Over the last half-century, no secretary of defense has been confirmed and taken office with more than three senators voting against him.
So say fifteen Republican senators, writing to President Obama to encourage him to pick someone other than Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense.
They go on to say that “The occupant of this critical office should be someone whose candidacy is neither controversial or divisive.”
This is amusing because Hagel as a nominee is really only controversial or divisive to these GOP senators and because the reasons for the controversy are of their own divising.
So … in addition to the option of withdrawing the Hagel nomination, another option would be for GOP senators to stop their grousing and simply vote for Hagel, since their former colleague is really only controversial or divisive because they now say he is. Honestly, if you really believe that it’s very important for near-unanimous voting on nominees for this position, then just vote for the nominee. Problem solved.
(Source: The New York Times)
If Chuck Hagel doesn’t make it to the Pentagon, opposition to him from the Israel lobby won’t have been the only reason, or even the main reason. But one thing you can be sure of. A good few more on Capitol Hill will have been “intimidated”.
This is the conclusion to Rupert Cornwell’s lengthy piece in the Independent today, “So, just how powerful is the Israel lobby in the US?”
Cornwell’s conclusion is that the Israel Lobby is obviously incredibly powerful; his evidence is the Chuck Hagel fiasco that’s gone on for weeks now. Except his conclusion is that opposition from this incredibly powerful Israel Lobby won’t be “the only reason, or even the main reason” behind Hagel losing his confirmation fight.
And he’s right about that, even if it undermines the entire point of his piece. Opposition to Hagel comes from the Right in America, which has fixed on Israel and Iran as excuses to undermine Obama’s nomination of a former Republican senator who they believe consistently failed to toe the party line.
But that narrative doesn’t work for Cornwell so he grasps at straws instead:
There are those who claim that the lobby’s clout is vastly exaggerated, insisting that far from being a sinister body subverting US foreign policy in one of the world’s most unstable regions, it is pushing at an open door. Even without a lobby, the thesis runs, Americans would be overwhelmingly supportive of Israel. Which may be true, but misses the point.
Power lies in the perception of power, and the Israel lobby, led by Aipac, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, is perceived to have a heck of a lot of it. Fall foul of the Israel lobby, with its financial muscle and ability to put the word out, and, it is said, your political career may be doomed.
True or false? It’s impossible to say. What matters is the perception.
So, Cornwell’s claim is that the Israel Lobby is incredibly powerful in American politics because people believe that it is. It doesn’t matter whether it is or it isn’t; all that matters is that legislators think it is.
His remaining bit of evidence is that very few legislators are vocally pro-Palestinian. The only possible reason for this is the perception that a powerful Israel Lobby exists and that it punishes anyone who steps out of line; it is impossible that most legislators are pro-Israel based on their own beliefs or based on their understanding of the beliefs of their constituents. But even if that turned out to be the case, those beliefs would surely have been influenced by the Israel Lobby somehow.
This is like saying the Arab Lobby is incredibly weak and fails to impact our politics (despite the fact that it’s quite well-funded and really is trying its best) … not because that lobby is or isn’t actually powerful but because we think it’s not. But this is the same thing as saying that we’re the ones with the power, not this or that lobby. The Israel Lobby — or the Arab Lobby — isn’t actually doing much here; the power resides with the believers.
This isn’t a very striking conclusion to a piece that a lot of people will read as making some strong claims about the power of the Israel Lobby on American politics. All it’s really saying is that people think the Israel Lobby is powerful and so they act that way. Why do people think the Israel Lobby is so powerful? As far as Cornwell is concerned — in his piece about the Hagel confirmation process — it’s not because of the Hagel confirmation process, where opposition from the Israel Lobby didn’t play much of a role.
It’s just because he believes it’s very powerful.
I know Hagel personally. When I was ambassador in Washington, we had many meetings. I cannot say that we agreed on everything, but he was a decent and fair interlocutor and you can reason with him. I think he believes in the relationship, in the natural partnership between Israel and the United States.
That’s Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, speaking to American Jewish leaders in New York yesterday.
I can only assume this won’t dissuade the “serious people" who are tarring Hagel as an anti-Semite because he once said "the Jews," and because of his heterodox views on dealing with Iran and on using diplomacy to try to solve problems.
More from me here.
Over on Facebook, my friend Scott Basinger digs deep into the ancient Israelite prophets to reply to my post: Chuck Hagel Anti-Israel Charge Is ‘Extremely Stupid,’ Nebraska Rabbi Says:
Breaking news: Senate GOP also labels the prophet Micah anti-semitic for his criticisms of Israel.
NPR ran a story this afternoon about the Hagel nomination that featured Elliot Abrams, a neoconservative critic who says outright that Hagel is an anti-Semite: “He seems to have some kind of problem with Jews,” he says about three-quarters of the way through this short interview.
To make his case, he refers to a statement Hagel once made about the “Jewish lobby” and about how he was a United States Senator, not an Israeli Senator. But, really, Abrams relies on the testimony of the Jewish community of Nebraska, of which I am a member.
He specifically refers to Hagel’s “hostility toward that community — their word not mine.”
In fact, in fewer than eight minutes, Abrams mentions the Nebraska Jewish community three times to hammer home that Hagel’s Jewish constituents are deeply distrustful of him.
Apart from the obvious fact that Jews in Nebraska are not a monolithic community that speaks with one voice, none of the allegations amount to anti-Semitism. That all of the allegations seem to be made by staunch members of AIPAC is particularly telling; by their lights, I’m certain to be just as much of an anti-Semite as Hagel.
I said it earlier today and I’ll say it again:
That Chuck Hagel doesn’t see eye-to-eye with some Jews in Nebraska and with the GOP more broadly on the question of America’s blank check relationship with Israel does not make him an anti-Semite.
Despite the fact that all of this has made me angry enough to write a series of blog posts about it, I want to be perfectly clear that I don’t have any skin in this game. It doesn’t matter to me whether Chuck Hagel or someone else is our next Secretary of Defense. Contrary to Abrams’ position in this NPR interview, the next Secretary will serve at the pleasure of President Obama; he won’t be cozying up to Iran or punching Netanyahu in the stomach just because he feels like it. I write all of this because it’s incredibly disturbing to see someone tarred with allegations of anti-Semitism by neoconservatives, Tea Partyers, and AIPAC when, in fact, the person in question simply isn’t toeing the AIPAC line on writing blank checks to the Likud party in Israel.
This isn’t how Cabinet-level positions should be decided, not if we have any sense left in our heads.
The jokes about dialectics pretty much write themselves. Here’s a sample:
wow. further proof that obama is trying to force the usa into embracing hegelian dialectics.
Don’t worry I’m sure the opposition will be sublimated into some greater Defense synthesis.
Which one of you let President Obama borrow your copy of Elements of the Philosophy of Right? It’s all starting to make some sense.
For my own part, I wonder when we’ll hear from Slavoj Žižek about whether or not Hegel is a good choice for Secretary of Defense; if I had to guess today, I’d say Žižek will side with the GOP and oppose Hegel … just as a goof.