A Memo for those Interested in Rebutting Attacks on Hagel

For those readers who may want to contact their senators about the charges leveled against former Sen. Chuck Hagel by Bill Kristol, Elliott Abrams, other neo-conservatives, leaders of the Israel lobby, and the increasingly Israel-centric editorial writers of the Washington Post, the following memo is circulating around Washington this afternoon.

Facts on Chuck Hagel

Chuck Hagel is being misrepresented as anti-Israel and ‘soft’ on Iran, Hamas, and Hezbollah. These accusations misrepresent Senator Hagel’s positions on national security, Israel and the Middle East.

In his book America: Our Next Chapter, Hagel wrote: 

“[a]t its core, there will always be a special and historic bond with Israel exemplified by our continued commitment to Israel’s defense.”

“[a] comprehensive solution should not include any compromise regarding Israel’s Jewish identity, which must be assured. The Israeli people must be free to live in peace and security.”

Daniel Kurtzer, former U.S. ambassador to Israel under President George W. Bush, called the criticism of Hagel’s policy views “terribly misguided.”

“I found him in all the years I served, including as ambassador to Israel, to be a supporter of Israel and a man also ready to discuss very frankly with the Israelis the concerns we had about certain Israeli policies,” he said.

Dr. Aaron David Miller, a Mideast adviser to six Secretaries of State, a vice president and distinguished scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center, wrote:

“Hagel is a strong supporter of Israel and a believer in shared values.” He has said that “there is a difference between a special relationship with Israel and an exclusive relationship with Israel. I believe in the former and Chuck Hagel believes the former.”

The pro-Israel, pro-peace J Street organization has said:

“Sen. Hagel has been one of the most thoughtful voices in Washington for two decades on questions relating to American policy in the Middle East. He has also been a staunch friend of the State of Israel and a trusted ally in the Senate, speaking out on behalf of America’s commitment to Israel’s security. He recognized, before many would talk about it publicly, that the peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in two states is in the national security interest of the United States. The outrageous attacks on Sen. Hagel, many from unnamed sources, are being leveled at a decorated Vietnam War hero who is widely admired as a rational and independent voice on foreign and defense policy.”

Here are the facts

Hagel as a strong supporter of Israel

Hagel had an unbroken record of substantive support for Israel — support that strengthened military cooperation and enhanced Israeli security in a troubled region. He voted time and time again to provide billions of dollars of U.S. military and security assistance for Israel. In his book, Hagel wrote, “[a]t its core, there will always be a special and historic bond with Israel exemplified by our continued commitment to Israel’s defense.” Further, “[a] comprehensive solution should not include any compromise regarding Israel’s Jewish identity, which must be assured. The Israeli people must be free to live in peace and security.” Hagel cosponsored Feinstein resolutions which includes“ commitment to a true and lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, based on the establishment of two states, living side by side in peace and security and with recognized borders” and calls on the “Hamas-led PA to recognize the State of Israel’s right to exist.”

Position on automatic sequester cuts to defense spending

Hagel has never expressed support for across-the-board, automatic budget cuts to the Department of Defense. Hagel, like most members of Congress today – and every credible deficit reduction plan on the table – believes that additional cuts to defense are warranted and would not put our security or our military supremacy at risk. Hagel has always said we must never do anything that would weaken America’s national security.

Hagel on negotiating with Hamas

Hagel was original co-sponsor of legislation urging the international community “to avoid contact with and refrain from supporting the terrorist organization Hamas until it agrees to recognize Israel, renounce violence, disarm and accept prior agreements.” Furthermore, Hagel endorsed a proposal spearheaded by Henry Siegman, long time executive director of the American Jewish Congress and coauthored by respected American foreign policy experts from both sides of the political aisle, which called for inducing Hamas to modify its behavior, and noted that “[d]irect U.S. engagement with Hamas may not now be practical, but shutting out the movement and isolating Gaza has only made it stronger and Fatah weaker. Israel itself has acknowledged Hamas is simply too important and powerful to be ignored.” Efraim Halevy, former head of Mossad and national security adviser to Ariel Sharon, supports a similar approach.

Hagel on opposition to labeling the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps a terrorist organization

Opposed by 21 other Senators, as the nonbinding amendment made no reference in support of any diplomatic strategy, would have had minimal practical impact and could have been seen as a “backdoor method of gaining Congressional validation for military action,” by the Bush Administration, as Senator Webb said at the time. In his book, Hagel wrote that Iran is a “state sponsor of terrorism” that “provides material support to Hezbollah and Hamas.”

Opposition to use of force by the US or Israel to stop Iran’s nuclear weapons program

Hagel has never ruled out use of force and supports keeping all options on the table. During his time in the Senate, Hagel supported efforts to use force in cases such as Kosovo, and al Qaeda, where all diplomatic options were (or were assured to be) exhausted. And in his book, Hagel wrote that “[a]n Iranian nuclear breakout would have dangerous consequences in a region characterized by unresolved and long-standing conflicts, including the overriding Arab-Israeli issue.”

Hagel’s support for sanctions on Iran

Sanctions on Iran have been in place since 1996 and Hagel has supported numerous sanctions on Iran. While Hagel is skeptical of unilateral sanctions (Cuba), he supports multilateral sanctions which we have seen, in concert with allies, put tremendous pressure on Iran. This has been acknowledged by the Israeli government. In a March 2012 interview, he said the U.S. should “keep ratcheting up the sanctions” and “keep the world community with you” on pressuring Iran. Furthermore, he has voted in favor of the Iran Missile Proliferation Sanctions Act of 1998, Iran Nonproliferation Act of 2000, and Iran Freedom Support Act of 2006.

Criticism of the 2006 armed conflict in Lebanon and seeking an immediate ceasefire

The 2006 conflict was criticized by the official Israeli government-appointed Winograd Commission, criticizing it for how the government rushed into military action without considering other options, “including that of continuing the policy of ‘containment,’ or combining political and diplomatic moves with military strikes below the ‘escalation level,’ or military preparation without immediate military action.” Since 2006, Hezbollah has more than rebuilt its arsenal of rockets aimed at Israel.

Urging U.S. to deal with the Assads in Syria and Yasser Arafat

Hagel believes that you do not need to negotiate with your friends, but rather with your enemies – in a clear-eyed manner – for the purposes of defending and advancing America’s national security. Responsible leaders from around the world explore all options to pursue national interest. Israel negotiated a peace treaty with Egypt after successive wars. Colombia has engaged the FARC to pursue an acceptable end to that conflict. And, Israel has in the past engaged Syria to pursue an end to the Israel-Syrian conflict. Hagel had no illusions about Arafat. In a 2002 op-ed, Hagel wrote that “[t]he U.S. cannot excuse Arafat for his failings as a leader, his complicity in terrorism and his inability to make the tough choices for peace. The Palestinian people…have paid a price for Arafat’s corruption, intrigues, and limitations.” However, he believed that “we cannot hold the Middle East peace process hostage by making Yasser Arafat the issue.” The fact that Yasser Arafat’s party, Fatah, with its capable, technocratic prime minister, Salam Fayyad, is now seen as a much more responsible partner for peace, and has responsibly governed the West Bank, is a testament to this pragmatic approach.

Jim Lobe

Jim Lobe served for some 30 years as the Washington DC bureau chief for Inter Press Service and is best known for his coverage of U.S. foreign policy and the influence of the neoconservative movement.