Kristol Says Hagel Is Too Skeptical About War With Iran To Be Pentagon Chief

Chuck Hagel

Neoconservatives don’t want former Republican senator Chuck Hagel to become the next Secretary of Defense. They charge that Hagel isn’t sufficiently militaristic when it comes to Iran and its nuclear program and that the former GOP senator apparently hasn’t properly toed the right-wing line on Israel, which led one unnamed Senate Republican staffer to call Hagel an anti-Semite (the Daily Beast’s Ali Gharib on Friday noted the absurdity of this latter charge).

The anti-Hagel campaign gained steam last week after Bloomberg News reported that “Hagel has emerged as the leading candidate to become President Barack Obama’s next secretary of defense.” Neocon leader and Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol — a key figure in getting the United States into war with Iraq — joined in on Friday, first simply publishing anti-Hagel talking points Republicans have been circulating on Capitol Hill and then with a follow up piece of his own in which he criticizes Hagel for being cautious about the United States going to war with Iran:

Anti-Israel propagandists are thrilled. Stephen Walt, junior partner of the better-known Israel-hater John Mearsheimer, writes that if President Obama nominates Hagel, it will be “a smart move.” … Furthermore, Walt writes approvingly, Hagel is “generally thought to be skeptical about the use of military force against Iran.”

Hagel certainly does have anti-Israel, pro-appeasement-of-Iran bona fides. While still a senator, Hagel said that “a military strike against Iran, a military option, is not a viable, feasible, responsible option.”

Got that? Hagel is an Iran appeaser because he thinks that war with Iran might not be the best way to prevent the Islamic Republic from obtaining nuclear weapons. We’ve all seen this movie many times before: Disagree with the neocons on Israel and/or Iran policy? Well then you’re an anti-Semite and an Iran apologist (both smears the Weekly Standard launched at Hagel last week).

So just what has Hagel said about Iran? He’s called for direct talks with the Islamic Republic, warned of the consequences of war and urged “caution, patience, and a focus on multilateral diplomacy.” Here’s his assessment from an event two years ago at the Atlantic Council:

I think talking about going to war with Iran in fairly specific terms should be carefully reviewed. And that’s pretty dangerous talk. It’s easy to get a nation into war; not so easy to get a nation out of war, as we are finding out. I’m not sure that the American people are ready to go into a third war. […]

We are the mightiest military force on Earth. The world has never seen such military power. But that military power must always be tempered with a purpose. And the military option is always on the table – of course it is – for any sovereign nation. But at the same time we recognize that, that option is there.

That all sounds just like what President Obama and other administration officials have been pushing. “I’m not sure if a Hagel appointment would actually constitute a ‘shift'” in the Obama administration’s Iran policy, Foreign Policy’s Joshua Keating noted last week.

Hagel’s Iran positions also sound a whole lot like those of former Israeli security and intelligence officials, who have been cautious about a military approach on Iran’s nuclear program. Former Israeli intelligence chief Meir Degan said attacking Iran would only delay its nuclear program and “could accelerate the procurement of the bomb,” a point that former Israeli internal security chief Yuval Diskin and Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) intelligence head Shlomo Gazit agree with.

Just like Hagel and Obama administration officials, former top Israeli officials have promoted diplomacy with Iran as well. “Israel can contribute to the efforts to solve the Iranian issue [via diplomacy] by reaching an understanding with the United States on the time frame for direct negotiations between Washington and Tehran,” said two former high ranking Israeli officials last month. Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said earlier this year that “there is enough time to try different avenues of pressure to change the balance of power with Iran without the need for a direct military confrontation with Iran.”

Using Kristol’s own standards, are these former top Israeli officials then “anti-Israel propagandists”?


Liberal pro-Israel group J Street defended Hagel today: “The outrageous attacks on Sen. Hagel, many from unnamed sources, are being leveled at a decorated Vietnam War hero who is widely admired as a rational and independent voice on foreign and defense policy.”

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Stephen Walt has more on Kristol’s smear of Hagel:

See how it works? Someone who has previously been falsely smeared as anti-Israel thinks [Walt] Hagel would be a good choice, so Hagel must be a nasty piece of work too. Of course, the charges against me are equally baseless — and I’ll bet Kristol knows that quite well — but factual accuracy is not his concern. The sad fact is that if someone displays the slightest degree of independent thought on the subject of U.S.-Israel relations, they’ll get falsely smeared. And then if that person says anything favorable about anyone else, that statement will be used to smear the others too. The goal, of course, is to silence or marginalize anyone who doesn’t fully support the current “special relationship” and prevent a full and open debate about its merits.

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