JED BABBIN: WHY OBAMA CHOSE HAGEL
To understand why President Obama chose former Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., to be the next secretary of defense, it’s only necessary to compare the biggest challenges facing the Pentagon to Obama’s ideology and agenda. For Obama, Hagel is an almost ideal ideological choice.
Hagel has been outspoken in support of Obama’s foreign policy and Pentagon budget cuts. In an August 2011 interview with the Financial Times, Hagel praised Obama’s reliance on the cooperation of other nations, saying “Mr. Obama inherited probably the biggest inventory of problems, certainly foreign policy problems, than any American president ever has,” and said the Pentagon had become “bloated,” and needs to be “pared down.”
The immediate problem the next defense secretary will face is the $600 billion in budget cuts the Pentagon will absorb if a new debt ceiling deal doesn’t end the threat of sequestration. Though the current Pentagon leadership has said that sequestration would be devastating to America’s defenses, Obama must like Hagel’s conclusion that the Pentagon needs to be pared down.
The biggest foreign policy crisis Obama will face in his second term is the coming war between Israel and Iran. Obama has barely been able to conceal his contempt for Israel and its prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has been treated as a servile supplicant at Obama’s White House. Netanyahu warned, in a September U.N. speech, that the “red line” on Iran’s nuclear program — the point at which it will become impossible to stop it by military means — will be reached in late spring or early summer.
Obama has been working hard to prevent Israel from attacking Iran. He wants a Pentagon chief who agrees with his policy on Israel and Hagel — a forceful critic of Israel — clearly does. Hagel is so outspoken in his criticism of Israel and its American supporters that some have accused him of anti-Semitism. That charge stems, in part, from statements he made in 2006 in which Hagel opened his mind on Jewish influence in America.
Among other things, Hagel said that, “the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people,” and that “I’m not an Israeli senator, I’m a United States senator.”(Hagel repeated these remarks two years later.)
Hagel’s implication that American Jews and other supporters of Israel have divided loyalties is the same calumny that was thrown at John Kennedy when he ran for president in 1960. It was said of Kennedy that because he was a Catholic, Kennedy would follow the Pope’s orders rather than act in America’s interests. It was wrong to say that of Kennedy, and Hagel is just as wrong now to accuse Israel’s friends of the same thing. For Hagel to say this doesn’t make him an anti-Semite, but it reduces him to their level.
Hagel’s other views fit closely with Obama’s. He’s opposed sanctions on Iran, called the Iraq war a “war for oil,” and in 2006 signed a letter opposing EU action to designate the Iranian-backed Hizbullah organization as terrorists. Hizbullah has more American blood on its hands than any terrorist group other than al Qaeda.
Having engineered the repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law banning gays from openly serving in the military, Obama may want to go further in conceding to the LGBT lobby. Hagel, went off the reservation in 1998 by saying an openly gay Clinton ambassador would be “inhibited” from doing an effective job, and apologized recently.
Hagel is likely to be confirmed after a contentious nomination hearing. As defense secretary, he will not be the thoughtful advocate of the defense capability that our nation needs.
Jed Babbin was appointed deputy undersecretary of defense by President George H.W. Bush. He is the author of such best-selling books as “Inside the Asylum” and “In the Words of Our Enemies.”
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