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Thomas Friedman Goes to Bat for Chuck Hagel

Posted By Joseph Klein On December 28, 2012 @ 12:06 am In Daily Mailer,FrontPage | 49 Comments

Just as news has surfaced that President Obama may be reconsidering his controversial nomination of Chuck Hagel as secretary of Defense, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman advises us to “Give Chuck A Chance,” advocating for the former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel to replace out-going Secretary Leon Panetta. “I am a Hagel supporter,” Friedman wrote. “I think he would make a fine secretary of defense – precisely because some of his views are not ‘mainstream.’”

Friedman thinks it is “disgusting” that Hagel has been criticized for snidely labeling Israel’s many supporters in the United States as the “Jewish lobby.” Friedman also argues that just because Hagel has been unwilling to go along unswervingly with everything the Israeli government decides to do, including its expansion of settlements, it doesn’t mean that Hagel cannot still be a friend of Israel (albeit a friend with tough love).

No wonder Friedman did not have any trouble with Hagel’s “Jewish lobby” remark. Last year, in another of his columns, Friedman himself said that the only reason Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu received a standing ovation during his address to a joint session of Congress was that the “ovation was bought and paid for by the Israel lobby.” Friedman couldn’t conceive of the fact that maybe the ovation was in appreciation for the courageous leader of our closest ally in the Middle East, who is trying to preserve a modern day democracy in a neighborhood of regressive nihilists bent on his country’s destruction.

Whether or not Hagel would back Israel as secretary of defense if the chips were down is anyone’s guess. But whatever the answer may turn out to be – which I suspect will be no – Hagel does not deserve the cabinet position in any event. The reason is because Hagel’s views are too in synch with the Obama administration’s engage-with-the-enemy philosophy. He will be a close appeasement soul mate with Hillary Clinton’s likely replacement as Secretary of State, John Kerry, who not too long ago was one of Syrian President Assad’s biggest boosters.

Hagel’s tilt towards engagement with Hezbollah, Hamas and Iran proves his lack of judgment to lead the Pentagon.

Why was Hagel one of only a dozen senators who refused to write the European Union asking them to declare Hezbollah a terrorist organization? That was back in 2006.  Once again, the Senate passed a resolution last Friday, before leaving for the Christmas break, that would encourage European countries to designate Hezbollah as a terrorist organization and instructed President Obama to provide information about Hezbollah to our European allies. The EU is reportedly finally considering such a designation. Where does Hagel stand now on this issue? Would his past opposition to such a move when he was in the Senate reassert itself and reinforce the Obama administration’s apparent passivity on this issue?

In December 2005, Hagel was one of only 27 senators who did not sign a letter to President George W. Bush urging him to pressure the Palestinian Authority to ban terrorist groups from participating in Palestinian legislative elections. The terrorist group Hamas turned out to be main beneficiary of those elections. But that doesn’t seem to bother Hagel. In March 2009, Hagel co-signed a letter urging President Obama to open direct talks with Hamas, which remains to this day committed to the destruction of the Jewish state of Israel. Friedman agrees with Hagel, writing in his December 26th op-ed article that “I don’t think America or Israel have anything to lose by engaging Hamas to see if a different future is possible.”

Sorry, Chuck and Tom, but Hamas’s view of the future is no different than that expressed in its founding charter – the complete liquidation of Israel. Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal vowed earlier this month that Hamas would never give up “an inch of the land” to Israel, and he was not just talking about the West Bank and Gaza:

Palestine is ours, from the river to the sea and from the south to the north. There will be no concession on an inch of the land. We will never recognise the legitimacy of the Israeli occupation and therefore there is no legitimacy for Israel, no matter how long it will take.

On Christmas Day, a senior Hamas leader called for another intifada and the resumption of suicide bombings.

What exactly do Hagel and Friedman have in mind as the subject for engagement with Hamas? A negotiated timetable for Israel’s destruction?

Hagel has also consistently opposed tough sanctions against the Iranian regime, something that even the Obama administration reluctantly pursued – finally – after prodding from Congress.

“There are a lot of senators, Democrats and Republicans, who are very outspoken on the need to stop Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability through the imposition of sanctions and demonstration of a credible military threat,” one senior Senate aide was quoted in Foreign Policy as saying. “Chuck Hagel is the antithesis of everything those members believe in.”

Friedman argues that while President Obama will still make all of the final calls, he should do so only “after having heard all the alternatives.”  Friedman thinks Hagel represents that alternative voice, but he is wrong. Hagel would only be reinforcing Obama’s engage-with-our-enemies, bash Israel world view.  Moreover, like Obama, Hagel blames, in his own words, the United States as “a source of significant friction not only in the region [the Middle East] but in the wider international community.”

We need at least one grown-up to serve on America’s national security team during these dangerous times who does not blame America first, who stands by our closest ally in the Middle East and who is willing to deal forcefully with our enemies. Chuck Hagel is not that person.

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