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Hagel, the Jews and the Neocons | The Nation

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Robert Dreyfuss

Bob Dreyfuss

News of America’s misadventures in foreign policy and defense.

Hagel, the Jews and the Neocons

It’s a sad commentary on both Barack Obama and the state of Democratic Party politics and its national security wing that the president, once again, is considering naming another Republican as secretary of defense. You’ll recall that in 2009, Obama let Robert Gates, the Republican who served George W. Bush, stay on at the Department of Defense. Not that Gates was a neocon—no, far from it. But he was certainly drawn from the center-hawkish part of the American national security establishment, whose Democratic ranks include such execrable luminaries as Sam Nunn and Zbigniew Brzezinski.

This time, it’s Chuck Hagel, a moderate Republican—who, ’tis true, might be flirting with becoming a Democrat, since he seems to think that the GOP has moved so far right that he can’t even see its outer edges from Nebraska, his home state. It would be nice if Obama could find a liberal Democrat to run the Pentagon, someone who’d oversee the massive cuts in military outlays that are long past due, and who’d shut down the infatuation with the Special Forces, the drones and the “pivot” to the Pacific and East Asia.

But no, it’s Hagel, it appears—someone whose decided tilt against Israel and its omnipresent allies in the Israel lobby (or, as Hagel calls it, the “Jewish lobby”) is a strong point in his favor, especially if the United States is to avoid going to war against Iran in Obama’s second term.

In any case, the Israel lobby—which, naturally, doesn’t exist, and certainly, if it existed, would not call itself the Jewish lobby—is mobilizing all neoconservative hands on deck to stop Obama from picking Hagel.

On those grounds alone, I’m for Hagel.

Scribbling in The Wall Street Journal, Bret Stephens—a key cog in the machinery of the nonexistent Israel lobby—pens a scathing op-ed branding Hagel with the feared label: “anti-Semite.” Its title: “Chuck Hagel’s Jewish Problem.”

Stephens’ “evidence”? That Hagel said the following:

“I'm a United States Senator, not an Israeli Senator. I'm a United States Senator. I support Israel. But my first interest is I take an oath of office to the Constitution of the United States. Not to a president. Not a party. Not to Israel. If I go run for Senate in Israel, I'll do that.”

And that Hagel said: “The Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here [on Capitol Hill].”

That means, says Stephens, that Jews ought to fear Hagel, because of his “insipid and insinuating qualities, all combining to cast the usual slur on Jewish-Americans: Dual loyalty.” (Stephens doesn’t care that American Jews voted overwhelming for President Obama in both 2008 and 2012. Nominating Hagel “would confirm a point I made in a column earlier this year, which is that Mr. Obama is not a friend of Israel.”

Such nonsense is being trumpeted in other right-wing, pro-Likud circles, such as The Weekly Standard. A piece in that rag says:

In response to reports that Barack Obama is likely to choose Chuck Hagel to be the next secretary of defense, a top Republican Senate aide emails, “Send us Hagel and we will make sure every American knows he is an anti-Semite.” When asked to elaborate, the aide writes, “Hagel has made clear he believes in the existence of a nefarious Jewish lobby that secretly controls U.S. foreign policy. This is the worst kind of anti-Semitism there is.”

Needless to say, this is losing proposition on the Hill, where Democrats and most Republicans would unite to back Hagel if he’s nominated.

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