab allies of the United States. Until the Iran-Contra scandal broke in 1986, Weinberger was perhaps best known for orchestrating the sale of AWACS jets – the highly advanced airborne surveillance, command, and control system built by Boeing – to Saudi Arabia. Opposed by Israel and much of the American Jewish community, the Saudi AWACS deal generated enormous controversy.
Weinberger’s views on the Mideast were often said to derive from his career at Bechtel Corporation, the mammoth international construction firm where, as general counsel, he had approved compliance with the Arab boycott of Israel. Construction in Saudi Arabia and other Arab states was a major source of profits for Bechtel, and the firm’s support of the boycott was so blatant that Edward Levi, a Republican attorney general, filed a civil lawsuit against the California-based company, which led to a consent decree and prolonged litigation.
Among the most outspoken sources on Weinberger’s record was retired Marine Lt. Col. Oliver North, the former Reagan White House aide and intelligence operative who oversaw the Iran-Contra fiasco In his 1992 memoir Under Fire, North explained what everyone in Washington had long known about the former Defense Secretary:
[Weinberger] seemed to go out of his way to oppose Israel on any issue and to blame the Israelis for every problem in the Middle East. In our planning for counterterrorist operations, he apparently feared that if we went after Palestinian terrorists, we would offend and alienate Arab governments – particularly if we acted in cooperation with the Israelis.
Weinberger’s anti-Israel tilt was an underlying current in almost every Mideast issue. Some people explained it by pointing to his years with the Bechtel Corporation…Others believed it was more complicated, and had to do with his sensitivity about his own Jewish ancestry.
As an Episcopalian whose paternal grandparents converted to Christianity — and who later worked at Bechtel, a company with a terrible reputation for anti-Semitism — Weinberger’s personal feelings about Jews and Judaism may well have been “complicated.” But his record as defense secretary was straightforward enough – and considering that Graham is a self-styled expert on Reagan administration foreign policy, the South Carolina senator certainly ought to know it.
By: Joe Conason, The National Memo, January 7, 2013
After word leaked from the White House late last week that Chuck Hagel was in line to become the next secretary of defense, Bill Kristol’s Weekly Standard manned the Patriot missile batteries to shoot down that trial balloon.
The neoconservative journal, no fan of the iconoclastic former Republican senator, published a smear under the headline: “Senate aide: ‘Send us Hagel and we will make sure every American knows he is an anti-Semite.’ ” In the posting, this anonymous aide went on to accuse Hagel of “the worst kind of anti-Semitism there is.” As evidence, the article included a doctored quotation from Hagel referring to the “Jewish lobby.”
Other right-wing publications and conservative Zionist groups inevitably joined the chorus, including a column by Bret Stephens in the Wall Street Journal saying Hagel’s prejudice has an “especially ripe” odor.
The Hagel hit is wrong on the merits, but it’s particularly egregious because the former senator from Nebraska is among the best and bravest public servants. He was an enlisted man in Vietnam, earning two Purple Hearts in jungle combat. In his legislative career, he was a powerful voice against the chicken hawks who have recklessly sent American troops to their deaths; he became one of the most outspoken critics of George W. Bush’s handling of the Iraq war.
Hagel would probably be swiftly confirmed by the Senate, and he should be: A man of unassailable military credentials who regards war as a last resort is exactly the sort of person to head the Pentagon.
Kristol’s criticism of Hagel included a variety of supposed sins in various categories: terrorism (“Hagel was one of 11 senators who refused to sign a letter requesting President Bush not meet with Yasser Arafat. . . ”), Israel (“Hagel was one of only four senators who refused to sign a letter expressing support for Israel during the second Palestinian intifada”), and Iran (“Hagel was one of only two U.S. senators who voted against renewing the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act”).
It’s fair criticism to say Hagel isn’t sufficiently pro-Israel, although much the same is said of the man who would nominate him. But Kristol, and then others, went further, publishing a passage from a 2008 book in which Hagel is quoted as saying: “The political reality is that . . . the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here.”
That was a dumb phrase — many Christians are pro-Israel and many Jews aren’t — and Hagel said he misspoke (he used the phrase “Israel lobby” elsewhere in the interview). But, as an American Jew who has written about anti-Semitism in political dialogue, I don’t see this as anti-Semitic or anti-Israel. As Slate’s Dave Weigel points out, the actual quote in the book includes nothing about “the political reality,” and the sentence preceding the quote said that “Hagel is a strong supporter of Israel and a believer in shared values.”
Hagel was explaining why he didn’t sign all of those nonbinding letters from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, justifiably calling them “stupid.” He further said: “I’m a United States senator. I support Israel. But my first interest is I take an oath of office to the Constitution of the United States. Not to a president. Not a party. Not to Israel. If I go run for Senate in Israel, I’ll do that.”
Hagel’s foes claim groundlessly that this means he was accusing others of divided loyalties; that, they say, and his less-than-perfect record of voting AIPAC’s position disqualify him from running the Pentagon. But let’s examine Hagel’s record further:
He voted for the Iran Nonproliferation Act, the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act and the Iran Missile Proliferation Sanctions Act. He co-sponsored resolutions opposing any unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state and praising Israel’s efforts “in the face of terrorism, hostility and belligerence by many of her neighbors.” He also co-sponsored legislation urging the international community “to avoid contact with and refrain from supporting the terrorist organization Hamas until it agrees to recognize Israel, renounce violence, disarm and accept prior agreements.”
Such gestures won’t satisfy the neocon hard-liners, and Hagel’s occasional criticism of the Israeli military’s excesses doesn’t help. But this isn’t indicative of anti-Semitism, or even of anti-Israel sentiments.
It’s indicative of an infantry sergeant who isn’t opposed to war (he voted for the conflicts in the Balkans, Afghanistan and Iraq) but knows the grim costs of going to war without a plan. And it’s indicative of a decorated military man who, unlike some of his neocon critics, knows that military action doesn’t solve everything.
By: Dana Milbank, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, December 18, 2012
“We Can’t Afford A President Romney”: An Israeli And A Palestinian On The American Presidential Election…They Don’t Want Mitt Either
Watching the American election from overseas, it makes sense to us that the conversation is mostly focused on the economic recovery. And yet, behind closed doors, topics related to us get discussed. What we’re hearing isn’t so great. In a video of a private meeting with wealthy donors, GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney said, “I look at the Palestinians not wanting to see peace anyway, for political purposes, committed to the destruction and elimination of Israel, and these thorny issues, and I say there’s just no way.”
We resent that. We’re an Israeli and a Palestinian—ordinary people from opposing sides of this conflict, who have forged a friendship based on the belief that this conflict can be ended with the shared vision of a two-state solution based on the borders of 1967 with mutually agreed upon land swaps. We have remained friends despite the challenges and the everyday apathy, hopelessness and despair of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We are again being tossed aside as dispensable pawns on an international chess board. If we have learned anything by living through this conflict, it is that we must hold our leaders accountable. If reconciliation through the two-state solution, hard as it will be, fails, it will only be because the leaders don’t make it a priority.
The trust-building process between Israelis and Palestinians is so delicate and essential for a future peace agreement, that every time a public figure uses dismissive rhetoric, we feel as if we are only walking backwards, scared of being pulled into another round of violence by those who benefit from the stagnation of talks. The idea that a candidate for President of the United States truly believes there is no hope for the two-state solution and that it is a problem that should be ignored not only scares us, it makes us furious.
For Americans, the two-state solution is a theory, a way out of a crisis that is, at best, worrisome. To us, the two-state solution represents our best hope for a livable future. We are aware of the difficulties such a solution holds, but the status-quo is not acceptable—it affects peoples’ lives on a daily basis, in almost everything they do—and it’s a dangerous strategy.
We do have our share of criticism over the negotiation process in the past four years and Obama’s attempts at restarting it. Still, we are pleased he at least considers it a priority. Under a hypothetical Romney administration, we have no hope this issue would be addressed—resulting in further upheaval and damage to the security and future prosperity of both the State of Israel and the future Palestinian State, and, eventually, America.
We are not alone in believing this. President Clinton, appearing on CNN recently, responded to Romney’s comments: “It is accurate that the United States cannot make peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. They have to do that. What we need to do is maximize the attractiveness of doing it and minimize the risks of doing it—we can do that.” He’s right: no American president will ever be able to force both sides to make peace. But a U.S. president can and must help by providing incentives, easing the way, taking the necessary steps, and, most importantly, believing it is possible. Romney simply lacks the hope and vision that we need in the leader of the most powerful country on earth. Obama is our chance to keep on the path for a two-state solution.
By: Ahmad Omeir and Danny Shaket, Open Zion, Daily Beast, November 2, 2012
There’s a lot of chatter about a video, made in 2007, when Romney was running for president the first time, that has (naturally) surfaced again just a few days before the election. Apparently filmed by hidden camera, it shows Romney arguing with conservative Iowa talk radio host Jan Mickelson, in studio but off the air, about his Mormon beliefs. Mickelson appears to be goading Romney into admitting or explaining ways that Mormonism differs from evangelical Christianity, and Romney gets pretty angry and heated throughout.
Earlier this year, Joanna Brooks wrote about how journalists who focus on, for example, Romney’s citation to Mickelson of Cold War-era Mormon figure W. Cleon Skousen (long a religious right, tea party, and Glenn Beck favorite) miss the mark about the Mormon world in which Romney functions, “a powerful multinational network of financial and political influence brokers connected by a profound common bond: their multigenerational membership and service in the LDS Church.”
This week, one part of the Mickelson video in particular has generated some discussion: Mickelson asks Romney about the end-times, and about whether he believes the Second Coming of Christ will happen in Missouri. In the video, Romney tells Mickelson that, no, the LDS Church teaches (as do evangelical churches) that the Second Coming will happen in Jerusalem. He then goes on to explain, rather clumsily and without much detail, “what the church” teaches about this.
Mickelson seemed inspired to broach the topic by an interview Romney gave to George Stephanopoulos. Here’s part of that transcript:
George Stephanopoulos: In your faith, if I understand it correctly, it teaches that Jesus will return probably to the United States and reign on Earth for 1,000 years. And I wonder how that would be viewed in the Muslim world. Have you thought about how the Muslim world will react to that and whether it would make it more difficult, if you were present, to build alliances with the Muslim world?
Former Gov. Mitt Romney, R-Mass.: Well, I’m not a spokesman for my church. I’m not running for pastor in chief. I’m running for commander in chief. So the best place to go for my church’s doctrines would be my church.
Stephanopoulos: But I’m talking about how they will take it, how they will perceive it.
Romney: I understand, but that doesn’t happen to be a doctrine of my church. Our belief is just as it says in the Bible, that the messiah will come to Jerusalem, stand on the Mount of Olives and that the Mount of Olives will be the place for the great gathering and so forth. It’s the same as the other Christian tradition. But that being said, how do Muslims feel about Christian doctrines? They don’t agree with them. There are differences between doctrines of churches. But the values at the core of the Christian faith, the Jewish faith and many other religions are very, very similar. And it’s that common basis that we have to support and find ability to draw people to rather than to point out the differences between our faiths. The differences are less pronounced than the common base that can lead to the peace and the acceptability and the brother and sisterhood of humankind.
Stephanopoulos: But your church does teach that Jesus will reign on Earth for the millennium, right?
Mickelson asks Romney whether, contrary to what he told Stephanopoulos, he believes the Second Coming will take place in Missouri. After mentioning that a Skousen book explains LDS teaching on this, Romney seems either unwilling or at a loss to go into too much detail. Romney adds:
Christ appears, it’s throughout the Bible, Christ appears in Jerusalem, splits the Mount of Olives, to stop the war that’s coming in to kill all the Jews, it’s—our church believes that. That’s where the coming and glory of Christ occurs. We also believe that over the 1000 years that follows, the millenium, he will reign from two places, that the law will come forward from one place, from Missouri, the other will be in Jerusalem. Back to abortion.
A few things here. First, except for the part about Missouri, what Romney is saying about LDS belief about Christ’s return doesn’t deviate that much from what many evangelicals believe. I’m not in any way endorsing apocalyptic biblical literalism or proof-texting here, or saying that all Mormons or all evangelicals believe this. I’m just pointing out that Romney was relying on the same parts of the Bible many evangelicals do about Christ’s return. For example: “‘In the whole land,’ declares the Lord, ‘two-thirds will be struck down and perish; yet one-third will be left in it.’” (Zechariah 13:8) and “On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem, and the Mount of Olives will be split in two from east to west, forming a great valley, with half of the mountain moving north and half moving south” (Zechariah 14:4). I’ve seen preaching on this by evangelicals; I’ve talked to evangelicals who believe these verses to be true, accurate, and undeniable prophecy of what will happen in Jerusalem. (N.B.: Zechariah was not talking about Jesus, and what exactly he—or more than one he—was actually talking about is far from clear. But anyway.)
The question that’s being raised now, as this video resurfaces and generates discussion, is: does Romney himself really believe this? Does he somehow revel in a “war that’s coming in to kill all the Jews,” or see it as inevitable? I think that’s not evident from the video, or from his answer to Stephanopoulos. (Of course Romney’s a notorious liar, so we may never know.) Romney’s very defensive in the video, under questioning by Mickelson who clearly is trying to get him to admit that Mormon end-times theology is wildly different from evangelical end-times theology (which has many variants, incidentally, but none that include Missouri as a locus for anything except the second coming of Todd Akin). But Romney appears to be suggesting that “our church believes that” rather than saying, “I believe this is a literal prophecy of how world events will play out.” I’ve written before about how Romney’s public pronouncements on the Israel-Palestine conflict are out of touch with non-apocalyptic, contemporary Mormon thinking, but still, he’s never discussed his own beliefs on the end-times, or disagreements, if any, with LDS doctrine.
Apocalyptic beliefs are a Republican problem, though, not just a Romney problem; for example, George W. Bush, Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann and Mike Huckabee are all evangelicals who forged relationships with apocalyptic preacher John Hagee. I would very much like to know whether they co-sign Hagee’s apocalyptic visions.
I want to know the same answers about Romney, but not because he’s Mormon. Equally as pertinent to what Romney himself believes is what he thinks his base believes, and to what extent, as president, he’d be worrying about placating them. Remember, he was trying to show Mickelson he believes the same things evangelicals do. He’s running for president, for Pete’s sake!
By: Sarah Posner, Religion Dispatches, November 2, 2012