December 18, 2012

Some Jews don't like Chuck Hagel... so?

President Obama has just won re-election. As some Republican Senators have acknowledged, "elections have consequences." One consequence of this election was that, despite the best efforts of Jewish Republicans in and out of community leadership roles, the President won a healthy margin of the Electoral College -- so the pro-Netanyahu wing of the pro-Israel (Jewish) community has political credibility issues. Plus the President showed unflinching solidarity (including Iron Dome) with Israel during last month's Gaza conflict with Hamas.

I do not know if Chuck Hagel would be the best choice for Secretary of Defense, but barring any major disclosures or failings, that choice is the President's to make. A Vietnam veteran and former Republican Senator, Hagel is widely respected in military and policy circles, and his professional qualifications seem fine. The Senate Republicans already forced out the President's putative nominee for Secretary of State, Susan Rice, and stopping one of their own former colleagues now would be  bit much. This is not going to be an easy fight, especially if it's on behalf of an ally that's already getting too much play in Washington politics.

A winning strategy for Jewish leaders is ideally to be part of the solution, and not to pick fights with Presidents unless Israel's survival is directly threatened. The best case against Hagel seems to be that he's not a bleeding-heart Zionist; he supports U.S. engagement on Mideast peace; he was one of the few Senators who routinely avoided signing onto pro forma "Dear Colleague" letters in support of Israeli interests; and, the same people who slam President Obama's positions on Israel also slam Hagel.

Interestingly, the Jewish establishment leaped to support Susan Rice, however briefly, because she has been so stalwart in support of Israel as the President's Ambassador to the United Nations. Many were concerned when she was first nominated four years ago, because her worldview seemed closer to all those leftists calling on Israel to get with the 21st century, drop all the nationalism sentiment, and cut a quick deal with the Palestinians. So maybe her eyes were opened, or maybe she was serving President Obama and advancing HIS agenda. I would expect a Secretary Hagel to do no less.

Defense cooperation with Israel is better than ever. Ever. We're still taking casualties in Afghanistan and fighting a global commando war against Al Qaeda. I voted for Barack Obama last month, and so did most Americans -- and two-thirds of Jews -- who went to the polls. Standing in the way of his nominee because he's not Joe Lieberman is just a bad idea, and one my Jewish Republican friends are eagerly pushing.

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