Why This Fight
Chuck Hagel versus the Israel lobby: a battle that must be won
There has been a lot of pushback against the neoconservatives‘ preemptive smear campaign against Chuck Hagel, much of it illuminating, but none as clear-headed as that by Paul Pillar in The National Interest, who starts out his piece this way:
"The effort to slander Chuck Hagel and to torpedo his potential nomination to be secretary of defense has reached such intensity that there is now much more at stake in this nomination than just who will be running the Pentagon over the next four years."
Entitled "Stand Up to the Intimidators," Pillar’s article trenchantly cuts to the chase with a minimum of wordage: "Intimidation," he writes, "feeds on itself, with successful intimidation encouraging more of the same and failures discouraging further attempts. Neither Chuck Hagel nor anyone else has a right to any cabinet post, but given how this matter has already evolved, if the president now does not nominate him for the defense job it will be universally seen as a caving in to the neocons and Netanyahuites." Worse, "he will have encouraged more such intimidation in the future." Underscoring the significance of this fight, Pillar writes: "It is hard to imagine any future issues offering a conspicuously better place to draw a line in the sand and to start pushing back than this one."
Yes, but why is that? Aside from the sheer nastiness of the neocons’ Two Minutes Hate, and what it portends for the Senate confirmation process, what is all the fuss really about? While the Israel Lobby and its journalistic camarilla have been slandering Hagel with baseless charges of "anti-Semitism," many are scratching their heads over this one, including some of the smartest people inside the Beltway. Brent Scowcroft, for one, the gray eminence of the Republican foreign policy Establishment, is baffled:
"He got two Purple Hearts on the front line. That’s about the best recommendation you can get from somebody whose job would be to advise on the use of troops around the world. I am honestly surprised, even astonished, at the attacks. I do know where they’re coming from, but I don’t understand the genesis of them.
"His view on virtually every foreign policy, of which I know them, is very thoughtful, centrist and pro-America. The attacks have just erupted in the last couple of days, and most of the people that I’ve talked to about it are astounded. I don’t know what’s motivating it and why. It really surprises me."
The anti-Hagel television ad debuting today [Tuesday] in the Washington, D.C. area, should open Scowcroft’s eyes to the underlying issue. Take a look at it, a good look: what is the main issue raised? Why, the prospect of war with Iran, of course.
After a few preliminaries, the ad gets to the meat of the matter. Hagel has said war with Iran "is not a viable, feasible, responsible option." In the view of the ad’s sponsors, the Emergency Committee for Israel – i.e. Bill Kristol and Romney campaign manager Dan Senor – this statement makes Hagel "not a responsible option."
The source of this quote is a 2006 news conference in the course of which Hagel was asked about the possible outbreak of war with Iran. Here is his reply:
"I do not expect any kind of military solution on the Iran issue…. I think to further comment on it would be complete speculation, but I would say that a military strike against Iran, a military option, is not a viable, feasible, responsible option. Iran is a complicated issue. I think that a responsible approach to these challenges is to work closely with our friends and allies, in this case Pakistan, with the United Nations, with the IAEA. I believe a political settlement will be the answer. Not a military settlement. All these issues will require a political settlement."
The prospect of war with Iran was conceivable in 2006, but hardly imminent: we here at Antiwar.com were well aware of the long-term goals of the War Party in this respect, but hardcore anti-interventionist circles – not so much. Of course, everyone in the foreign policy community was well aware of AIPAC’s relentless propaganda campaign, which presaged much of the open warmongering to come. However, at that point we were still in the midst of the neocons‘ disastrous war in Iraq – which Kristol & Co. had been ginning up for years – and hardly anybody anticipated their future war plans.
Hagel was being asked to predict what the outcome of our contentious relations with Iran would be, and he gave his honest – and widely held – assessment. It was apparently difficult for him to believe that the US, already bogged down in two wars, would at that point launch a third invasion, without the military resources to do so.
Unsurprisingly, the ad, by dropping the context of Hagel’s remarks, makes them into something they aren’t: but that is neither here nor there. What’s important is how the Emergency Committee is framing the issue: they are making Hagel’s confirmation battle into a Senatorial referendum on the question of going to war with Iran. The Senate vote on his nomination – if it comes to that – will, in effect, be a dress rehearsal for a future vote on sending in the Marines.
This is the real issue behind their polemics aimed at Hagel’s vote against designating Iran’s Revolutionary Guards as a "terrorist" organization, which the ad also seeks to misconstrue. Hagel and 20 other Senators voted "nay" because they correctly saw it as a back door to war with Tehran: such a move would have given the Bush administration a blank check to attack the Iranians at their leisure, without going to Congress for approval, on the grounds that permission had already been given.
As George W. Bush’s second term neared its ignominious end, the neocons around Dick Cheney were pushing for a confrontation with Iran, but the hapless Dauphin, whom they had led around by the nose for the past five years or so, had apparently had enough of them, and refused to go along with the plan. In the end, the "terrorist" designation was a moot point. The neocons, however, never forgive – and never forget.
This isn’t about Chuck Hagel, a man admired by his colleagues in the Senate, whose military experience and record of judicious independent thought more than qualifies him to head up the Pentagon: it’s about whether we are going to start World War III. It’s about whether a gaggle of discredited ideologues, in alliance with a powerful lobbying group openly serving the interests of a foreign government, is going to be allowed to take us into a war certain to devastate the region, drive us further into bankruptcy, and cause untold human suffering.
That’s why I’m supporting a grassroots White House petition drive urging the Obama administration to nominate Hagel and fight for his confirmation.
This is not the sort of thing I would normally do: but these are not normal times. Our regular readers may have noticed what is more than a mere uptick in the news coming out of the Middle East, and none of it is good. Syria is aflame, and that proxy war – really a conflict pitting Iran against America’s allies in the Gulf, as well as Turkey – could at any moment morph into a wider conflict, one likely to drag in the US. Worse, the drumbeat for war is sounding louder in Washington. Having atomized Iraq, and decimated Afghanistan, the neocons are hungry for more blood, and are moving toward what has been their goal all along: the destruction of Iran.
At a time like this, it isn’t enough to just sit around on my butt writing about – observing, as it were, from a safe distance – the seemingly inevitable drift toward war. Too many lives are at stake. It is necessary for the peace movement to engage – with our friends, as well as our enemies.
With the Hagel issue being framed as a question of war – or no war – with Iran, there is no way to abstain from fighting this battle. To do so would be to abdicate my own personal and political responsibility, and would, in effect, amount to passive complicity with the drive to war.
Yes, but why go to the lengths of supporting a specific nominee for Pentagon chief whose worldview is not the same as my own, and whose future actions I have no control over? For the same reason I would endorse an antiwar rally where the speakers might say things I disagree with. For the same reason I would urge a united front effort to pressure Congress into voting against bombing Iran – precisely the issue that will take center stage at the Senate confirmation hearings, if and when Obama nominates him, and it is the real issue now.
There is always a danger in endorsing a political figure – or group – who could then turn around and do exactly the opposite of what was anticipated. This possibility has to be weighed against the benefits – or, in this case, the necessity – of winning a battle in the present moment. Based on his record, which is by no means purely non-interventionist-as-the-driven-snow, there is every reason to believe Hagel would proffer a counsel of restraint in this administration. We are so perilously close to war with Iran that, in my view, it is worth the risk. It is like being on the edge of a cliff, and noting that there’s just this little bush – no more than a twig – to hold on to. Do you reach for the twig, and hope it doesn’t break – or do you allow yourself to fall into the abyss?
The idea that we cannot get our hands dirty by engaging in the day-to-day maneuvering and back-and-forth of political combat is one the War Party would dearly like us to uphold and put into practice. Because that leaves the field open to them, ensuring that their bullying tactics intimidate our generally craven politicians with little or no opposition. It also ensures that we remain isolated from those Washington "realists," on the left as well as the right, who are belatedly arising from their slumber to defend Hagel and the position that war with Iran is neither inevitable nor desirable.
Hagel’s fate is going to be determined by a very small group of people, ensconced inside the Washington Beltway – and that is a great part of the problem. The positions Hagel has taken – a diplomatic rather than a military solution to the Iranian "problem," and a foreign policy that puts American interests first – reflect the views of the man and woman in the street. You’ll notice no one is marching down Main Street demanding we bomb Iran: the American people oppose going to war with Iran, or anybody else, these days, and they rejected Romney in large part due to their distrust of the Republicans when it comes to foreign policy.
Outside the Beltway, the neocons have relatively little clout: their movement, which consists of a few dozen newspaper columnists, academics, and political operatives, has always been a tiny head on the larger body of the GOP. Having destroyed the Republican party, however, after a decade of Bush II and the Romney disaster, they are more isolated than ever – except inside the Beltway, where they still have some major clout. This was underscored by a recent Washington Post editorial in which Hagel’s views were disdained as "fringe," on the far "left," and outside the "mainstream."
Well, they are outside the "mainstream" of your typical Georgetown cocktail party – and the neocons think that’s all that counts.
I believe – hope, really – they are badly mistaken. In the course of doing my job, and going through all the media attention given to this controversy, I’ve noticed that the comments sections accompanying hit pieces on Hagel are invariably hostile to the author, with hundreds of less than complimentary comments directed at people like Jennifer Rubin, for example, who has been bemoaning Hagel’s unwillingness to bow to every dictate from AIPAC. To give you some idea of just how tone deaf the anti-Hagel propaganda has been, one of the major charges hurled at the former senator from Nebraska is that he said "I’m an American senator, not an Israeli senator." In the comments section, readers ask: what is wrong with that? But of course an American government official is going to put American interests first, before those of any other country. To a normal person, this is axiomatic.
In Washington, D.C., however, it’s out of the "mainstream." And that is precisely what’s wrong with our foreign policy: Hagel’s confirmation will turn this inverted "patriotism" right side up.
Left to those cowards in Washington, Hagel’s fate – and the fate of the US for the next four years – is highly problematic. Which is precisely why we need a populist grassroots movement to take our country back from the ideologues and foreign lobbyists who have hijacked American foreign policy.
That’s the reason I have taken the unusual step of taking up this battle in more than a purely literary way: because it’s a battle we can’t afford to lose – and dare not sit out.
Please sign the White House petition, and – just as importantly – post the link everywhere. It’s time to man the barricades, and fight the good fight. As the wizard Gandalf said to Galadriel and Saruman in The Hobbit movie: there is a Dark Power stealthily invading the Western lands, unwilling to show its full face just yet, waiting for the right moment to strike. The Hagel confirmation battle is an alarming sign that the enemy is about to show himself.
So get over to that White House petition, and bring your friends – because we can’t let those neoconservative Orcs have to the field all to themselves. To heck with the "Emergency Committee for Israel." What we need – and must have – is an Emergency Committee for America.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
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- Myths of Empire – November 22nd, 2015
- Hillary Clinton’s Road to War – November 19th, 2015