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The Larger Question of Chuck Hagel

By       Message Ray McGovern       (Page 2 of 3 pages) Become a premium member to see this article and all articles as one long page.     Permalink

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What really lies behind this? I suspect the fear is that, were Hagel to become Secretary of Defense, he would take a leaf out of his book as Senator and openly insist, in effect, that he is the American Secretary of Defense and not the Israeli Defense Minister.

This, in turn, gives rise to a huge question being whispered in more and more corridors of power in Washington: Is Israel an asset or a liability to the U.S., when looked at dispassionately in the perspective of our equities in the Middle East and our general strategic defense?

Hardly a new conundrum. Many decades ago, Albert Einstein, who feared the consequences of creating a "Jewish state" by displacing or offending Arabs, wrote:

"There could be no greater calamity than a permanent discord between us [Jews] and the Arab people. Despite the great wrong that has been done us [in the western world], we must strive for a just and lasting compromise with the Arab people. ... Let us recall that in former times no people lived in greater friendship with us than the ancestors of these Arabs."

Realpolitik, including the increasing isolation of Israel and the U.S. in the Middle East, is breathing some life into this old attitude and generating consideration of a new approach -- necessity being the mother of invention.

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Few have been as blunt, though, as Zbigniew Brzezinski, who has been described as the "unofficial dean of the realist school of American foreign policy experts."  In a recent talk, the former national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter minced no words:

"I don't think there is an implicit obligation for the United States to follow like a stupid mule whatever the Israelis do. If they decide to start a war, simply on the assumption that we'll automatically be drawn into it, I think it is the obligation of friendship to say, 'you're not going to be making national decisions for us.' I think that the United States has the right to have its own national security policy."

Even Petraeus Lets It Slip Out

Back when Gen. David Petraeus was head of CENTCOM, he addressed this issue, gingerly but clearly, in prepared testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee in March 2010 on the "challenges to security and stability" faced by the U.S.:

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"The enduring hostilities between Israel and some of its neighbors present distinct challenges to our ability to advance our interests. ... The conflict foments anti-American sentiment, due to a perception of U.S. favoritism for Israel.

"Arab anger over the Palestinian question limits the strength and depth of U.S. partnerships ... in the area and weakens the legitimacy of moderate regimes in the Arab world.  Meanwhile, al-Qaeda and other militant groups exploit that anger to mobilize support."

Petraeus's testimony provoked a sharp rejoinder from Abe Foxman, head of the Anti-Defamation League, one of the leading American Zionist lobby groups. Foxman protested:

"Gen. Petraeus simply erred in linking the challenges faced by the U.S. ... in the region to a solution of the Israeli-Arab conflict, and blaming extremist activities on the absence of peace and the perceived favoritism for Israel. This linkage is dangerous and counterproductive."

Petraeus or someone on his staff had inadvertently touched a live-wire reality that is becoming increasingly debated in official circles but remains taboo when it comes to saying it out loud. Fearful that he would be dubbed an "anti-Semite," Petraeus began a frantic attempt to take back the words, which he noted were only in his prepared testimony and were not repeated in his oral presentation. [See Consortiumnews.com's "Neocons, Likud Conquer DC, Again."]

As Ali Abunimah of the Electronic Intifada describes it, this taboo proscribes "stating publicly that U.S. 'interests' and Israeli 'interests' are not identical, and that Israel might be a strategic burden, rather than an asset to the United States."

Ironically, while Foxman and hardline Zionists were objecting vociferously, Meir Dagan, then-Israel's Mossad chief told a Knesset committee, "Israel is gradually turning from an asset to the United States to a burden."

Taboo or not, an un-passionately-attached realist like Chuck Hagel presumably would be able to see that reality -- anathema in Zionist circles -- for what it is.

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As prospective Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel would bring something else that would be extremely valuable to the job, a real-life understanding of the horrors of war. He volunteered for service in Vietnam in 1967 at the height of the fighting there, rejecting his local draft board's suggestion that he re-enroll in college to avoid Vietnam. A combat infantry squad leader, he was twice wounded in that crucible. Do not let anyone tell you that this does not have a lasting effect on a man.

First in Three Decades

Were Hagel to become Secretary of Defense, he would become the first in 30 years to bring to the job direct battle experience of war. One must trace 14 former secretaries of defense all the way back to Melvin Laird (1969-1973) for one who has seen war up-close and personal.  (Like Hagel, Laird enlisted and eventually earned a Purple Heart as a seaman in the Pacific theater during WWII.)

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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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