Chuck Hagel (left) with then Senator Barack Obama in 2007
* Charles Krauthammer: The puzzle of the Chuck Hagel nomination for defense secretary is that you normally choose someone of the other party for your Cabinet to indicate a move to the center, but, as The Washington Post’s editorial board pointed out, Hagel’s foreign policy views are to the left of Barack Obama’s, let alone the GOP’s. Indeed, they are at the fringe of the entire Senate.
* On Iran, Hagel doesn’t just oppose military action, a problematic option with serious arguments on both sides. He actually opposed any unilateral sanctions. You can’t get more out of the mainstream than that. He has indicated that he is prepared to contain a nuclear Iran, a position diametrically opposed to Obama’s first-term, ostensibly unalterable opposition to containment. What message do you think this sends the mullahs?
* Iran’s official media have already cheered the choice of what they call this “anti-Israel” nominee. And they fully understand what his nomination signals regarding administration resolve about stopping them from going nuclear.
* Jackson Diehl: In Washington, some of the loudest calls for Obama’s reengagement [on Palestine] come from the “realist” foreign policy camp, populated by figures such as former national security advisers Zbigniew Brzezinski and Brent Scowcroft – and Chuck Hagel. These folks opposed the war in Iraq, and they reject U.S. intervention in Syria or military action against Iran’s nuclear program. They have been arguing for years that it is time for the U.S. to recognize limits to its power. When it comes to Israel, however, the realists assume boundless U.S. strength [to pressure it].
* Diehl: If Palestinian statehood is so crucial, then it must be at the center of U.S. foreign policy, regardless of whether the time is ripe. But is it? As Egypt polarizes between secular and Islamist camps, and Syria’s vicious war pits Sunni Muslims against Alawites and their Shiite allies, it seems clear that the region’s biggest conflicts are those of Arabs against Arabs.
* What’s needed [for Palestinian statehood] is a concerted but low-key policy, one that aims at creating conditions for a long-term solution but does not pretend that it can be delivered in the next year or two. Above all, Obama should accept the lesson of his first term: that making Middle East peace a presidential priority will not make it happen.
* In a recent column marking the second anniversary of the Arab Spring, Amos Harel, widely respected military correspondent for the Israeli daily Ha’aretz, made an eye-catching observation in a newspaper that leans decidedly left and rarely misses an opportunity to criticize Israel’s prime minister. “From an Israeli perspective,” he wrote, “it would appear that Benjamin Netanyahu’s initial reading of the so-called Arab Spring was closer to reality than that of Barack Obama and other Western leaders.”
* Peter Berkowitz: Israel’s leaders understand well that as the Middle East’s sole liberal democracy, Israel has a strong interest in the spread of freedom and democracy in the region. But while Israelis cast their gaze beyond their borders, they see a paucity of groups and leaders committed to freedom and a tightening of an Islamic belt around them.
* Berkowitz: When Israelis casts their gaze beyond the region and look to international bodies such as the UN General Assembly and the UN Human Rights Council, and the bulk of the commentary emanating from universities and news organizations in the West, it sees a barely veiled hostility that seems determined to deny Israel’s right to defend itself -- or even exist. As Middle East analyst Tom Gross points out, “Israel needs to devote the same quality of strategic thinking to combating campaigns of disinformation and slander that it has successfully employed on military and intelligence matters.”
I attach three articles, below. Because of severe RSI that makes typing difficult, I am not able to add any additional summaries of my own.
The authors of all three articles (syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer, Deputy Editorial Page Editor of the Washington Post, Jackson Diehl and Peter Berkowitz, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University) are subscribers to this list. -- Tom Gross
(You can comment on this dispatch here: www.facebook.com/TomGrossMedia. Please also press “Like” on that page.)
1. “The meaning of Hagel” (By Charles Krauthammer, Washington Post, Jan. 11, 2013)
2. On Chuck Hagel: From my dispatch of October 20, 2008
3. On Chuck Hagel: From my dispatch of July 22, 2008
4. “Wading into the Mideast morass” (By Jackson Diehl, Washington Post, Jan. 6, 2013)
5. “Israelis await new government amid old security perils”(By Peter Berkowitz, Real Clear Politics, Jan. 4, 2013)
THE MESSAGE OBAMA SEEMINGLY WANTS TO SEND
The meaning of Hagel
By Charles Krauthammer
Jan 11, 2013
“This is my last election. After my election, I have more flexibility.”
– Barack Obama to Dmitry Medvedev, March 26, 2012
The puzzle of the Chuck Hagel nomination for defense secretary is that you normally choose someone of the other party for your Cabinet to indicate a move to the center, but, as The Washington Post’s editorial board pointed out, Hagel’s foreign policy views are to the left of Barack Obama’s, let alone the GOP’s. Indeed, they are at the fringe of the entire Senate.
So what’s going on? Message-sending. Obama won reelection. He no longer has to trim, to appear more moderate than his true instincts. He has the “flexibility” to be authentically Obama.
Hence the Hagel choice: Under the guise of centrist bipartisanship, it allows the president to leave the constrained first-term Obama behind and follow his natural Hagel-like foreign policy inclinations. On three pressing issues, in particular:
(1) Military Spending
Current Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said in August 2011 that the scheduled automatic $600 billion defense cuts (“sequestration”) would result in “hollowing out the force,” which would be “devastating.” And he strongly hinted that he might resign rather than enact them.
Asked about Panetta’s remarks, Hagel called the Pentagon “bloated” and needing “to be pared down.” Just the man you’d want to carry out a U.S. disarmament that will shrink America to what Obama thinks is its proper size on the world stage; i.e., smaller. The overweening superpower that Obama promiscuously chided in his global we-have-sinned tour is poised for reduction, not only to fund the bulging welfare state – like Europe’s postwar choice of social spending over international relevance – but to recalibrate America’s proper role in the world.
The issue is not Hagel’s alleged hostility but his public pronouncements. His refusal to make moral distinctions, for example. At the height of the second intifada, a relentless campaign of indiscriminate massacre of Israelis, Hagel found innocence abounding: “Both Israelis and Palestinians are trapped in a war not of their making.”
This pass at evenhandedness is nothing but pernicious blindness. Just last month, Yasser Arafat’s widow admitted on Dubai TV what everyone has long known – that Arafat deliberately launched the intifada after the collapse of the Camp David peace talks in July 2000. He told his wife to stay in the safety of Paris. Why, she asked? Because I’m going to start an intifada.
In July 2002, with the terror still raging, Hagel offered further exquisite evenhandedness: “Israel must take steps to show its commitment to peace.” Good God. Exactly two years earlier Israel had proposed an astonishingly generous peace that offered Arafat a Palestinian state – and half of Jerusalem, a previously unimaginable Israeli concession. Arafat said no, made no counteroffer, walked away and started his terror war. Did no one tell Hagel?
Hagel doesn’t just oppose military action, a problematic option with serious arguments on both sides. He actually opposed any unilateral sanctions. You can’t get more out of the mainstream than that.
He believes in diplomacy instead, as if talk alone will deter the mullahs. He even voted against designating Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization at a time when they were supplying and supporting attacks on U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Most tellingly, he has indicated that he is prepared to contain a nuclear Iran, a position diametrically opposed to Obama’s first-term, ostensibly unalterable opposition to containment. What message do you think this sends the mullahs?
And that’s the point. Hagel himself doesn’t matter. He won’t make foreign policy. Obama will run it out of the White House even more tightly than he did in the first term. Hagel’s importance is the message his nomination sends about where Obama wants to go. The lessons are being duly drawn. Iran’s official media have already cheered the choice of what they call this “anti-Israel” nominee. And they fully understand what his nomination signals regarding administration resolve about stopping them from going nuclear.
The rest of the world can see coming the Pentagon downsizing – and the inevitable, commensurate decline of U.S. power. Pacific Rim countries will have to rethink reliance on the counterbalance of the U.S. Navy and consider acquiescence to Chinese regional hegemony. Arab countries will understand that the current rapid decline of post-Kissinger U.S. dominance in the region is not cyclical but intended to become permanent.
Hagel is a man of no independent stature. He’s no George Marshall or Henry Kissinger. A fringe senator who left no trace behind, Hagel matters only because of what his nomination says about Obama.
However the Senate votes on confirmation, the signal has already been sent. Before Election Day, Obama could only whisper it to his friend Dmitry. Now, with Hagel, he’s told the world.
FROM MY DISPATCH OF OCTOBER 20, 2008
This was a note I wrote in my dispatch October 20, 2008, during Barack Obama’s candidature for his first presidential term:
Tom Gross adds: Certainly on questions concerning the Middle East, for sympathizers of Israel and for anyone seriously concerned about nuclear proliferation in the Muslim world, McCain is a much safer bet than Obama, who remains something of an unknown quantity.
The principal Republican being touted for office in an Obama administration, Sen. Chuck Hagel, who is now being tipped as a possible defense secretary, would prove disastrous for Israel if one judges by Hagel’s past record.
Hagel stands out among Republicans for taking positions not shared by the rest of his party, or indeed by moderate Democrats. He has consistently advocated anti-Israel measures. He vehemently opposed the surge in Iraq. He was one of only two senators to vote against renewing the 2001 Iran-Libya Sanctions Act, which passed 96-2 and helped deny Iran and Libya money that they would have spent on supporting terrorism or acquiring weapons of mass destruction. He was one of only four senators who voted against the 2003 Syria Accountability Act which condemned Syria for its support of terrorism and its occupation of Lebanon. And he was one of only four senators who voted against the 1998 Iran Missile Proliferation Sanctions Act, imposing sanctions on foreigners who help Iran’s missile program. One might ask why Obama is so enamored with Hagel?
FROM MY DISPATCH OF JULY 22, 2008
This was a note I wrote in my dispatch of July 22, 2008 (titled “Israelis’ Obama skepticism”), during Barack Obama’s candidature for his first presidential term:
Tom Gross adds: However, of particular concern to supporters of Israel is that Obama, the Democratic Party candidate, is being accompanied by Republican Senator Chuck Hagel on his trip to Israel, one of only two senators Obama is traveling with (the other being Jack Reed, a Democrat from Rhode Island).
One pro-Israel observer said: “If Obama is getting advice from Hagel about Israel, then the American Jewish community has a lot to worry about. Of all the senators with whom Obama could have traveled with, Hagel’s record on Israel is one of the worst.
“The message is heard loud and clear. While Obama has chosen to visit Israel with one of the most anti-Israel senators, by contrast, on John McCain’s most recent trip to Israel, he chose to visit with Joseph Lieberman.”
The Democratic Party has itself previously (in March 2007) released to the press examples of Sen. Hagel’s abysmal record on Israel:
* In August 2006, Hagel was one of only 12 senators who refused to call Hizbullah a terrorist organization.
* In December 2005, Hagel was one of only 27 who refused to sign a letter asking the Palestinian Authority to ban terrorist groups.
* In June 2004, Hagel refused to sign a letter urging President Bush to highlight Iran’s nuclear program at the G-8 summit.
* In November 2001, Hagel was one of only 11 senators who refused to sign a letter urging President Bush not to meet with the late Yasser Arafat until he ended violence against Israel.
* In October 2000, Hagel was one of only four senators who refused to sign a Senate letter in support of Israel.
* And here’s what the anti-Israel group, CAIR, wrote in praise of Hagel: “Potential presidential candidates for 2008, like Hillary Clinton, John McCain, Joe Biden and Newt Gingrich, were falling all over themselves to express their support for Israel. The only exception to that rule was Senator Chuck Hagel” (Council on American-Islamic Relations, 8/28/06).
I mentioned in a previous dispatch:
When asked by Newsweek “Would you have Republicans in your cabinet?” Obama replied, “No decisions, but Dick Lugar embodies the best tradition in foreign policy. Chuck Hagel is a smart guy who has shows some courage, even though we disagree on domestic policy.”
“BENJAMIN NETANYAHU MAY REPRESENT THE DOVISH LEFT WING”
Wading into the Middle East morass
By Jackson Diehl
January 6, 2013
On his second day in office in 2009, Barack Obama launched an ambitious effort to broker peace in the Middle East, ignoring warnings that neither Israelis nor Palestinians were ready for a deal. He was badly burned. Despite the appointment of former senator George Mitchell as an envoy and plenty of direct presidential involvement, the initiative flopped. Israelis and Palestinians never began substantial negotiations, and Obama’s first term ended with another mini-war in the Gaza Strip.
Four years later, the diplomatic landscape looks even more forbidding. Gaza remains firmly in the possession of the Hamas movement, which has not budged from its refusal to recognize Israel. The Palestinian Authority of Mahmoud Abbas appears to be crumbling, with Abbas himself contemplating retirement. An election this month in Israel appears likely to create one of most nationalist governments in the country’s history, one in which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – regarded in the White House as a serious obstacle to any peace process – may represent the dovish left wing.
Yet if Obama were to listen to his European counterparts, Arab leaders and even his incoming secretary of state, he would, once again, make the “peace process” a top priority in his second term. The puzzling but persistent illogic behind this is worth deconstructing.
In Washington, some of the loudest calls for Obama’s reengagement come from the “realist” foreign policy camp, populated by figures such as former national security advisers Zbigniew Brzezinski and Brent Scowcroft – and former senator Chuck Hagel, whom Obama is considering for defense secretary. These folks opposed the war in Iraq, and they reject U.S. intervention in Syria or military action against Iran’s nuclear program. They have been arguing for years that it is time for the United States to recognize limits to its power.
When it comes to Israel, however, the realists assume boundless U.S. strength. If only he chooses to do so, they argue, Obama could join with U.S. allies or the U.N Security Council in imposing a two-state solution on the Israelis and Palestinians, like it or not. The supposition seems to be that a United States too weak to force Bashar al-Assad out of Syria can compel Israel’s advanced democracy and the leaderless Palestinians to accept compromises they have resisted for decades.
There’s nothing wrong with the realists’ goal. Though often accused of being anti-Israel, Brzezinski and Scowcroft have proposed parameters for a Palestinian state close to those embraced by previous Israeli governments. Their solution is eminently logical; it’s the means of getting there that beggar belief. Obama’s first term was proof: The president proved unable even to force Israel to freeze settlements, or oblige the Palestinian Authority to negotiate – much less dictate a deal.
European governments mostly realized long ago that no U.S. administration would or could strong-arm the two sides. Yet they cling to another dogma, one that I suspect is shared by Secretary of State-to-be John Kerry: that an Israeli-Palestinian settlement is the key to stabilizing the broader Middle East, from Morocco to Iraq. It’s an idea nourished by old and new Arab rulers across the region, from Egypt’s new Islamist president to the kings of Saudi Arabia and Jordan, who are eager to divert U.S. attention from their own troubles.
If Palestinian statehood is so crucial, then it must be at the center of U.S. foreign policy, regardless of whether the time is ripe. But is it? As Egypt polarizes between secular and Islamist camps, and Syria’s vicious war pits Sunni Muslims against Alawites and their Shiite allies, it seems clear that the region’s biggest conflicts are those of Arabs against Arabs. But Western governments are at a loss over what to do about these battles. For the Israelis and Palestinians there is, at least, a well-known formula: conferences to be arranged, shuttles between capitals, dickering over conditions and pre-conditions.
All this is not to argue that Obama should ignore the Israelis and Palestinians or abandon the cause of Palestinian statehood, which in the long run will be a building block of a modernized Middle East. U.S. neglect could be taken as license by Israeli nationalists to take steps to obstruct that future state; it could also prompt Palestinians to embrace more provocative measures, from firing more missiles from Gaza at Israeli cities to inciting a new uprising in the West Bank.
But what’s needed is a concerted but low-key policy, one that aims at creating conditions for a long-term solution but does not pretend that it can be delivered in the next year or two. Obama should encourage Israel’s new government to take palliative steps to ease movement and promote development in the West Bank; he should press Egypt’s ruling Islamists to exert a moderating influence over Hamas. Above all, he should accept the lesson of his first term: that making Middle East peace a presidential priority will not make it happen.
ELECTION SEASON IN ISRAEL
Israelis await new government amid old security perils
By Peter Berkowitz
Real Clear Politics
January 4, 2013
TEL AVIV -- Election season in Israel has brought the usual jockeying for power; an unusually clumsy making, unmaking and remaking of potential post-election coalitions; and, with the assistance of Israel’s merciless TV and radio funnymen and -women, much comic relief.
In the minds of most Israelis, however, there is little suspense about the most likely result of the early elections called for Jan. 22 by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: After three years as head of the current right-wing government, Netanyahu will get the opportunity to form a new government, courtesy of Israeli voters.
There is also little uncertainty about the daunting national security challenges that will occupy the new Netanyahu led-government in 2013.
In conversations with a dozen senior figures in the Israeli national security establishment, including several currently serving in the government, the same three themes kept arising: the increasing Islamization of the region, de-legitimization of Israel in the international arena, and Iran’s pursuit of nuclear arms.
In a recent column marking the second anniversary of the Arab Spring, Amos Harel, widely respected military correspondent and defense analyst for the Israeli daily Haaretz, made an eye-catching observation in a newspaper that leans decidedly left and rarely misses an opportunity to criticize Israel’s right-of-center prime minister. “From an Israeli perspective,” he wrote, “it would appear that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s initial reading of the so-called Arab Spring was closer to reality than that of U.S. President Barack Obama and other Western leaders.”
To be sure, as Harel noted, dictators in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen have been ousted, and the dictator in Syria -- who, to crush rebellion, has butchered approximately 60,000 fellow citizens -- appears to be losing his grip on power.
However, even in Tunisia and Egypt, where elections have taken place, the Arab Spring has created or intensified political instability, resulted in worsened economic conditions, and led directly to the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood, a Sunni organization that seeks to ground political authority in traditional Islamic religious law. This is more or less as Netanyahu and the national security establishment in Israel warned two years ago, even as Obama and European leaders celebrated the supposed emergence of freedom in the Arab world.
Israel’s leaders understand well that as the Middle East’s sole liberal democracy, Israel has a strong interest in the spread of freedom and democracy in the region. But while Israelis cast their gaze beyond their borders, they see a paucity of groups and leaders committed to freedom and a tightening of an Islamic belt around them.
Iranian-backed Hezbollah rules absolutely in southern Lebanon and dominates the Lebanese government. The Iranian-backed regime of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria, whose days most experts in Israel believe are numbered, could well be followed by the ascent to power in Syria of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Pro-western King Abdullah of Jordan confronts a restive population, 70 percent of whom are Palestinian in origin, along with a rising tide of Islamic sentiment and activism among his people. If he were to fall, the most probable result would be an Islamist state -- with a standing army and a modern air force -- on the east bank of the Jordan River.
On Israel’s other flank, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi is working to consolidate power under an Islamist constitution. Iranian-funded weapons continue to flow to Hamas in Gaza through Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula for use against Israeli civilian populations. Most knowledgeable observers in Israel believe that if elections were held in the West Bank tomorrow, Hamas would win.
Not all the news is bleak, however. Assad’s demise in Syria would deal a devastating blow to Hezbollah in Lebanon and to its patron Iran by destroying a crucial link in the Shiite axis Tehran has been constructing from the Persian Gulf to the eastern shores of the Mediterranean.
At the same time, the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria is weaker than the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. In Jordan, King Abdullah thus far has played his cards well at home, and he enjoys strong if quiet support from Israel even as the pro-Western gulf monarchies understand Jordan’s vital importance to regional stability. In Cairo, Morsi has affirmed his support for peace with Israel and showed a pragmatic streak in brokering the cease-fire between Israel and Hamas that ended Israel’s November 2012 Pillar of Defense operation.
Moreover, with the Egyptian economy teetering on the brink and the problem of feeding Egypt’s nearly 85 million citizens intensifying, Morsi seems to appreciate that the last thing he needs is for Hamas to disrupt relations with Israel.
Meanwhile, Israel’s recently concluded Gaza operation destroyed a high proportion of Hamas’ most dangerous rockets and missiles. Since the end of that operation, Hamas and affiliates in Gaza have held their fire. In the West Bank, which has yet to be touched by the Arab Spring, the economy continues to grow at a brisk clip, as it has since the establishment of Prime Minister Salam Fayad’s government in 2007.
In recent years, the Netanyahu government’s relaxation of the hated roadblocks and checkpoints between Palestinian population centers in the West Bank has increased mobility and promoted commerce, giving Palestinians the opportunity to enjoy middle-class pleasures and develop middle-class habits.
When Israelis casts their gaze beyond the region and look to international bodies such as the United Nations General Assembly and the United Nations Human Rights Council, and the bulk of the commentary emanating from universities and news organizations in the West, it sees a barely veiled hostility that seems determined to deny Israel’s right to defend itself -- or even exist.
Notwithstanding former South African judge Richard Goldstone’s April 2011 retraction in the Washington Post of the most scurrilous and baseless charges leveled in the 2009 U.N. report that bears his name, the Goldstone report continues to be cited by those bent on vilifying Israel as an outlaw nation.
Even with the threats posed by Islamization and de-legitimization, there is little doubt in Israel that Iran’s development of nuclear weapons is the most urgent threat the nation faces.
Netanyahu’s great diplomatic achievement has been to compel a dawdling and distracted West to recognize the gravity of the threat a nuclear Iran poses not only to Israel, but to regional stability. The pro-Western gulf monarchies fully appreciate that the regional hegemony Iran envisages entails their necessary subordination, if not their overthrow.
And while Israeli officials are acutely aware that current sanctions are inflicting real pain on the Iranian economy, they also know that diplomacy hasn’t worked, and they are convinced -- as are most Sunni Arabs in the region -- that diplomacy won’t work. Indeed, the Iranians have taken every invitation to negotiate as the cheap purchase of additional time to enrich uranium, and all indications are that they will continue to do so.
Should the mullahs in Tehran acquire a nuclear weapon, it would only be a short time before Saudi Arabia and other gulf monarchies turned the Middle East poly-nuclear by purchasing their own nuclear weapons from Pakistan. Alternatively, a nuclear Iran might succeed in using its quantum leap in leverage to force those gulf monarchies to expel American troops from the region.
In these difficult circumstances, Israel must both prepare to take advantage of small openings and gird itself against grave dangers. There is little it can do to weaken the appeal of political Islam in the countries that surround it. Israel can, however, continue to seek common ground with Islamists as it has with Egypt’s Morsi.
And it can exercise influence on the West Bank and among its own Arab citizens to reduce the appeal of radical Islam. Regardless of progress in negotiations concerning a final status agreement with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Israel should improve cooperation with the United States, Europe and other willing and able members of the international community to assist West Bank Palestinians in building educational, economic, and political infrastructure.
At the same time, Israel should direct more domestic resources to enabling Arab citizens of Israel to take advantage of the equal rights they enjoy under law and to integrate them into mainstream Israeli society.
The publication of the Goldstone report -- with its slanderous accusation that Israel had adopted a strategy of deliberately targeting civilians during its Gaza military operation -- was a painful wake-up call to Israel, but a wake-up call nonetheless. As a result, Israel grasps that the defense of its good name in the court of international public opinion is a pressing national security interest. Since 2009, Israel has allocated substantial new resources to combating ignorance and prejudice abroad. It can do a good deal more. As Middle East analyst Tom Gross points out, “Israel needs to devote the same quality of strategic thinking to combating campaigns of disinformation and slander that it has successfully employed on military and intelligence matters.”
As for Iran, it is fair to say that Israel continues to develop aggressively options to prevent Tehran from becoming a nuclear power. One way in which the United States could advance the vital national security interest it shares with Israel and the Sunni Arab states -- President Obama has repeatedly affirmed that Iran must be prevented from acquiring nuclear weapons -- would be to announce immediately U.S. support for international monitors of Iran’s June 2013 presidential elections.
Needless to say, Tehran will reject any such proposal, not least because the Islamist revolutionaries who run the country know they cannot win a fair election. But just as Ronald Reagan’s speeches condemning the Soviet Union provided vital moral support to those caught in the Russian gulag, so too could Obama give heart to the sizable proportion of the Iranian population that yearns to rid itself of Islamic totalitarianism.
This will be for Israel a perilous year, as has been every year since 1948, when it declared independence. Expect Israel in 2013, as it has every year since its birth, to rise to the daunting challenges it confronts.