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What’s wrong with Chuck Hagel?

He has integrity, he speaks his mind and we need him.

If all of the speculation is to be believed President Obama is likely to appoint former US Senator Chuck Hagel as his next Secretary of Defense. Although this is still just speculation, it is being reported in just about every media outlet and has caused more than a little controversy among the pro-Israel lobby.

Hagel is certainly a man who has spoken his mind over the years. He voted yes on the war on Iraq but very quickly changed his tune and in 2007 because highly critical of they war, saying, “People say we’re not fighting for oil. Of course we are.”

He is reported to be skeptical about the value of sanctions against Iran in forcing the Islamic regime to give up their nuclear program and is also reported to be anti-Israel to the point where Abe Foxman, the head of the Anti Defamation League, commented on the nomination that “at the very least it’s of concern to the American Jewish community, at the very most, it’s very troubling.”

Chuck Hagel (AP Photo/Lauren Victoria Burke)
Chuck Hagel (AP Photo/Lauren Victoria Burke)

As for me, after taking a good long look at this guy, I really like him.

Hagel has a long and distinguished career in business and in politics and an incredibly impressive record from the Vietnam War, during which he attained the rank of sergeant and earned a Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry, two Purple Hearts, Army Commendation Medal, and the Combat Infantryman Badge. Not bad for a year’s work! It is perhaps because of his experiences in Vietnam that Hagel became such an ardent critic of military involvement in Iraq, and they may have shaped the way that he views other conflicts around the world.

As well as being a self-made millionaire he often voted against Republican Party lines despite being a Republican Senator. He has said that “I took an oath of office to the Constitution, I didn’t take an oath of office to my party or my president.” Here is a man who clearly works according to his conscience rather than merely blowing with the prevailing wind. He must have known that his stance on many issues would have gotten him into some deep water but he took those positions anyway and that is to be respected.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the statements he has made about Israel that have made him such a controversial choice. Here’s what he said to former Mideast peace negotiator Aaron David Miller in a 2006 interview that was reported in Politico:

The political reality is … that the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here. …I have always argued against some of the dumb things they do because I don’t think it’s in the interest of Israel. I just don’t think it’s smart for Israel.

His use of the term ‘Jewish lobby’ instead of ‘Israel lobby’ got a lot of folks in Washington DC upset. It has not gotten me upset. In fact I hear people doing it all of the time. More importantly I agree with the substance of his argument. I also think that the government does a lot of really dumb things that are actually against our own national interest and I want there to be someone in Washington DC who’s prepared to actually tell them that rather than live in fear of the the pro-Israel lobby attacking them.

Another statement of his that raised controversy was “I am not an Israeli Senator, I am a United States senator.” I am not quite sure who can attack him for saying that, the man spoke an obvious truth!

The controversy over Hagel seems to stem not from the statements he has made or even the policies that he supports but from the fact that people have expectations that the next US Secretary for Defense should be more hardline than most Israelis are when it comes to the Middle East. Of course we want the man who takes the job not to hate us or work against the State of Israel but there simply isn’t anything in the man’s actions or words over the course of a very long career to make anyone think that he would.

What we can expect is a man who is prepared to stand up and speak his mind. And as far as I’m concerned it won’t come a moment too soon!

About the Author
Marc Goldberg is the author of Beyond the Green Line, a story his service in the IDF fighting through the al Aqsa Intifada