New York             Dr.  Cesar Chelala

Among the short list of candidates to lead the Pentagon as Secretary of Defense, few people are as qualified as former Senator Charles Timothy “Chuck” Hagel. His nomination, however, is strongly opposed by those with sectarian interests. President Obama should do what is right for the country and nominate him as Secretary of Defense.

Chuck Hagel has had a distinguished career as a soldier and as a politician. He fought in the Vietnam War, where he was a leader of an infantry squad and was the recipient of two Purple Hearts. On his return, he became a successful businessman. He was twice elected to the Senate, in 1996 and in 2002 and retired in 2008 to become a professor at the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. He is also chairman of the nonpartisan Atlantic Council and co-chairman of the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board.

Soon as the news about his possible nomination as Secretary of Defense to replace Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta were leaked, opposition to his nomination, particularly from members of what is called the Israel lobby started to run wild. Many among them consider that he is not Israel’s true friend.

However, during his terms in the Senate, he has shown to be a strong supporter of Israel, but also of Palestinian rights, something that were few among his colleagues dare to sustain. They claim that, during an interview with Aaron Miller for his book “The Much Too Promised Land” he stated, “The Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here but I am a United States senator. I am not an Israeli senator.”

Although he later said that he had misspoken and that he should have said “Israel lobby” that statement was widely used by his opponents to indicate, according to them, that he was an anti-Semite. Those opponents also signaled that he was willing to engage Hamas in discussions, as if avoiding Hamas for years would have led to any positive outcome. “Great powers have the responsibility to engage,” Hagel declared recently.

“I don’t know of a better role model or an individual to point to than Yitzchak Rabin. What Yitzchak Rabin did, what he represented, what he represents is hope, that in his memory, in his honor, but for his courage and boldness, we can come back with a Rabin too. It takes leaders on the other side. Sadat, Begin. It will take a unique set of leaders to do this. It’s possible. Leaders can change the world,” Hagel stated in 2008 at the Israel Policy Forum.

Not all pro-Israel lobbyists are antagonized by his stand on Middle East issues. Jeremy Ben-Ami, President of J Street, a pro-Israel liberal Jewish lobby stated recently, “He’s one of the most experienced and knowledgeable people in American policy today when it comes to national security matters, and I think the president would be very well-served by a veteran with a deep grasp of both the potential and the limitations of military power.”

Hagel has been also sharply criticized for being an outspoken caller for dialogue and diplomacy with Iran. Recent history has clearly shown than sanctions and antagonism towards the Iranian regime haven’t changed any of its policies and have only hurt ordinary Iranians.

Hagel’s views on the Middle East, and on the need to curb the Pentagon budget to create a trimmer, more effective military, have gained him the antagonism of several conservative groups.

A more balanced view of Hagel, however, can be found in a recent letter to the editor by four former national security advisers: James L. Jones, Brent Scowcroft, Zbigniew Brzezinski and Frank Carlucci. Writing in the Washington Post they stated,

“Mr. Hagel is a man of unshakable integrity and wisdom who has served his country in the most distinguished manner in peace and war. He is a rare example of a public servant willing to rise above partisan politics to advance the interests of the United States and its friends and allies. Moreover, it is damaging to the quality of our civil discourse for prospective Cabinet nominees to be subjected to such vicious attacks on their character before an official nomination. This type of behavior will only discourage future prospective nominees from public service when our country badly needs quality leadership in government.”

Dr. Cesar Chelala is the foreign correspondent for The Middle East Times International (Australia).


Copyright 2007