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Profound Intimidation of Israel Lobby & Chuck Hagel

The U.S., supposedly the world’s only “superpower” with a defense budget over a trillion dollars this year (according to Jim Lobe greater than the combined budgets of the 10 next-most powerful militaries), recently held confirmation hearings conducted by its Senate Armed Services Committee with former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel, Obama’s nominee for Secretary of Defense.

Jim Lobe in his article “The Hagel Circus” at first addresses Stephen Walt’s reaction to the hearings. Walt, a Harvard professor who co-authored a book entitled “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy” suggested his own 2007 book should now sell like hotcakes since the hearings vindicate all he has been saying about the intimidation powers of the Israel lobby on our politicians.

Mr. Walt:

“I want to thank the Emergency Committee for Israel, Sheldon Adelson, and the Senate Armed Services Committee for providing such a compelling vindication of our views.”

Lobe goes on to explain:

As evidence, Walt cited the number of mentions of Israel and its most powerful regional foe, Iran, received in the course of Hagel’s eight-hour ordeal – 166 and 144, respectively, according to a compilation by the Internet publication, Buzzfeed.

By comparison, he noted, the epidemic of suicides among U.S. troops – a necessary concern for any incoming Pentagon chief – was addressed only twice.

In fact, the degree to which Israel and the threat posed to it by Iran dominated the hearing was somewhat understated by Buzzfeed. The full transcript revealed that Israel was brought up no less than 178 times, followed closely by Iran with 171 mentions.

Lobe helps put the excessive referencing to Israel and Iran into further context. There were only five mentions of China, which is supposed to be the Obama administration’s primary “pivot” focus at this point. Japan was mentioned only once (by Hagel himself), Washington’s closest Asian ally. South Korea mentioned only once, our other key treaty ally in Asia. NATO was mentioned only five times, considered such a major military alliance especially after 12 years in Afghanistan and the especially question-worthy war in Libya last year. More from Lobe of the rundown of mentions:

Yet Israel was mentioned more often in the hearing, according to IPS’s tally, than the following countries or entities combined: Iraq (30), Afghanistan (27), Russia (23), Palestine or Palestinian (22), Syria (18), North Korea (11), Pakistan (10), Egypt (9), China (5), NATO (5), Libya (2), Bahrain (2), Somalia (2), Al-Qaeda (2), and Mali, Jordan, Turkey, Japan, and South Korea (once each).

Several key regional powers with which Washington has been trying hard to build or already enjoys strong defence relationships – notably India, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, and Indonesia – were not mentioned even a single time. Vietnam was mentioned 41 times but exclusively in relation to Hagel’s wartime service there or his work as a senior official in the Veterans Administration.

Clearly the senators were concerned about Israel’s needs in a Secretary of Defense, more than America’s primary ones.

Lobe writes:

In fact, Hagel’s views on the Middle East and the use of military force, in particular, not only largely reflect those of the administration and, according to public-opinion polls, of a war-weary electorate, but also of most of the foreign-policy elite. Dozens of retired top-ranked diplomatic, intelligence, and military officials, as well as former Cabinet officers from both Republican and Democratic administration have rallied to Hagel’s defence in recent weeks.

But those “mainstream” views are not reflected in Congress, where the Israel lobby has long wielded its greatest influence.

snip

“They were not asking questions that had any relevance to the tasks facing the secretary of defence, in terms of either the military or budgetary challenges we face,” noted Amb. Chas. Freeman (ret.), whose appointment early in the Obama administration to head the National Intelligence Council (NIC) provoked such a furious campaign by neo-conservatives and key Israel lobby figures that he felt compelled to withdraw his name from consideration.

Lobe further explains that the anti-Hagel attacks prior to the hearings came from a number of groups that refused to disclose the identities of the donors. One major one was the ECI, Emergency Committee for Israel.

The NYT has identified billionaire Sheldon Adelson, biggest contributor to Romney’s campaign last year and “staunch supporter” of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, as leading an attack “by far the most expensive and organised ever mounted against a cabinet nominee”.

Hagel was charged by these groups as well as by some members of the bipartisan Israel lobby and others with being anti-Semitic, incredibly in part because Hagel had ONCE used the phrase “Jewish” (not “Israel”) lobby. They contended he was and is hostile to Israel. That he is too “sympathetic” to the Palestinians. Too eager to use diplomacy with Iran.

Lobe reveals that while AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) declared its “neutrality” on Hagel after the formal nomination by Obama, “they worked with sympathetic senators from both parties and their staffers to ensure that particular questions would be asked that would elicit reassuring answers with respect to both supporting Israel and preventing Iran from achieving a nuclear bomb by any means necessary.”

Apparently their questions filled up much of the hearings according to the statistics of mentions cited above.

Winslow Wheeler of Time had this to say about the Hagel hearings:

Watching the Senate Armed Services Committee interact Thursday with former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel—President Obama’s candidate to be secretary of defense—was a profoundly depressing experience.

Hagel’s performance in his “confirmation” hearing was remarkable; he spent the day eating his own words under pressure mostly from Republicans—so much so that it is hard to understand what views he might actually hold.

Unlike most effective politicians who are always clever at saying nothing or changing positions, he was so inarticulate at doing so that it is also hard to understand how he ever could have been elected twice to the Senate from Nebraska.

Wheeler’s take on members of the Senate Armed Services Committee:

Several Democrats seem mostly interested in protecting themselves from being seen as too cozy with Hagel because of his previous statements about Israel, its issues and its lobby (eg. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y.), and others seemed mostly concerned about pork (eg. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.). Only moderate Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) seemed to be more worried about Hagel’s declining fate on the committee than feathering his own political nest.

However, even the worst of the Democrats strode as giants compared to the Republicans, who were all relentless in their cheap shots to justify their predetermined hostility to Hagel.

Particularly offensive was Senator John McCain‘s (R-Ariz.) insistence that the witness pay homage to McCain’s dogma on the sanctity of the “surge” as rescuing America from ignominy in Iraq (which it did not).

Senator Jim Inhofe’s (R-Okla.) bumbling small-mindedness was a gruesome introduction of himself to the nation as the leading (most senior) Republican on the armed services committee. If this is the best the Republicans can do to explain themselves to the country on national-security issues, their domicile in America’s political wilderness has a long way to go before it is over.

How ironic that Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) should use intimidation to corner the cowering Hagel into professing he could think of no senator that was intimidated by the Israel lobby.

Having seen that sort of intimidation for decades as a Senate staffer (both from senators and lobbyists), it was a sad moment indeed in the annals of the Senate to see a witness not stand up to the tawdry tactics; a historic moment for pride as a citizen it was surely not.

Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) spent his time, like McCain, demanding that Hagel agree with Cruz’s attacks on him, even attempting to put words in Hagel’s mouth that Hagel finally said he never said.

That exchange was the one time in the entire hearing that Hagel stood up for himself. But it came so late, and was so fleeting, that he clearly did not undo the harm his mealy-mouthing did to his own nomination.

Wheeler’s final impression:

The Hagel nomination to be secretary of defense is surely now in trouble. The Republicans had their way with him so easily that they surely will widen the offensive—and its offensiveness—to make it a major partisan food fight. The White House has already put out a statement defending Hagel with a defensiveness that clearly denotes its concern, and it must now know it has a problem.

Hagel’s blood is in the water—poured there by himself—and now the Republicans are sure to pour in all the bile and poison their fund raising machines can come up with, which is a lot.

There is a joke I heard a long time ago about why Israel never wanted to be our fifty-first state. Because then it would have only TWO senators.

I find it no longer amusing.

[cross-posted at open salon]

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