The appointment of former Senator Chuck Hagel as United States Secretary of Defense is far more than just an Israeli problem, it will present a problem for the United States and especially the United States Military as well as the balance, security and safety for everywhere that the influence of the United States will no longer be a factor as the United States foreign policy turns inward. Hagel is on record opposing sanctions on Iran and is a firm believer that only through direct negotiations that recognizes and grants Iran the respect and deference they demand can the Iranian nuclear program be prevented from reaching its weapons goals. Hagel refused to sign a Congressional Petition supporting Israel and has insisted that Hamas be recognized as a legitimate and responsible entity and brought into any negotiations concerning Israel and the Palestinians. He has proven credentials to be a member of a group of politicians who have taken the title of realists which, if intents and actions mean anything, would be better described as Arabists whose first and often sole concern is what will favor the oil producing nations, especially those in the Saudi Peninsula. With so much of the world’s attention, tensions, and potential problems currently fomenting in the Middle East and North Africa, especially the most critical threat of Iran becoming a nuclear power, a Hagel appointment as Secretary of Defense would pose more problems than it could solve.
Nobody should be overly surprised at President Obama choosing Chuck Hagel as he presents almost the perfect stealth candidate who shares the vast majority of the President’s views on foreign affairs and paring back the defense department. With the fact that Hagel is a Republican, President Obama can present the Hagel appointment as a bipartisan move making the Republicans in the Senate vote against a fellow Republican which will be used as a bludgeon painting those Republicans who oppose Hagel’s appointment as simply impossible to satisfy and acting in a purely partisan manner even to the point of refusing a Republican appointment. Add that should the Democrats manage to hold discipline on the vote they have enough votes to approve the appointment which would force the republicans to use the filibuster. If some Republicans are willing to vote with the Democrats, a likely possibility, then they would likely have the votes for cloture. A successful cloture vote would be a guarantee of Hagel being confirmed as the next United States Secretary of Defense. This may prove out in the long run to be a very cunning and tactful appointment forcing Republicans with either voting against one from among their own ranks or giving President Obama an able ally at the head of the Department of Defense which will already be facing difficulties with draconian budget cuts.
There are some in Israel who have pointed to John Kerry being the likely candidate for Secretary of State as a possible mitigating factor and a possible balance against Chuck Hagel in any discussions and policy decisions on the Middle East and particularly Israel and the Palestinians. Unfortunately, Kerry would be overpowered as of the three, Kerry, Hagel and President Obama; Kerry has a comparatively passive personality and would easily be bullied and overwhelmed by the President and Hagel. Betting on Kerry as Secretary of State to stand up for Israel is a fool’s gambit which is why the Israelis have one of the most important elections in their short history later this month but that is for an article coming later this week.
In the meantime, the pro-Israel lobby, AIPAC will have a most ticklish situation on their hands; should they lobby long and hard against Hagel or keep a low profile and make their preferences known quietly keeping behind the scenes. It is likely that if AIPAC is seen to be presenting too high a profile on the Hagel appointment and ratification, it might be used by some as a reason for confirming the Hagel appointment. On the other hand, their taking too passive an approach might backfire, especially if J Street, the PAC falsely claiming to be pro-Israel, should come out strongly in favor of Hagel. Any supporters of Israel are going to need to walk a knife’s edge if they hope to be effective and not end up being counterproductive. Politics is rarely simple and never straightforward and the Hagel appointment should be excellent proof of such.
Beyond the Cusp