The Washington buzz earlier this week was that President Obama had decided on Sen. John Kerry to replace Hillary Clinton as secretary of state and was close to settling on former Republican senator Chuck Hagel as his new secretary of defense.
Sen. Kerry has been a leading member of the Democratic Party’s foreign policy establishment for many years and since January 2009 has served as the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. During the course of his 26 years in the Senate he has been a reliable and ready vote in favor of legislative and other initiatives promoted by supporters of Israel and is generally considered to be one the strongest friends of Israel in government.
The Jerusalem Post has noted, however, that while he always voted for Israel, he was never viewed as a leader on pro-Israel issues, something that may loom large if he were to head the State Department.
We also recall that in his 2004 campaign for president he spoke of a role for America as “an honest broker” in the Middle East between Israel and the Palestinians. And therein lies another reason for concern.
At the time, we questioned whether true friends really seek arms-length relationships, and indeed that was one of the reasons for our endorsement of George W. Bush. We feel the same sense of concern now that Mr. Kerry seems poised to become the next secretary of state. The last thing we need is the most senior foreign policy adviser to President Obama counseling him against taking Israel’s side – in the interest of being “an honest broker” – in complicated political negotiations with the Arab world. We firmly believe that unless the Palestinians and their allies are made to understand that America will stand with Israel come what may, their demands will never be realistic and peace well nigh impossible.
Sen. Hagel raises many more concerns and they are rather straightforward. He has opposed sanctions against Iran related to its nuclear efforts and has raised the idea of living with a nuclear Iran. He regularly voted against pro-Israel initiatives in the Senate including supporting Israel during the second intifada and calling on the EU to classify Hizbullah as a terrorist organization. He has also pushed for the U.S. to recognize and negotiate with Hamas.
Though as defense secretary Mr. Hegel would not have a secretary of state’s impact on foreign policy, we need only recall the nefarious role played by Caspar Weinberger, who as President Reagan’s secretary of defense was a constant anti-Israel irritant in what was a generally pro-Israel administration.
Should he get the nod as defense secretary, Mr. Hegel will bear close scrutiny by supporters of Israel over the course of the next four years.