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Haaretz, Israel

A Type of George Bush Sr.

By Li-on Hadar

The nominee for U.S. secretary of defense, Chuck Hagel, is not anti-Israel, but he is certainly not popular among Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s friends in Washington.

Translated By Danielle Morris

8 January 2013

Edited by Natalie Clager

Israel - Haaretz - Original Article (Hebrew)

The nominee for U.S. secretary of defense, Chuck Hagel, is not anti-Israel, but he is certainly not popular among Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s friends in Washington. Their worry is that the former Republican senator will not assume that every strategic axiom marketed by the prime minister to the Americans must be accepted as though it was a conscription order.

If we look at Hagel’s appointment from the perspective of the Bush family’s history, it can be said that he is the political and intellectual successor to George Bush Sr. and his political advisers, James Baker and Brent Scowcroft. He is a conservative yet pragmatic Republican who fits into the Kissinger or political realism department of right-wing politics. Political realists make international- and defense-related decisions based on cold and sentiment-free strategic considerations that primarily reflect the interests of the U.S. and not some vague ideals à la Woodrow Wilson, who wished to promote democracy worldwide.

George Bush Sr. removed Saddam Hussein from Kuwait, but not from Baghdad. Republican realists such as Scowcroft and Hagel understood that a free Iraq would not transform into a Western-style democracy but would fall into civil war, and that the fall of Saddam Hussein would remove the only obstacle facing Iran’s spread into the Persian Gulf. George W. Bush, influenced by his neoconservative advisers, opened the Iraqi Pandora’s Box, out of which emerged the blood-shedding battles between the Shiites and the Sunnis; Baghdad became Iraq’s cancer.

Hagel did not hide his opposition to the Iraq War and the neoconservative agenda, which, among other reasons, was based on the fantasy that an American-Israeli alliance would force American interests and values onto the Arab world and shove aside the Palestinian problem. The former Senator from Nebraska, who was decorated for bravery during his military service in Vietnam, supported Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama in 2008 and joined him on his visit to Iraq during the election campaign.

The news regarding Obama’s intention to send Hagel to the Pentagon almost caused a political heart attack for neoconservative commentators and columnists, who launched a public campaign against Hagel, accusing him of supporting the destruction of Israel and having anti-Semitic tendencies. The basis for this slander was his support of diplomatic contact with Hamas and his reservations about an American attack on Iran, not to mention his critical attitude toward the Israeli lobby in Washington.

Similar allegations were raised against George Bush Sr. and Baker in their day, who, like Hagel, believed that American interests in the Middle East would be promoted through an American effort to reach an Israeli-Arab agreement, not through providing the Israeli “strategic asset” with freedom of action, a route which would eventually lead to the isolation of the U.S. in the Middle East. This also is the generally accepted notion for many officials at the Pentagon and the State Department, who believe that Washington has to stop letting the Israeli tail wag the American dog, and instead begin to emphasize American withdrawal, not from Israel itself, but from its current policies.

In any case, as part of his role as secretary of defense, Hagel will not be running an independent policy agenda; rather, he will be responsible to and for the strategy outlined by Obama, unde rthe supervision of Congress. His influence on relations with Israel and its prime minister will be reasonably significant in one field: preventing a military eruption with Iran. Obama is interested in preventing this, as it not only may cause a rise in energy prices and harm the efforts being made to restore the U.S. economy, but would also hinder his intention of transferring the strategic focus from the Middle East to eastern Asia. A war with Iran will only cause America to sink further into the Middle Eastern swamp and make the Iraq War look like a picnic on the shores of the Tigris.

From this point of view, a former Republican senator who fought bravely in Vietnam — along with the nominee for secretary of state, John Kerry, who was also decorated for bravery in that same war — will be able to successfully block the pressure expected from Netanyahu’s friends on Capitol Hill and those in the media in favor of an attack on Iran.

Hagel will possibly even succeed in promoting an alternative diplomatic strategy to solve the crisis with Tehran. After all, it will be difficult to accuse him of pacifist tendencies or appeasement à la Neville Chamberlain, especially when the only battlefield many of his neoconservative critics have fought on is the Fox News TV studio. Hagel and Kerry will express what most of the officials in the Pentagon and the Department of State are thinking and will try to convince Congress and the American public that the policies offered by Netanyahu will harm American interests. This will not be an anti-Israel stance, but a pro-America one.



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