This Chuck Hagel business is weird.
I’m not certain he’s President Obama’s first pick for the secretary of defense job. I have heard, at certain junctures, that he is; Now, there’s suggestive evidence that, as this New Republic piece posits, it’s Michele Flournoy.
But all manners of wars are playing out over his purported frontrunnerness: Part of it seems Republican payback over his perceived betrayals, part of it is a burping up of the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell wars, part of it is the afterlife of election year animosities and the biggest chunk of it is over whether and how the pro-Israel community should assert itself.
I talked to the ADL’s Abe Foxman the other day: He told me, again, that he doesn’t think the community will go to battle stations if Hagel is nominated, but that it would not be happy either.
"I think it’s not a good choice from our perspective, but again, he’s not an independent contractor," Foxman said, meaning that it is Obama who sets Israel policy. "But we’re not going to testify against him."
I asked him about the quote he gave the Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin, in which he had said:
The sentiments he’s expressed about the Jewish lobby border on anti-Semitism in the genre of professors John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt and former president Jimmy Carter.
Foxman, who was in Israel, audibly rolled his eyes at the backread. "Everybody plays this differently," he said. "She asked, I gave her a quote."
The subtext I read into this is that it would take a lot — much more than Hagel has offered — to bring out the full force of pro-Israel pressure against an individual, rather than a policy. It would take Chas Freeman’s weird flirtations with Saudi philosophies of governance and his even weirder flirtations with Chinese philosophies of governance — and Hagel ain’t even in that ballpark.
Foxman won’t back down from his assertion that Hagel’s record is troubling. "It’s a gestalt, it’s the composite which is troubling," he told me. I outlined this history in this story.
Much of the controversy is focused on an interview Hagel gave Aaron David Miller four years ago, for Miller’s book, The Much Too Promised Land. In it, Hagel said "The Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here" and “I’m a United States senator. I’m not an Israeli senator."
Foxman said it is the second quote that continues to grate. "He says he’ll act in the best interests of the United States — which means we don’t."
It’s harder to shake that logic, I think. Hagel’s defenders have said that asserting his status as a U.S. senator is harmless, because after all this is what he was at the time.
Yes. And any person who would declare "I am free, white and over 21" in 2012 would also be that, and as well committing a grave offense against the normative sensibilities of our day.
Much has been written about whether Hagel’s apology to a diplomat for saying his being "aggressively gay" was disqualifying, or self-serving.
What’s notable is that it was made; Hagel has not otherwise expressed himself, as putative nominees tend to maintain a low profile during the process.
So what one hears is that, given such an exceptional reaching out to the LGBT community, why not do same to the Jewish community?
Here’s an array of recent posts that shed both light and heat:
–Josh Rogin at Foreign Policy digs up the evidence that Hagel hasn’t changed much since 2008, but his Republican critics have.
–Gil Troy at the Daily Beast’s Open Zion laments the lockstep tribalism on both sides of this debate.
–Aaron David Miller at Foreign Policy laments how his original Hagel interview has been ripped out of context to smear Hagel as an anti-Semite.
–Alon Pinkas at AlMonitor recalls Ehud Barak’s admiration for Hagel.
–James Besser at the New York Times says mainstream Jewish voices are being intimidated by pro-Israel extremists and the Hagel brouhaha is Exhibit A.
–David Harris at the American Jewish Committee says, nuh-uh, Mr. Besser.
–Michael Koplow at Ottomans and Zionists says that Besser’s other takeaway — that the Hagel Haggle undercuts support for Israel — is a basic forest-trees misapprehension, and notes that support for Israel in the USA runs much broader than a few organizational spokesmodels.