President Barack Obama’s nomination of former Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense has drawn criticism from both the GOP and from Democrats who are concerned about his positions on Israel and Iran.
Hagel also has taken heat for questionable remarks about gay rights because of his support in the 90s for "Don’t Ask Don’t Tell" and reference to an ambassador as “aggressively, openly gay,” according to CNN.
“This is an in-your-face nomination by the president to all of us who are supportive of Israel,” Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham said on Sunday. “Chuck Hagel, if confirmed to be secretary of defense, would be the most antagonistic secretary of defense towards the state of Israel in our nation’s history.”
“Not only has he said you should directly negotiate with Iran, sanctions won’t work, that Israel must negotiate with Hamas, an organization, terrorist group that lobs thousands of rockets into Israel. He also was one of 12 senators who refused to sign a letter to the European Union trying to designate Hezbollah as a terrorist organization,” Graham said.
Long known as an independent because of his penchant for speaking out when he disagreed with the ideas of his own party, Hagel was one of the few Republicans in Congress who opposed much of the policy governing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Hagel would, if approved by the Senate, be the first enlisted member of the military to be Secretary of Defense. He has said that his service in Vietnam, where he led an infantry squadron after the attacks of the Tet Offensive, gives him a unique view of war.
"I'm a hard-edged realist. I understand the world as it is," he said of his caution in launching war and sending any number of soldiers to risk their lives for it. "But war is a terrible thing. There's no glory, only suffering."
Aside from opposing sanctions and instead calling for direct talks with Iran, Hagel has suggested that both the U.S. and Israel negotiate with Hamas and Hezbollah despite the acts of terror and war that both commit on a regular basis against the Jewish state.
"Whoever is nominated for secretary of defense is going to have to have a full understanding of our close relationship with our Israeli allies, the Iranian threat, and the importance of having a robust military," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Both Republicans and several Jewish and Israeli activist groups have already started to campaign against Hagel’s nomination because of remarks he made in 2006 that were critical of the U.S. support for Israeli policy regarding Hamas and Iran.
“The political reality is . . . that the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here,” Hagel said in an interview in 2006. “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.”
The National Jewish Democratic Council has raised concerns about Hagel because of those comments, as have several senators Graham and McConnell among them.
Anti-Defamation League National Director Abe Foxman told Politico that he wasn’t as concerned about the comments themselves, which privately are not that uncommon among members of Congress, but that he has not taken the effort to explain what he meant.
“What I find more troubling is, he had sufficient time to distance himself from the ‘Jewish lobby’ quote, to explain, and he hasn’t,” Foxman said. “He let it stand. I find that more troubling than the original statement. He sees it out there, he sees it being seen as this truly conspiratorial view, that the Jewish lobby controls foreign policy, and there’s no comment.”
The one remark which Hagel has apologized for came in 1998, when he expressed concern about then newly-appointed Ambassador to Luxembourg James Hormel being gay and how that would come across on the world stage.
“Ambassadorial posts are sensitive,” Hagel said in an interview at the time. “They are representing America. They are representing our lifestyle, our values, our standards. And I think it is an inhibiting factor to be gay — openly aggressively gay like Mr. Hormel — to do an effective job.”
Although he expressed regret last week for the remarks, calling them insensitive and that they are not indicative of his views of LGBT Americans, several groups, including the Log Cabin Republicans, have started to campaign against Hagel’s nomination.
"I think there will be a lot of tough questions for Sen. Hagel," McConnell said Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press," "but he will be treated fairly by Republicans in the Senate. I think he'll be subjected to the same kind of oversight hearings that any nominee for such an important position would expect."
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