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. 

Hagel I policy forum crop

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.”‘

Drew adds:

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.

About wallwritings

From 1972 through 1999, James M. Wall was editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine, based in Chicago, lllinois. He was a Contributing Editor of the Century from 1999 until July, 2017. He has written this blog, wall, since it was launched April 27, 2008. If you would like to receive Wall Writings alerts when new postings are added to this site, send a note, saying, Please Add Me, to Biography: Journalism was Jim's undergraduate college major at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. He has earned two MA degrees, one from Emory, and one from the University of Chicago, both in religion. He is an ordained United Methodist clergy person. He served for two years in the US Air Force, and three additional years in the USAF reserve. While serving on active duty with the Alaskan Command, he reached the rank of first lieutenant. He has worked as a sports writer for both the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, was editor of the United Methodist magazine, Christian Advocate for ten years, and editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine for 27 years. James M Wall died March 22, 2021 at age 92. His family appreciates all of his readers, even those who may have disagreed with his well-informed writings.
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16 Responses to The Hagel Narrative the Neocons Want

  1. Basim says:

    I like this……glad and honored to be the first
    to like it!

  2. J. Martin Bailey says:

    This compilation of information is very helpful. I hope he is nominated.

  3. Fred says:

    AIPAC and other groups in the Israel Lobby are working overtime to see that Hagel does not get selected or appointed. Hagel does not put Israel’s interests first and foremost regarding US mideast policies, so he is anathama to them. They use their money and influence to get what they want.

    Unless Hagel supporters are also working hard with money and influence behind the scenes as well, it will be difficult for Hagel to get this appointment. Is anybody doing this?


  4. Robert Assaly says:

    As an outside observer (currently vacationing in the US and shocked all over again by the poverty and the palpable divide by socio-economic class and race here), I’m curious as to whether the political calculus on a Hagel appointment includes risk of revenge on the upcoming fiscal cliff decisions. Is there such a risk?

    As to Al-Jazeera, we’ve had it for a couple of years in Canada and have lived to tell about it. It is remarkable that the Land of the Free doesn’t allow that voice. Their news coverage is generally fabulous and in depth and they offer infinite news documentaries (used to be called just “news” before the reduction of reality to a sound bite). We got our best coverage of Japan’s tsunami and nuclear fiasco from them.

    They reveal very little about the Middle East than would surprise anyone who has spent 15 minutes there. However, it is not true that they are “non-ideological.” When their Qatari masters — the main backers of the anti-democratic forces and extremists in the Arab world — became interested in having the West turf Qaddafi, Al-Jazeera was their very influential lapdog in a way that the anti-Hagel media you describe can only envy. Likewise, Al-Jazeera is stoking the flames in Syria on behalf of the Qataris support and supply of the religious extremists dressed up as palatable Free Syrian democrats at western round tables.

    Nonetheless Al-Jazeera should be in every American living room. I think most would be shocked to discover how little they knew about the region (and the U.S.!)

  5. John R. Kleinheksel Sr says:

    Again, thank you Jim, for keeping the light shining on this defining appointment to the Obama cabinet for 2012-2016. It’s comprehensive, thorough, and compelling. Your piece unmasks the flimsy put-downs, innuendos and fear-based objections without meaning that jeopardize the possible Hagel appointment.
    Obama will have the final say (even if Hagel gets the appointment); but he needs an ally to open up new avenues and new approaches into our intractable region. God, I hope the President doesn’t back down! JRK

  6. Helen Marshall says:

    Sadly, I think we already know who will be running the White House for the next four years: the same folks who have been running it for the last four years. I watched the take-down of Chas Freeman, a man who might have had a significant impact on the belligerent policies of the past four years (think Iran sanctions, drones, Afghanistan surge, Gaza, Libya, Syria…you name it). I don’t see anything in the behavior since to suggest that any spines have been found lying around the White House. Nor does the recent Fiscal Cliff absurdity provide any basis for optimism.

    That said, it would be very useful to have a major media source to counter the array braying out there now. You and others in online media are doing a very commendable job but for way too small an audience!

  7. JkK says:

    Patriot Americans are shoved aside by the Israeli Jewish lobby’s “thought police” while individuals with dual Israeli citizenship or ex-Israeli soldiers or even suspected spies were appointed unchallenged to the highest offices in US administrations.

  8. nanabaakan says:

    I used to watch Al Jazeera, but after many gaffs and mus-representations and the staging of their reporters in the middle of a war zone (guess they could have been called embedded) etc. and all the mishaps in reporting on Libya, I stopped watching them. I usually get my news from the Internet, don’t own a TV. I watch Press TV now. They are really good and of course since they are from Iran, you won’t get much interest in the Western world, in fact, they are trying to rescind their license in SkyNews broadcasting satellite and have closed their offices in the UK.

    When I heard Sec. of State, Hillary Clinton announce that the US needed a media outlet like Al Jazeera, I knew it was over. It was the US and its allies invasion of Iraq that had Al Jazeera’s media outlet bombed and the loss of some of their reporters. At that time you could trust them.

    In my community there are a few Muslim business that I purchase certain food items from, and they have all turned Al Jazeera off when formerly, everyone I knew who was Muslim, watched it. Not any more, the biased and slanted reporting have cost them many viewers. Additionally, as long as they ignore the fact that they are under the leadership of a Monarchical Family, similar to Yemen, Libya, Bahrain, Egypt, then they will remain hypocritical in their postering against these other so-called regimes. The idea that the US has a strong interest in the support of Qatar is dubious to me, and more of the same, pandering to US interests, while ignoring the real crimes against humanity.

  9. Anne Frank says:

    This should put to rest any doubts about the total control of the mainstream media by Zionist money.

  10. Bob Hannum (Rev.) says:

    I wonder if, when AIPAC is seen coming down the hall, Congresspersons run for cover and tell their aids, “Promise them anything they want!” Who runs our foreign policy? Guess who? This administration, like all the others since the 1960’s, continues to pander to the neo-cons and to the govts. of Israel. Hagel would be great! So, naturally, he may well not be the one. Our president may back down again, as he has so often in the past. How sad!

  11. Art Preisinger says:

    I have letters from Texas Senator Cornyn in which he says that he does not support Israeli-Palestinian border negotiations; that he introduced legislation in the Senate supporting Israel’s stopping the “Free Gaza” Flotilla’s attempt to break Israel’s blockade of Gaza in May, 2010; that he co-sponsored legislation in May 2011, which would recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and require the relocation by Israel of its capital from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem; that he co-sponsored the Solidarity with Israel Act which would prohibit U.S. funding to the United Nations should the UN grant the Palestinians in comprehensive in a peace agreements reached through direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

    All this from a man who decries President Obama’s call for an Israeli-Palestinian negotiated border, because we shouldn’t interfere in Israel’s business.

    “The strong cultural, religious and political ties shared by the United States and Israel,” he writes, “help form a bond between these countries that should never be broken.”

    I live in Texas and many, albeit not enough, progressive Texans would be glad to be rid of Cornyn.

  12. Dan Hall says:

    We need Chuck Hagel, if only to keep us out of another war (with Iran). As for Al-Jezeera, we need more news from the Middle East. And Americans, who are especially ignorant about what is going on in the West Bank, need a TV outlet that will give us news from there, (since our mainstream media won’t).

  13. William Gepford says:

    Thank you Jim. There is no doubt that the person who wins this particular nominatioin will run the WH for the next four years. The neocons will do everything they can to control it. That’s why we need Chuck Hagel.

  14. Carole Donner says:

    Thank you.
    I learned something new today by reading your
    Blog. Still trying to wrap my mind around
    Rhino’s and Neocons. Why must we play these games?
    I was dumbfounded a few years ago(last year?)
    When I tried to access aljazeera online to no avail
    Now Al’s selling something they want, America seems to be
    Morphing into something? Shoot me now for being
    A realist, literal, female, uneducated human, but
    Wouldn’t the simple Truth serve us all much quicker, easier
    Etc? Help!

  15. AWAD PAUL SIFRI says:

    Great analysis on President Obama’s “Hagel Litmus Test”. Thanks for an excellent review.
    It seems to me that we, as regular people, can produce more results by contacting key media and raising serious questions about the credibility of their lopsided coverage. We should literally demand equal time for Hagel supporters.

    As far as Aljazeera, i would say one thing. One of the critical reasons for the mess in US foreign policy is the lack of adequate news about the world.

    The news organizations claim that Americans do not care about news of foreign lands. In my view, this is a false assumption and an insult to the Anerican mind. It is a question of what came first, the chicken, or the egg?

    Once Americans start to get significant coverage of the world, they will get used to it rather quickly and they will start demanding more of it. And they will start to raise questions and they will start to build bridges with other lands, and they will start to dream about, rather than ‘drone’, other exotic lands. Currently, it is as though there is a deliberate campaign of “dumming” America, by parties that do not wish America well.

    Let Hagel’s nomination and approval become a landmark date for America’s independence from foreign interference in its National vital interests.

  16. Cotton Fite says:

    As always, Jim, thanks. I suspect Obama’s decision on this one will tell us clearly what to expect from him on the Palestine/Israel front over the next four years. As Chuck Hagel, I’m proud to say, is an Episcopalian, we’ll be saying mass for him tomorrow on the Feast of the Epiphany … seems appropriate somehow. Note also that you can go on the Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) website and sign a letter supporting Obama to resist neo-con and Jewish establishment pressure in making his choice for DS.

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