Addressing concerns before his confirmation hearing in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), President Barack Obama’s pick for Defense Secretary, met with Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), one of Hagel’s biggest skeptics. After calling American Israeli Public Affairs Committee “the Jewish lobby” in 1996, Hagel antagonized the largest pro-Israel lobbying group. “Based on several key assurances provided by Sen. Hagel, I am currently prepared to vote for his confirmation,” said Schumer, urging his Senate colleagues to support Obama’s pick to replace Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. Before Obama won election Nov. 4, 2008, he wanted Hagel for defense secretary but let Robert Gates stay in place for continuity. When Obama arrived at the U.S. Senate in Jan. 3, 2005, he immediately bonded with Hagel, an outspoken Iraq War critic.
Schumer watched Hagel torpedo his GOP career bucking former President George W. Bush on the Iraq War. At a time when anyone that questioned Bush’s policies was considered unpatriotic, Hagel stood up for his belief that Iraq served no purpose other than perhaps lining the pockets of a select group of defense contractors. Schumer, like his other Democratic Senate colleagues, admired Hagel’s courage, running afoul with the Bush White House, especially former Vice President Dick Cheney and his Neocon friends at the Pentagon. “I encourage my Senate colleagues who have shared by previous concerns to also support him [Hagel],” said Schumer. Schumer’s concerns about Hagel stemmed from past remarks about the so-called “Jewish lobby,” but, more importantly, his opposition to harsh sanctions to halt Iran’s feverish pursuit of nuclear power, maybe an A-bomb.
When Bush decided to attack Iraq March 20, 2003, no one knew it would eventually break the U.S. Treasury, plunging the nation into the worst recession since the Great Depression. Columbia University Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph I. Stiglitz warned that excessive defense spending would crash the U.S. economy. Hagel opposed the Iraq War because he never bought Bush and Cheney’s argument about Saddam Hussein’s connection to Sept. 11. By the time Barack arrived in the U.S. Senate, 60% of the American public believed Saddam was responsible for Sept. 11. Above anyone else in U.S. Senate, Hagel saw through Bush and Cheney’s propaganda, refusing to support the Iraq War. Schumer said Hagel reassured him on his views toward Israel’s terrorist enemies, Hamas and Hezbollah, agreeing that both groups warranted labels as terror groups.
Schumer expressed more understanding on Hagel’s views on Iranian sanctions. While Hagel thought initially Iranian sanctions would backfire, he also agreed that the current sanctions were appropriate and effective. Schumer expressed concern about Hagel’s possible opposition to supplying Israel with F-35 joint strike fighters to potentially hit Iran’s nuclear sites. Hagel told Schumer he supported the Iron Dome antimissile defense shield and accepted Israel’s military superiority over its Mideast neighbors. Hagel reassured Schumer on enforcing Barack’s commitment to keep Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. He signaled that his highest priority was working on contingency plans should diplomacy not stop Iran from pursuing an A-bomb. Hagel’s opposition to the Iraq War was not based on pacifism but a basic disagreement with Bush’s military priorities.
In a strange twist of fate, Schumer found himself agreeing with Bush’s approach on Iraq and Israel. Since Israel’s founding in 1948, never before had an American president treated Israel so seamlessly. Bush essentially viewed Israel as a 51st state, sharing intelligence and military capability as never before. U.S. ships or aircraft needed no clearance to dock or land on Israeli soil. Sept. 11 changed the U.S. calculus as a disinterested Mideast peace broker. U.S. interests—and national security—became inextricably tied to Israel. Before his stroke Jan. 5, 2006, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was practically a second father to Bush. Bush admired Sharon’s intolerance of terrorism, something prior U.S. presidents tolerated when the late Palestine Liberation Chairman Yasser Arafat made excuses for suicide bombers blowing up Israeli buses and commercial establishments.
Schumer got all there reassurance he needed to support Hagel for Defense Secretary. He knows Hagel will not buck Obama’s military priorities nor try to set policy independently. It’s ironic that Hagel, not Schumer, opposed Bush’s gratuitous Iraq War costing 4,486 U.S. lives and over $1 trillion in tax dollars. Hagel, not Schumer, rose up against Bush’s Neocon insanity that bypassed conventional intelligence sources, cherry picking its own intel through the Pentagon’s Office of Special Plans. Hagel, not Schumer, saw through the Neocon’s smoke and sacrificed his GOP career for the good of the country. While Schumer was busy supporting AIPAC, Hagel read his duty correctly: “To preserve. protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” Getting reassurance on Israel should not be Schumer’s reason for voting for Hagel: It’s his courage, integrity and patriotism to do what’s right.
About the Author
John M. Curtis writes politically neutral commentary analyzing spin in national and global news. He’s editor of OnlineColumnist.com and author of Dodging The Bullet and Operation Charisma.