Kristol Launches the Neo-Con Campaign to Stop Hagel

Photo by Gage Skidmore/Flickr

While Marsha Cohen and Ali Gharib have reviewed some of the reaction to Chuck Hagel’s possible nomination as Secretary of Defense, Bill Kristol, co-founder/director of such august organizations as the Emergency Committee for Israel (ECI), the Project for the New American Century, and the Foreign Policy Initiative, appears to have officially launched what could be called the neo-conservative stop it. Writing on the Weekly Standard website (of course, he’s the publication’s editor in chief), Kristol quotes at length from “a fact sheet circulating widely on Capitol Hill” (whose provenance he fails to disclose) entitled “Introduction to the Reading of Hagel”, an oh-so-clever reference to the German idealist philosopher of the early 19th century.

What is interesting, if not altogether surprising, is the degree to which the “Reading” quoted by Kristol is centered on the U.S. relationship with Israel — more evidence that Israel and its security and welfare stand at the very center of the neo-conservative worldview, a point that is studiously avoided by most of the Washington foreign-policy establishment, at least when its members are speaking or writing publicly. It doesn’t matter what Hagel thinks about China, for example, or about the “pivot” to Asia, or about treatment of wounded vets, or missile defense, or about the appropriate size of the Navy or Marine Corps; it’s all about Israel and the purported threats it faces.

Particularly remarkable is the Hagel quote featured in point number 9 in the section titled “Israel and the ‘Jewish Lobby.'” (You can actually hear the quote if you go to the Politico article entitled “Chuck Hagel’s Record on Israel Draws Scrutiny” about the incipient controversy; it’s from an interview presumably conducted by Aaron David Miller for his book.) This is the relevant passage as it appears in the “Reading:”

9.       When questioned about his pro-Israel record during a meeting in New York with supporters of Israel, Hagel is reported to have said, “Let me clear something up here if there’s any doubt in your mind. I’m a United States Senator. I’m not an Israeli senator. I’m a United States Senator. I support Israel. But my first interest is, I take an oath of office to the constitution of the United States. Not to a president, not to a party, not to Israel.”

Now, I would think that the vast majority of Americans — even including those who support Israel — would consider this a very good statement of how a U.S. senator or any U.S. official should conceive his or her role and purpose. But it seems that Kristol and the anonymous author(s) of the “Reading” believe this position is somehow reprehensible. If true, a more damning indictment of the author(s)’ and Kristol’s view — at least, from those who believe that the first obligation of a U.S. lawmaker is to protect the Constitution and the country — would be very difficult to find.

Indeed, I would hope that this line of attack against Hagel would push Obama into both going ahead with the nomination and aggressively defending it on precisely the basis that all U.S. officials must have as their primary allegiance the defense of the Constitution and of the United States, and not of a foreign country, however friendly it might be.

The Politico article usefully cites the precedent of Amb. Chas Freeman’s appointment and subsequent withdrawal as chairman of the National Intelligence Council under pressure from the both neo-conservatives and the more conventional Israel lobby — while the two definitely overlap and often work together, there are important differences  between them — in the early days of the Obama administration. (As readers of this blog know, I am a big Freeman fan who greatly admires both his encyclopedic knowledge and his strategic vision.) In that case, of course, the campaign against Freeman focused even more on his allegedly close ties to the Chinese leadership than on his presumed hostility to Israel and its policies. It was a very clever tactic designed, of course, to divert attention to the fact that the campaign was orchestrated by key figures in the Israel lobby, notably Steve Rosen, a former top AIPAC official. Whether the neo-cons and/or AIPAC or its past associates can find a similar non-Israel-related stick with which to beat Hagel remains to be seen.

But it appears already that Kristol and the unknown author(s) of the “Reading” intend to act as the vanguard of a larger campaign that will probably — if very discreetly — include AIPAC, which has so far maintained a public silence about the speculation surrounding Hagel’s nomination. (Could it be that the “Reading” was based on AIPAC’s files?) One notes, of course, that Josh Block, identified in the Politico article as “a former AIPAC spokesman”, has already weighed in against the nomination, suggesting that the former senator is an Iran/Hezbollah-lover. Block has more recently taken over the leadership of The Israel Project (TIP) and has moved it quickly into taking a harder line in support of Israel’s Likud leadership than under TIP’s previous director/founder, Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi. (The change is indicated, among other things, by the recent defection of TIP’s former head of communications, Allan Elsner (previously a very professional diplomatic correspondent for Reuters), to J Street, which, incidentally, praised Hagel in the Politico article.

My assumption at this point is that the lobby, quietly led by AIPAC — but with neo-cons like Kristol (and the more-aggressive Israel lobbyists like Block and Rosen) acting as the point of the spear — will indeed mount a major campaign against Hagel’s nomination, UNLESS Obama himself makes it very clear that he’s willing to go to the mat on this, meaning that he’s prepared to make exactly the point made by Hagel in point number 9 on “Israel and the ‘Jewish Lobby’.” (Interestingly, the organized US Jewish community as a whole is far from united in opposing Hagel.) Of course, the president must first get up the nerve to actually nominate him. This will be an important test of his second-term intentions vis-a-vis Israel and everything that concerns it.

NOTE: In a previous version of this post, I wrote that I didn’t see the phrase “Jewish Lobby” quoted by Kristol in the excerpts of the “Reading.” That was my mistake. He clearly did use that phrase, and, in my opinion, that is regrettable since, as many others have pointed out, the Israel lobby consists of many Christian Zionists and most Jews are more critical of Israel and its policies than is the lobby. At the same time, the fact that his opponents, who have become increasingly shrill in the last 48 hours, have not provided a single shred of additional evidence of anti-Semitism or another instance in which Hagel used the same phrase suggests that the many individuals who are now coming out in support of his nomination and specifically to reject the anti-Semitism charge, strongly suggests that the issue is a red herring and that what is really motivating the opposition is fear that Hagel, if nominated, will indeed be confirmed and will not be shy about voicing his criticism of Israeli policies when he thinks it appropriate.

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.



  1. this garbage must stop we are american first,our legiance is to america.I support hagel all the way because he doesnot take any abuse from any one .he is american all the way.

  2. It is a sad situation when an American is lambasted for saying he isnt beholden to another countries ideology, Itis time for America Politicians to start remembering which country they were elected in, The United states of America, and remember the oath to the Constitution of that country, it says you swear allegiane to the United States of America NOT Israel.

    Also it is time that all office holders of the United States of America do not hold second citizenships to other countries, those that do so should be impeached from office immediately, as having foreign alliances.

    Countries like Australia allow dual citizenships for citizens but not for Politicians! They must beyond reproach, I wonder what would happen if there was a Chinese Communist that became a US Citizen and ran for governor of say California or even a senate seat. Want to bet there would be a stink!

  3. It’s interesting to consider how far advanced the USA and the world might be today if people like Chas Freeman and Chuck Hagel had been nominated and confirmed. Instead, the USA appears to have a sort of death-wish for appointing people willing (or eager) to be slaves to a certain foreign country ruled by expansivist-militarists.

    In fact, imagine that President Obama could so far free himself from various powerful components of the oligarchic lobbying world that he could choose a cabinet which would

    [1] be rational about global warming / climate change
    [2] be rational about Israel/Palestine
    [3] be rational about Iran

    oh, yes, and

    [4] be rational about military guns in the hands of American non-soldiers.

  4. News flash for Pabelmont:

    Our 100 percent White European Founding Fathers did not include the Second Amendment to the Bill of Rights in order to make sure American citizens could go squirrel, deer, or duck hunting. The 2nd Amendment was put there to provide and guarantee to citizens of this nation a means by which, as a last resort, they could resist tyranny from a totalitarian, dictatorial, out of control, ruthless and lawless Federal Government.

    This means, Mr. Moron – that to make absolutely certain that the citizens would have the best possible chance to successfully resist tyranny – that they should have access to small arms that were as similar as possible to the weapons that a totalitarian, dictatorial, ruthless government might decide to unleash upon them to murder and oppress them. In the 1700s, those small arms were single shot muskets. In today’s world, those small arms are the civilian version of the military M-16 battle rifle. We have already conceded to a compromise – the military’s M-16 platforms are capable of fully automatic fire, while the civilian AR-15 rifles are semi-automatic only.

    Fess up, pal. You slept through American History class and never knew why the 2nd Amendment was added to the Bill of Rights, placed second only in importance to Freedom of Speech, right?

    Also, another compromise is the background check that is designed to supposedly weed out those individuals who have criminal records, or other conditions that would pose a risk to the general safety of their fellow citizens. That is the rational approach, but it is not fool-proof.

    Or, would you prefer that the tyrannical US Government and US military be given a monopoly on force and as many advantages as possible in weapons so as to be able to crush any attempt by freedom loving citizens to throw off tyranny?

    There is no such thing as a completely fool-proof system – because, even someone who decides to commit a crime with a firearm was a law abiding citizen with no criminal record prior to their first commission of a crime. So, are you pushing the Minority Report movie concept here? Pre-crime?

    If that is the case, then you are advocating for a totalitarian police state society that would make the old USSR look like a Club Med. That’s the kind of society you want to live in?
    Not me, pal.

    That’s the problem with greasy liberals. They live in fantasy world and think its possible to create this magical ‘Utopian Society’ and no matter how many times their Utopian schemes fail and no matter how many innocent people get hurt in the process, these nitwits refuse to admit that they and their schemes are pure garbage.

  5. Wow Tucker…great! Can’t wait for the M1-Abrams, Stingers and RPG’s to go on sale at Walmart.

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