I’m a bit late on this, as it already ran on Politico and foreignpolicy.com this morning, but the open letter endorsing Chuck Hagel’s possible nomination as Secretary of Defense signed by nine of the most highly regarded former U.S. ambassadors — five of whom served as ambassador to Israel — seems well worth noting.
Particularly interesting is the signature of Ryan Crocker, who most recently headed the U.S. embassies in both Baghdad and Kabul, if only because neo-conservatives have embraced him and his work much as they embraced Gen. Petraeus. (Bill Kristol, along with the Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin probably Hagel’s most vociferous foe, has been unstinting in his praise for Crocker over the last four years, explicitly and repeatedly comparing him to Petraeus and promoting them as a winning team. In August, Kristol nominated Crocker to serve as ambassador to the UN in a Romney administration). Nick Burns, of course, was promoted to Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, the State Department’s number 3 position, under George W. Bush, although, given his outspoken defense of both Obama’s foreign policy and, more specifically, his engagement policy toward Iran, it’s no surprise that he’s one of the signers. Pickering, one of the foreign service’s most highly decorated officers, is also not surprising, but the combined experience of all nine is damned impressive.
I have no great insight into whether Obama will indeed nominate Hagel — possibly as early as tomorrow — although Chris Nelson, who definitely has access to insiders, reported last night that the chances that the president would pick Michele Flournoy, the former undersecretary for policy at the Pentagon and a big advocate of counter-insurgency strategy (COIN), are remote, as “she left DOD with a poor White House relationship.” It seems that Hagel’s foes are actively riling up as many possible constituencies as they can to oppose the nomination, including gay rights groups (which must be causing Rubin’s close friend, Rachel Abrams, considerable distress) and women’s leadership organizations, not to mention the Children of Jewish Holocaust Survivors whose press release was predictably featured on Kristol’s Weekly Standard blog, the go-to site, with Rubin’s, for anyone wanting to find any and all bad things that can be and has been said about the former Nebraska senator.
One thing seems clear: this is a very big — possibly decisive — test of whether Obama will get serious about curbing Israel’s and Bibi’s excesses in his second term. If he backs off Hagel, he’s going to be seen as very weak by the right-wing leadership in Israel and neo-cons here at home, both of whom insist repeatedly that appeasement of bullies only encourages more bullying.
Here’s the letter:
- Ambassadors’ Open Letter: Senator Hagel Impeccable Choice for Defense Secretary
We support, most strongly and without qualification, President Obama’s reported intention to nominate Senator Chuck Hagel to be the next secretary of defense. Each of us has known the senator over the past twenty years and has found him invariably one of the best informed leaders in the US Congress on the issues of U.S. national security. Senator Hagel’s credentials for the job are impeccable. As a decorated Vietnam veteran, an extremely successful entrepreneur in the private sector and as a two-term senator, he brings unusually high qualifications and experiences to the Department of Defense at this time of budget constraint and challenges to reshape America’s military power while keeping it strong for the coming decades.Senator Hagel’s political courage has impressed us all. He has stood and argued publicly for what he believes is best for the United States. When he was attacked for opposing the war in Iraq as “unpatriotic”, he replied “to question your government is not unpatriotic – to not question your government is unpatriotic.” Time and again he chose to take the path of standing up for our nation over political expediency. He has always supported the pillars of American foreign policy – such as: a strong NATO and Atlantic partnership; a commitment to the security of Israel, as a friend and ally; a determination to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons; and the defense of human rights as a core principle of America’s role in the world.Each of us has had the opportunity to work with Senator Hagel at one time or another on the issues of the Middle East. He has invariably demonstrated strong support for Israel and for a two state solution and has been opposed to those who would undermine or threaten Israel’s security.We can think of few more qualified, more non-partisan, more courageous, or better equipped to head the department of defense at this critical moment in strengthening America’s role in the world. If he is nominated, we urge the speedy confirmation of senator Hagel’s appointment.
Nicholas Burns, former Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, Ambassador to NATO and Greece
Ryan Crocker, former Ambassador to Iraq and Afghanistan
Edward Djerejian, former Ambassador to Israel and Syria
William Harrop, former Ambassador to Israel
Daniel Kurtzer, former Ambassador to Israel and Egypt
Sam Lewis, former Ambassador to Israel
William H. Luers, former Ambassador to Venezuela and Czechoslovakia
Thomas R. Pickering, former Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, Ambassador to Israel and Russia
Frank G. Wisner, former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, Ambassador to Egypt and India