Until his name was floated as a possible Secretary of Defense, I had no idea that Chuck Hagel had strained relationships with the Israeli government and their lobbyists here in the United States. When I read the list of his supposed sins, the only thing that causes me any concern is his poor assessment of the nature and intentions of the Syrian government. That he opposed a preemptive war with Iran and recommended opening a dialogue with Hamas indicates that he has a clear-eyed view of reality, not that he has any animus for Israel. It seems to me that Hagel has been correct to say that the peace process in the Middle East cannot be advanced by driving a wedge between Fatah and Hamas, as that only perpetuates a condition in which Israel has no unified negotiating partner that can deliver on its promises. His opposition to sanctions against Iran is questionable, but must be considered in the context of his overall opposition to the neo-conservatives’ drive to war with Iran during Bush’s presidency.
Overall, Hagel seems to have been opposed to our inclination, post 9/11, to designate anyone we disagreed with as a terrorist organization and to cease having any dialogue with them. In one or two cases, he may have taken this opposition a little too far, but he certainly erred less frequently than the neo-cons, or even our foreign policy establishment in general.
What’s sad is how easily this principled stand against neo-conservatism in his own party can be redefined as hostility to Israel. Chuck Hagel should not be punished for being mostly-right when our foreign policy elites in both parties were mostly-wrong.
I don’t know if the Israeli Lobby is going to oppose him with everything they’ve got, but I think that would be a mistake. The Netanyahu government and their neo-conservative allies here in the United States have alienated the president enough already. Getting off on the wrong foot in the second term is probably a very bad idea.