Sunday, February 03, 2013

Chuck Hagel and the Israel lobby

Last week's quarrelsome Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on former Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel's nomination as Secretary of Defense highlighted the real existing effect of the Israel lobby and its outsize effects on American politics and foreign policy. I've listed below several pieces discussing this issue.

I'm still bothered by the fact that President Obama picked another Republican for his third Secretary of Defense, following Bill Clinton's example with Bill Cohen, his third Defense Secretary. Obama kept George W. Bush's Secretary of Defense, Bill Gates, on as his first SecDef. This works against the success that Obama has had in diminishing the Republicans' perceived advantage on national defense in public opinion polls. It's another symptom of Obama's near-compulsive pursuit of an illusory bipartisan harmony.

But for this nomination, that ship has sailed. And now the Republican nominee for SecDef has become a partisan flashpoint, with his own Party for whom he served in the Senate bitterly opposing him and the Democrats supporting him. And so the game has to be evaluated for what it is. But Israel and the closely related issue of Iran got the most attention.

Here are two video news reports on the hearings, which ran for eight hours.

The Hagel Hearings The Real News 02/01/2013, with commentary by Jim Lobe:

Chuck Hagel Defends Record at Confirmation Hearing PBS Newshour 01/31/2013:

The main issue in whether Chuck Hagel is qualified to be the US Secretary of Defense has become whether he's rabid enough in his support for anything and everything the government of Israel might want to do themselves or might want the United States to do. Obviously in the reports above, John McCain's seemingly theological concept of the value of The Surge in Iraq, also made a newsworthy moment in the hearing.

As Gideon Levy writes in Israel does as it pleases Haaretz 02/03/2013, Israel's foreign and military policies are increasingly heedless of their extreme unpopularity and even their blowback potential for Israel. Their policies are often reckless, and their allies, including the United States, need to take full account of that fact.

The public discussion of US-Israeli policies still largely proceeds on the polite assumption that a two-state solution with the Palestinians is still a viable option. In reality, Israel has succeeded in closing it down as a realistic possibility. Stephen Walt in Some inconvenient truths Foreign Policy 01/28/2013 listed this as one of the practical realities he wishes that the Washington foreign policy establishment would openly acknowledge:

#3: "There's not going to be a two-state solution." For official Washington insiders, the politically-correct answer to any question about the Israel-Palestine conflict is that we favor a two-state solution based on negotiations between the two parties, preferably done under U.S. auspices. Never mind that there's not much support for creating a viable Palestinian state in Israel (surveys in Israel sometimes show slim majorities in favor of a 2SS, but support drops sharply when you spell out the details of what a viable state would mean). Never mind that the Palestinians are too weak and divided to negotiate properly, and the failure of the long Oslo process has diminished Fatah's legitimacy and strengthened the more hardline Hamas. Never mind that the latest Israeli election, while it weakened Netanyahu, did not strengthen the peace camp at all. And never mind that the United States has had twenty-plus years to pull of the deal and has blown it every time, mostly because it never acted like a genuine mediator. But nobody in official-dom is going to say this out loud, because they have no idea what U.S. policy would be once the 2SS was kaput.
But, as Levy notes:

Even more troublesome are the questions about the settlements. Again, Israel's conduct is based on the assumption that, as far as West Bank settlements are concerned, anything is allowed. A committee set up by the UN − by the power of whose decision the State of Israel was established and won world recognition − published a document on Thursday castigating Israel's policy. The committee ruled that the settlements are a violation of international law − or, in other words, a war crime.

Israel, the report's composers established, will be susceptible to lawsuits in the International Criminal Court in The Hague and sanctions. So what? The Foreign Ministry has already called it a one-sided report. A commentator in Israel Hayom, like all Israel's commentators, has already consigned it to "the garbage heap of history." ...

I appeared before this investigation committee’s members − impressive, well-known jurists − at their request. Their committee was set up by the same council that wrote the Goldstone Report into Operation Cast Lead in Gaza − which penetrated so deeply into Israeli consciousness that the Israel Defense Forces acted differently in last November’s Operation Pillar of Defense. That report was not thrown into the garbage heap, but went into history. This settlement report, too, will resonate − at least in the outside world.
See also:

Phyllis Bennis, Will Chuck Hagel's Appointment Actually Help the Anti-War Left? The Nation 01/08/2013

Juan Cole, Why the Senate should Confirm Chuck Hagel as SecDef Informed Comment 01/31/2013

Juan Cole, Chuck Hagel Mauled in Bizarro World of US Senate Informed Comment 02/01/2013

Robert Dreyfuss, The Hagel Disaster The Nation 02/01/2103

Howie Klein, Will The GOP Slap Down Obama By Torpedoing Chuck Hagel? Down With Tyranny 02/02/2013

Jim Lobe, It’s All About Israel Inter Press Service 02/01/2013

Jim Rutenberg, Secret Donors Finance Fight Against Hagel New York Times 01/26/2013

Stephen Walt, I'd like to thank the Senate Armed Services Committee Foreign Policy 02/01/2013

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