The drama around Chuck Hagel’s nomination for Secretary of Defense seems to be heading into its predictable third act. While much attention has been given to Hagel’s heterodox views (for D.C.) on the Middle East, and the threat that several Democrats might oppose his nomination over Israel, both the nominee and the party seem to be getting in line behind the President (and conveniently the lobby).
Politico is reporting this morning on a letter Hagel sent to California Sen. Barbara Boxer answering her concerns regarding his views on U.S. policy towards Iran and Israel, the Israel lobby, as well as issues pertaining to women and gays and lesbians in the military. You can read Hagel’s letter here. In it he does an about face on several positions to move towards the conventional wisdom in Washington. The most glaring example is the issue of sanctions against Iran, where Hagel had previously argued against unilateral U.S. sanctions in favor of multilaterial action. No longer. From the letter:
I have long supported economic sanctions that are applied in concert with allies and partners. I strongly supported the Obama Administation’s approach which has brought to bear unprecedented multilateral sanctions on Iran, including UN Council Resolution 1929. Regarding unilateral sanctions, I have told the President I completely support his policy on Iran. I agree that with Iran’s continued rejection of diplomatic overtures, further effective sanctions, both multilateral and unilateral — may be necessary and I will support the President.
Hagel also apologized for using the term “Jewish lobby” and promised the special relationship is in safe hands if he is confirmed:
As to my use of the phrase “Jewish lobby” to describe those who advocate for a strong U.S.-Israeli relationship, I’ve acknowledged that this was a very poor choice of words. I’ve said so publicly and I regret saying it. I used that terminology only once, in an interview. I recognize that this kind of language can be construed as anti-Israel. I know the pro-Israel lobby is comprised of both Jewish and non-Jewish Americans. In the Senate, I was a strong supporter of Defense appropriations, which provided enduring support for Israel’s security. Most Americans, myself included, are overwhelmingly supportive of a strong U.S.-Israel strategic and security relationship.
Hagel proves his pro-Israel bona fides by promising to deepen military cooperation with Israel and repeating a beltway mantra as American as baseball and apple cake:
America’s relationship with Israel is one that is fundamentally built on our nations shared values, common interests and democratic ideals. The Middle East is undergoing dramatic and historic changes, ones which surround Israel with tremendous uncertainty. We are working together daily, hand in hand, in unprecedented ways, to counter old, new and emerging mutual threats. I fully intend to expand the depth and breadth of U.S.-Israel cooperation.
Caving to political pressure sure pays quick dividends. Following the letter, Boxer annoucned she is on board with the Hagel nomination. Charles Schumer also announced he will support Hagel following similar outreach. From the New York Times:
Of deepest concern to Mr. Schumer and many Israel advocacy groups, are Mr. Hagel’s positions on the nuclear threat posed by Iran, particularly his suggestions in the past that a military strike against Iran would be counterproductive. It is a position that is out of step with the Obama administration, which became increasingly hawkish on Iran during the 2012 campaign.
“On Iran, Senator Hagel rejected a strategy of containment and expressed the need to keep all options on the table in confronting that country,” Mr. Schumer said. “But he didn’t stop there. In our conversation, Senator Hagel made a crystal-clear promise that he would do ‘whatever it takes’ to stop Tehran from obtaining nuclear weapons, including the use of military force.”
As a senator from Nebraska, Mr. Hagel voted against several rounds of sanctions against Iran that ultimately passed the Senate, citing unilateral sanctions are ineffective. On this matter too, Mr. Schumer seemed to find comfort. “Senator Hagel clarified that he ‘completely’ supports President Obama’s current sanctions against Iran,” Mr. Schumer said. “He added that further unilateral sanctions against Iran could be effective and necessary.”
On nearly every other issue that Mr. Schumer brought up with Mr. Hagel – his views on the militant Islamist groups Hezbollah and Hamas, his prior comments about gays, his use of the term “Jewish lobby” to refer to Israel advocacy groups – all seemed to be tamped down in the meeting.
“I know some will question whether Senator Hagel’s assurances are merely attempts to quiet critics as he seeks confirmation to this critical post,” Mr. Schumer said. “But I don’t think so. Senator Hagel realizes the situation in the Middle East has changed, with Israel in a dramatically more endangered position than it was even five years ago.”