The Hagel Narrative the Neocons Want
by James M.Wall
UPDATE Friday, 6 p.m. CST:
The Daily Beast and the Los Angeles Times are reporting that President Obama will name Chuck Hagel as his next Defense Secretary. Sources in Washington say that the nomination will be announced Monday or possibly Tuesday, of next week.
Al Jazeera has purchased the struggling U.S. network, Current, which was created by former Vice President Al Gore and Joel Hyatt. Current has failed to compete in the American market but it does have outlets which Al Jazeera covets.
Al Jazeera has developed a world wide reputation as a responsible non-ideological network, a fact that must have made the sale more acceptable to Gore and his partners. In addition, according to the New York Times story on the sale:
“There’s a major hole right now that Al Jazeera can fill. And that is providing an alternative viewpoint to domestic news, which is very parochial,” said Cathy Rasenberger, a cable consultant who has worked with Al Jazeera on distribution issues in the past
For an example of why a less-fettered voice like that of Al Jazeera is needed in our national media landscape, look no further than the mainstream media battering Chuck Hagel (above) has received since word floated from the White House that President Obama was considering him as defense secretary.
The cabinet appointment of a highly qualified Republican senator would normally have been a no-brainer, until, in Elizabeth Drew’s perceptive phrase, “the press fed the narrative that the neocons wanted.”
Writing in a December 28, 2012 blog posting for the New York Review of Books, Drew explains how the narrative is fed:
Controversy is so much more fun than balance. Meaningless statements by some politicians are accorded great significance and foreboding: thus a big deal was made in the press of the supposedly devastating comments made by two of [Republican Senator John] McCain’s closest buddies—Joe Lieberman, who will be gone from the Senate shortly (“very tough confirmation process”), and Lindsey Graham (“it would be a challenging nomination”) on the Sunday talk shows just before Christmas.
Of course, the narrative works best when it is carried forward from both sides of the political divide. Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer of New York had “no persuasive reason to commit on a nomination that hadn’t been made”. Nevertheless, knowing he was speaking against the putative preference of a Democratic president, said that Hagel’s “record will be studied carefully”.
This was “interpreted as a serious blow to Hagel’s confirmation”. Schumer has played this part before in an earlier dissembling drama when he led the charge that forced the withdrawal of Chas Freeman from his appointment in the early weeks of Obama’s first term in office.
NBC’s Meet the Press host David Gregory has remained faithful to the narrative. On December 23, he led a discussion which reflected the narrative’s concern over criticism from Israeli supporters.
A week later, Gregory scored an exclusive Sunday morning interview with President Obama, primarily to discuss the nation’s fiscal crisis.
After the President gave Gregory his reassuring thoughts on the nation’s economic future, there was just time left for Gregory to ask a political question about the President’s second term cabinet.
As a good newsman who works for one of the major news networks, David Gregory had to pose the question: What about Chuck Hagel as a possible defense secretary? He did not mention the objections and support Hagel has received for his stands on Iran and Israel. Instead, Gregory asked the President about a 14-year-old objection Hagel had offered to a gay appointee.
The President noted that Hagel has since apologized for that mistake. This ended Gregory’s chance to make news by asking Obama what he thought of the objections raised against Hagel by extremist pro-Israel voices.
The narrative dictated by the neocons prefers to “persuade” President Obama to look away from Hagel and turn to a neocon approved candidate. The next two possible appointees, Ashton Carter and Michele Flournoy, are currently in the defense department hierarchy.
Philip Weiss, cofounder of Mondoweiss, has followed the Hagel story on a daily basis. On January 1, he reported:
Rightweb, which maintains dossiers on militarists in foreign policy, has just posted new profiles of Hagel’s purported rivals Ashton Carter and Michele Flournoy. They are both neocon-friendly; the dossiers remind us that neoconservatism is deeply engrained in the D.C. establishment . . .
The profile of Carter makes him out to be an Iran hawk with deep ties to the defense industry. “Carter has been adamant in his insistence that the United States consider the use of force in its efforts to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons programs.”
He was part of a 2008 report on Iran, coauthored by a bunch of neoconservatives, that Jim Lobe characterized as a “roadmap to war.”
Elizabeth Drew concluded her blog posting on Hagel and his senatorial critics, by calling them out for duplicity.
[T]hese senators, employing one of the talking points that had been circulated on the Hill and published in [Bill] Kristol’s Weekly Standard, had simply indicated that the Senate Armed Services Committee’s consideration of a Hagel nomination would be rough. These innocuous statements, devoid of any real meaning, were strictly tactical. Not a single one of them said that they would vote against Hagel. (As of this writing exactly one senator, John Cornyn of Texas, has said that he would vote against the nomination.)
The neocons driving this “controversy” prefer to have Hagel’s name dropped before senate hearings are held. A few hard-core senators (starting with John Coryn) would oppose a respected former colleague. But what the neocons want to avoid is to have Hagel’s name go forward.
Elizabeth Drew explains:
Hearings could also expose the emptiness of their charges and put on display Hagel’s considerable array of supporters. That such substantial Senate figures as Carl Levin, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, and Jack Reed, also a major figure on defense issues, have announced that they strongly support Hagel has gone almost without notice.
In addition to a senate committee and full senate vote which Hagel would very likely win, the neocon driving this narrative would not want to have to admit to the American public just how much support Hagel has in what Drew describes as “a much larger and more peace-oriented segment of pro-Israel opinion [which] strongly supports Hagel’s nomination.”‘
These organizations do not assume that particular policies of the Israeli government of the day are necessarily in Israel’s interests.
Hagel has had quite friendly relations with J Street, founded a few years ago to try to offset AIPAC’S influence, and with the Israel Policy Forum, and has given keynote speeches to both organizations.
A wide swath of former national security officials also support Hagel’s nomination as Defense Secretary, including Brent Scowcroft and Zbigniew Brzezinski, as well as most of the former US ambassadors to Israel. Hagel also holds the highly prestigious position of co-chair of the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Committee.
President Obama made Hagel co-chair of that Intelligence Advisory Committee. To fail to nominate him now as defense secretary would be a sign that the President listens more to the neocon narrative feeders than he does to knowledgeable peace-oriented Jewish groups and the established foreign policy leadership community.
The President must make his decision soon. Before he does, he would benefit from considering how the current narrative looks to veteran Jewish journalist James Besser, Washington correspondent for The Jewish Week from 1987 to 2011.
In a New York Times column, December 27, Besser looked back over his years in Washington:
Fifteen years ago, Mr. Hagel — whose sins include advocating dialogue to thwart Iran’s nuclear ambitions and suggesting that many on Capitol Hill are afraid of the “Jewish lobby” — would have been deemed someone Israel’s supporters in Washington could work with.
Today mainstream Jewish groups, including the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee, are either silent about the mounting controversy or offering cautious support for those who want to kill Mr. Hagel’s nomination. They have been driven into silence and submission by a radical fringe that in no way represents the American Jewish mainstream.
Groups like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee were created to foster strong American-Israeli ties and to promote the idea that a vibrant, democratic Israel is a critical American ally in an undemocratic region — a job they have done remarkably well in recent years.
But as the debate over the best route to peace for the Jewish state has become more bitterly polarized, groups like Aipac, the A.D.L. and the A.J.C. have undercut and obscured that message by refusing to distance themselves from extremists.
Intimidated by pro-settler zealots, right-wing donors and those who liken the slightest criticism of Israeli policy to Israel-bashing (or even anti-Semitism), pro-Israel leaders are increasingly allowing the fringes of their movement to set the pro-Israel agenda in Washington.
President Obama’s choice would appear to be simple, go with his initial preference and nominate Hagel, or allow the neocon narrative to prevail.
It is not an exaggeration to see this one appointment as one that will define who will run the Obama White House for the next four years.
The picture of Hagel above was taken by the Israel Forum. It appeared in the New York Review of Books.
Filed under: Media, Middle East Politics, Obama | 16 Comments