As we noted last week, President Obama’s apparent inclination to appoint former Republican senator Chuck Hagel as his new secretary of defense has been disturbing from the start, given Mr. Hagel’s record of opposing sanctions against Iran, his criticism of U.S. partiality toward Israel, and his reference to what he called “the Jewish lobby” in Washington, which, he suggested, unduly urges the U.S. government to act on behalf of Israel’s interests.
Mr. Hagel has also taken to reminding his critics that he was elected a member of the United States Senate, not the Israeli Knesset.
The notion that a man with such views could have the ear of the president over the next four years is troubling enough, but of perhaps greater concern is the idea that Mr. Obama seems comfortable with Mr. Hagel’s worldview.
Of course it can be argued that President Obama has proven that he does indeed “have Israel’s back,” as he has stated on more than one occasion. During the recent Operation Pillar of Defense he stood solidly behind Israel both materially and against international criticism. He also just blocked yet another attempt at the UN Security Council to pass a resolution condemning Israel’s recent announcement of new settlement building (though he is still on record as opposing new settlement construction). And he was in the forefront of efforts to dissuade the Palestinian Authority’s Mahmoud Abbas from seeking even limited recognition of a Palestinian state from the UN General Assembly.
In addition, changed circumstances on the ground in the Middle East would seem to militate against any great effort by the U.S. to pressure Israel to make concessions deemed necessary to bring the Palestinians back to the negotiation table. The uncertainties wrought by the upheavals of the Arab Spring, Hamas’s eclipse of Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority, and the inability of the international community to get its arms around the Iranian problem are certainly inconsistent with any idea of Israel making agreements with anyone in the Arab world.
Even so, no one can predict the future, especially in the Middle East, and elevating a man like Chuck Hagel at this point in time would raise all sorts of questions about where the administration stands on a host of foreign policy and defense issues.
As we went to press on Tuesday, it appeared a Hagel nomination was far from a done deal, in large measure due to mounting criticism of Mr. Hagel’s record, particularly his hostility toward Israel. We look to Mr. Obama to do the right thing and nominate someone other than Mr. Hagel.