There were plenty of good candidates to pick from for the post of next U.S. Secretary of Defense. For President Barack Obama, Chuck Hagel was the natural choice. He’s a Republican, a clear isolationist, a proponent of extensive defense budget cuts, and opposes involvement in overseas adventures (including in Iran).
And lest we forget—he also has “original ideas,” as described by Obama, which are expressed by his openly critical stance towards Israel and “the Jewish lobby.”
If that weren’t enough (although it is enough for the current administration), the former Nebraskan senator’s appointment is a virtual slap in the face to Obama’s foes in the rival camp, those who espouse hawkish policies. In short, Hagel meets all the criteria required by the president in his second term. If Hagel wouldn’t have existed—Obama would have invented him.
Hagel will need to pass a Senate confirmation hearing before moving into his new office at the Pentagon. It won’t be so simple. Obama knows this appointment isn’t a quick sell. This is also why he chose him.
The Republican senator from South Carolina, Lindsey Graham, expects Hagel to be the most anti-Israel defense secretary in U.S. history. Israel has many friends in the House of Representatives, and they will make sure to make their opinions heard before Hagel’s appointment is approved.
U.S. Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) believes the appointment is “the worst possible message Obama could have sent to Israel and other allies in the Middle East.” We can add, as Sen. Graham said, “it’s also the message the White House is sending Iran, at the worst possible time.”
Why then has Obama chosen Chuck Hagel of all people? It’s enticing to think he did so to irritate Israel, but we shouldn’t give him that much credit.
Obama presented Hagel on Monday and outlined the reasons for selecting him. The U.S. president spoke of a warrior, one who lives and breathes the mud on the battlefield. Hagel is from there. Hagel is also someone who opposed, as did Obama, the war in Iraq. Hagel also joined Obama on tours of Afghanistan and Iraq. Obama doesn’t believe in war. Hagel believes in it even less. “War is the last resort,” is Hagel’s credo.
In a Utopian world filled only with good, there is a place for a defense secretary like Hagel. In a world where nuclear centrifuges spin without rest in dangerous countries like Iran, this is a Utopian selection for Secretary of Defense that, to our regret, has become the reality under Obama.
The French Foreign Ministry, the Quai d’Orsay, would for years say that even if by some mistake a pro-Israel foreign minister was appointed, then not to worry, the clerks at the ministry would be sure to “get him on track.” All that’s left for Israel is to hope that its many friends in Congress ensure the continuation of good relations.