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The Larger Question of Chuck Hagel

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Given this real world experience, the Israelis and their supporters in the U.S. might well conclude that Hagel would not be as blase as his predecessors when it comes to sending troops off to war -- and even less so for a war like the prospective one with Iran.

Hagel's past statements suggest he would urge more flexibility in talks with Iran on the nuclear issue and on Palestine, as well. This leaves him vulnerable to charges from the Israel Lobby, but even some pro-Israel stalwarts reject the far-fetched notion that this makes him "anti-Semitic."

In comments to the New Yorker's Connie Bruck, for example, Rep. Gary Ackerman, D-New York, has drawn a sensible contrast between Hagel's apparent inclination toward more flexibility with Iran on the nuclear issue and the more familiar attitude -- which Ackerman described as: "You know "Let's bomb them before the sun comes up.'"

If recent reports are correct in suggesting that Obama intends to enter more than just pro forma negotiations with Iran, he would have in Hagel the kind of ally he would need in top policy-making circles, someone who would support, not sabotage, chances for a peaceful resolution of the crisis.

Recall that in 2010 Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was able to put the kibosh on a plan that had been suggested by Obama himself, and carefully worked out with Tehran by the President of Brazil and the Prime Minister of Turkey, that would have been a major step toward resolving the dispute over Iran's enrichment of uranium. [See Consortiumnews.com's "U.S./Israel Challenged on Iran."]

Avoiding "Complicity"

The year just ending has been a rollercoaster for U.S.-Israeli relations. It started with Obama's rather extreme professions of fealty to Israel. In a pre-Super Bowl interview with Matt Lauer on Feb. 5, the President said:

"My number one priority continues to be the security of the United States, but also the security of Israel, and we're going to make sure that we work in lockstep as we proceed to try to solve this problem [Iran], hopefully diplomatically."

Speaking to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in March -- amid suggestions that his devotion to Israel was still not enough -- Obama again used the first person in assuring the pro-Israel lobby group: "when the chips are down, I have Israel's back."

By late August, as Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu was suggesting that Israel might ignore Obama's sanctions strategy on Iran and launch a preemptive strike on its own, Obama used Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey to say that he (Dempsey) did not wish to be "complicit," if the Israelis chose to attack Iran. In September, Secretary Clinton was publicly brushing aside Netanyahu's pleading for U. S. endorsement of his various "red lines," and Obama was too busy to receive Netanyahu when he came to the U.N.

What lies in store for U.S.-Israeli relations in Obama's second term? It is too early to tell. But whether or not the President decides to tough it out and nominate Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense is likely to provide a good clue.

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Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. He was an Army infantry/intelligence officer and then a CIA analyst for 27 years, and is now on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS). His (more...)
 

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