By Anthony J. Santino
President Barack Obama’s recent nomination of Chuck Hagel, the former United States senator from Nebraska, as Defense Secretary, is deeply troublesome. Practically from the moment Hagel’s name was first mentioned as a potential candidate, waves of widespread, bipartisan distaste over President Obama’s choice began to surface.
The reasons why Hagel is a flawed nominee are fairly simple: His 12-year record as a United States senator is unusually laden with examples of overt antagonism toward the State of Israel; utterly counterintuitive positions on national security and terrorism; and a baffling lack of concern over the many credible fears responsible world leaders have about Iran’s increasingly subversive role within the international community.
Those who vigorously support the president’s choice seek to muddle the issue by pointing to Hagel’s meritorious service and bravery in the army during Vietnam, where he earned two Purple Hearts, the Army Commendation Medal, and the Combat Infantryman Badge.
There’s no question that Senator Hagel is an American hero. But Hagel’s decorated service to our country does little to minimize or negate the many troubling questions surrounding his nomination. Furthermore, military heroics and service are not—and cannot be—the sole prerequisites for serving as Secretary of Defense.
It wasn’t that Hagel frequently stood alone on various issues—there’s virtue in being independent-minded. Rather, it’s on which issues Hagel consistently chooses to exercise his “independence” that require reflection.
An examination of these curious instances, spanning Hagel’s senate career, unveils a telling pattern of the former senator’s true record—one that demonstrates a nominee far too extreme and out-of-touch to occupy the Defense cabinet post:
• October 2000: Hagel stood out as one of only four senators refusing to sign a Senate letter in support of Israel.
• August 2001: Hagel was one of the two votes cast against renewing the Senate’s Iran Libya Sanctions Act.
• November 2001: Hagel chose not to join 87 other senators urging the President not to meet with Yasser Arafat until Palestinian forces ended a campaign of violent, unprovoked attacks against Israeli citizens.
• April 2002: Hagel opposed banning Iraq oil imports until Saddam Hussein ended his practice of sending cash awards to families of Palestinian suicide bombers.
• June 2004: Hagel refused to lend his voice to those urging the president to include the Iranian nuclear program in an upcoming G‑8 summit agenda.
• June 2005: Hagel opposed renewing sanctions against Iran, calling them “not effective” and claiming sanctions only serve to “further isolate the United States.”
• December 2005: Hagel refused to join efforts to pressure the Palestinian Authority into banning terrorist groups from participating in Palestinian elections.
• August 2006: Hagel flatly refused to urge European Union leaders to categorize Hezbollah as a terrorist organization.
These are just a few serious concerns about the positions Chuck Hagel has taken on many important issues to national security in recent years. The New York Times (January 8) reported that “Hagel has opposed sanctions on Iran, failed to support Israel, and has advocated engaging with Hamas and Hezbollah.”
Closer to Hagel’s home state, Carol Katzman, the former editor of the Omaha Jewish Press, told New York’s venerable Jewish publication The Algemeiner Journal that her former U.S. senator was particularly dismissive when it came to local concerns about Israel. “Hagel was the only [federal elected official] we have had in Nebraska who basically showed the Jewish community that he didn’t give a damn about the Jewish community or any of our concerns,” said Katzman.
The article goes on to describe Hagel’s positions on the Jewish State as “always plac[ing] the blame on Israel, demanding ‘more and more concessions, Israel was at fault when things went wrong, [and] the Palestinians didn’t need to adhere to any standard.’”
Any potential cabinet officer, especially Secretary of Defense—one of the more important and prominent presidential appointees—should hold reasonably mainstream views on pressing issues facing our nation’s military. At the very least, the Secretary of Defense should have some history of placing personal opinions aside when contributing to national-defense policies that will impact our nation and its allies for many decades to come.
Hagel, considering his many long-held radical views and record, falls far short of even this minimal requirement. This is something that Democrats, Republicans, and independents can all agree on.
Former New York City mayor Ed Koch, a Democrat who endorsed President Obama in the recent election, said, “I believe [Chuck Hagel] would be a terrible appointment [as Secretary of Defense], and so do apparently most of the Jewish leaders who have expressed themselves.”
“Were Chuck Hagel nominated to be Secretary of Defense, the Iranian mullahs would interpret President Obama’s decision as a signal that the military option was now, effectively, off the table. It would encourage [Iran] to proceed with their development of nuclear weapons without fear of an attack by the United States. . . . They will ultimately be allowed to win the prize of a deliverable nuclear bomb,” predicted noted attorney, legal scholar, and Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz.
Democratic Congressman Eliot Engel of Manhattan said Hagel has “some kind of endemic hostility towards Israel, and that’s troublesome . . . In the sensitive post of Secretary of Defense, those are warning bells. Those are red lights.”
Democratic Senator Bob Casey from Pennsylvania similarly stated that “any comment that undermines our relationship [with Israel] concerns me.”
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham believes Hagel’s positions “are really out of the mainstream,” and Senator Tom Coburn, Republican from Oklahoma, is on the record saying that he “cannot vote for Chuck Hagel simply because of some of the positions he’s taken and statements he’s made.”
But your opinion also counts. And we need to come together as a community to stand up for the United States and Israel, our greatest ally in the Middle East. We need to call upon our federal representatives to let them know that President Obama’s nomination of Chuck Hagel as Defense Secretary is troublesome, if not decidedly dangerous.
Demand that our federal officials—who rush to show their support of Israel come election time—stand on the side of what’s right for America, helpful to Israel, and in opposition to our enemies and those who wish to destroy the Jewish State.
Call and express your opinion to Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy at 202-225-5516, and our two United States senators, Senator Chuck Schumer at 202-224-6542 and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand at 202-224-4451. Gillibrand sits on the Senate Armed Services committee and will be participating in the Secretary of Defense confirmation hearings. Join me in demanding that they oppose Hagel as Secretary of Defense.
Call our federal elected officials to let them know that Chuck Hagel is not a viable option. His record and extreme views make him an irresponsible nominee and should disqualify him from President Barack Obama’s cabinet. v
Senior Councilman Anthony J. Santino is currently serving his fifth term on the Hempstead Town Board representing the Town of Hempstead’s 4th Council District, which includes the communities of Bay Park, Baldwin, East Rockaway, Harbor Isle, Hewlett, Hewlett Bay Park, Hewlett Harbor, Hewlett Neck, Island Park, Lynbrook, Oceanside, and South Hempstead. Santino was honored in 2011 as “Man of the Year” by Yeshiva Toras Chaim of South Shore, as well as by the Chabad Outreach Center of Valley Stream.