The hassle over Hagel

The hassle over Hagel

The nomination of former Sen. Chuck Hagel to be the next secretary of defense is causing many on the right to say, “See, we told you so.” It is proof, they say, that President Barack Obama is getting ready to sell out Israel, while it is a green light to Iran to move forward with its plans to build a nuclear bomb.

There may have been better choices for the post than Hagel, but two things he is not: He is not anti-Israel and he is not for a nuclear Iran.

Regarding the latter, it is being said that Hagel opposes a military strike on Iran, if such is the only way to prevent that country from achieving its goal, and this suggests that Prsident Obama opposes it as well. Yet only two months ago, a Washington Post op-ed that Hagel co-authored with several others, including a former ambassador to Israel, Thomas Pickering, discussed the positive values of the military option. A “U.S. attack,” the op-ed said, not only would demonstrate that the United States is a faithful ally, but it “would derail Iran’s nuclear ambitions for several years, providing space for other, potentially longer-term solutions,” by which the authors mean negotiations. “An attack would also make clear the United States’ full commitment to nonproliferation as other nations contemplate moves in that direction.”

Hagel and his co-authors made it clear where they stand: “Our position is fully consistent with the policy of presidents for more than a decade of keeping all options on the table, including the use of military force…. If the United States attacks, it could set back for several years Iran’s ability to build a nuclear weapon. If the objective were large-scale damage to Iran’s military and weapons capability, the United States could achieve substantial success.”

Their concern, Hagel and his colleagues wrote, was what happens after such an attack. In addition to the potential political fallout, there is the more important matter of ending the threat of a nuclear Iran for all time. Both the United States and Israel acknowledge that Iran probably has the know-how to produce a bomb. An attack will set back its plans, but “without large numbers of troops on the ground,” the op-ed’s authors write, “we doubt that U.S. military attacks from the air – even if supplemented by other means such as drones, covert operations and cyber attacks – could eliminate Iran’s capability to build a nuclear weapon, unseat the regime, or force it to capitulate to U.S. demands.”

This is no ringing endorsement for a military option, but it also is not a denial that such an option is – and must remain – on the table. As Jewish groups prepare to take sides on the Hagel nomination, we urge them to stick to the facts, not exaggerate them and engage in the kind of scare tactics we saw during the last year’s election campaign.

Regardless of what we feel about Hagel – and we have serious reservations about him on many fronts – his nomination does not signal that President Obama has abandoned any option when it comes to Iran.

As for the president selling out Israel, his support for Israel in its most recent (and post-election) attacks in Gaza should already have put that canard to rest.