A Chronology of the War Against Chuck Hagel

The smear campaign against Chuck Hagel did not begin on Dec. 14, 2012. The former Nebraska senator’s opposition to war as the preferred means of conducting foreign policy made him a maverick during the post-9/11 Bush years. Although most Republicans agreed with Hagel’s socially conservative positions on domestic issues, his nuanced approach to foreign policy — and his view that diplomacy was a more efficacious means of securing long term US interests than sending in troops with an unclear and/or undefined strategic objective — set him apart from many of his fellow party members.

Some criticism of Hagel began to surface in 2007, when he briefly considered running for president as a Republican. In an effort to thwart his candidacy and undermine his potential candidacy, the National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC) compiled a list of petty grievances that would constitute the core of most neoconservative excoriations of Hagel, persisting in cyberspace long after the NJDC had scrubbed all references to them from its website. Hagel ultimately decided not to run, but he also chose not to support the GOP nominee, John McCain. He derided McCain’s vice presidential designate, Sarah Palin. While Hagel stopped short of explicitly endorsing Obama for president, his wife made no secret of the fact that she intended to vote for McCain’s Democratic rival.

After Obama won the 2008 presidential election, neoconservative attacks on Hagel resumed, with the aim of preventing his appointment to a cabinet post in the newly elected administration. Hagel’s name was floated as a possible Secretary of State or Secretary of Defense, with Obama eventually appointing his challenger for the Democratic nomination, New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, to head the State Department. Obama also decided to keep Bush’s Defense Secretary, Robert Gates, at his post for another year or so. Hagel was instead appointed to co-chair the president’s intelligence advisory board, although his name kept coming up amid speculation in 2009, and again in 2010, that Gates would step down.

During his two terms as a US Senator from Nebraska, Hagel’s refusal to sign various AIPAC-drafted letters presented to members of Congress outlining positions on the Middle East, compiled in 2007 by the NJDC, became, in the hands of the Republican Jewish Coalition and the neoconservative media, prima facie evidence of Hagel’s unsuitability for a position in Obama’s cabinet. That Obama would even consider Hagel also indicated Obama’s alleged perfidy. (The fact that about a quarter of other prominent Democratic as well as Republican senators also did not sign these letters has usually been obscured, with most attention given to Hagel and Richard Lugar.)

Beginning in 2009, attacks on Hagel were redirected from his stated (and presumed) foreign policy positions, to his support for the new liberal Jewish lobby, J Street. This further devolved into false charges of support for terrorism and endorsement of groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas. In 2010, the Emergency Committee for Israel (ECI) targeted Hagel’s endorsement of retired Navy Admiral Joe Sestak for Senate in one of the ECI’s first public-relations battles. When Hagel’s name came up as a possible contender for Secretary of Defense after Obama’s re-election in 2012, the weapons for an assault against Hagel were already loaded, aimed and ready to fire, beginning with charges of anti-Semitism, “appeasement of Iran,” and hostility toward Israel, then devolving into accusations of homophobia.

The following chronology of the smear campaign against Chuck Hagel, past and present, is intended to be representative, rather than exhaustive. It traces back numerous accusations currently being made against Hagel to their earliest dubious sources. Its intention is to provide other researchers a starting point or a supplement to their own research in progress, as well as offer anyone who has just begun following this issue an overview of, and some insights into, the ideological nature and sources of neoconservatives’ hostility to Hagel’s nomination. Its aim is also to explain why Hagel’s defenders — left, right and center; peace activists and military veterans; staunch supporters of Israel and critics of its policies — believe that more than just the nomination and confirmation of a superbly qualified candidate for a top Defense post is at stake in the days ahead.

Chuck Hagel’s nomination will be a test case of the process of, and basis for, the selection, vetting, evaluating, and confirming of top US policymakers by a dysfunctional and divided legislative branch of government. It will also demonstrate whether a handful of manipulative ideologues are capable of, and can get away with, substituting smears, derision and character assassination for thoughtful consideration of — and debate about — US national security interests and needs (and what they ought to be) in the second decade of the 21st century, as well as how to best serve them. It is in this spirit that this chronology has been compiled.

You can download the chronology (.pdf) by clicking here: A Chronology of the War Against Chuck Hagel

Photo: Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter and the former Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska walk together after the ceremony to mark National POW/MIA Recognition Day ceremony at the Pentagon, Sept. 21, 2012. DOD photo by U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Sun L. Vega 

Marsha B. Cohen

Marsha B. Cohen is an analyst specializing in Israeli-Iranian relations and US foreign policy towards Iran and Israel. Her articles have been published by PBS/Frontline's Tehran Bureau. IPS, Alternet, Payvand and Global Dialogue. She earned her PhD in International Relations from Florida International University, and her BA in Political Philosophy from Hebrew University in Jerusalem.


One Comment

  1. very valuable article providing excellent context – thanks marsha

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