By Linda Chavez
Chuck Hagel’s nomination to be secretary of defense is in trouble — as it should be. The former Republican senator has so much baggage, it is amazing that the administration hasn’t dumped him, as they did Susan Rice when her proposed nomination ran into trouble. Unfortunately, having won that battle, the GOP may be in weaker position to defeat another Obama nominee. And Rice, her misstatements about the attack on Benghazi notwithstanding, would have been a less dangerous cabinet member than Hagel.
Hagel has made clearly anti-Semitic statements before public forums time and again. If his target had been, say, blacks or Hispanics, he’d have been forced to withdraw. Just try that on for size.
What if Hagel had been on record as declaring, “The black [or Latino] lobby intimidates a lot of people”? And then had publicly declared the Ku Klux Klan “legitimate”? What if the nominee had also been the one U.S. senator who refused to sign a letter criticizing the former apartheid government of South Africa for its racist treatment of blacks?
In fact, Hagel’s actions with respect to Jews have followed exactly this course. In 2006, Hagel said, “The Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people,” an accusation for which he could not produce a single example during his confirmation hearings. He has defended the murderous Iranian regime as “legitimate” — a regime whose leaders are committed to annihilating Israel and who deny the Holocaust. And he’s opposed sanctions against Iran, even though the regime is a state sponsor of terrorism against the United States. Apparently he thinks Israel is a greater threat to the U.S. than Iran. In a speech at Rutgers University, Hagel accused the U.S. state department of taking its orders from the Israeli Foreign Ministry.
Lest anyone think his animus is towards Israel — not Jews — consider that he is the only U.S. senator to have refused to sign a letter to former Russian President Boris Yeltsin asking him to take action against rising anti-Semitism in Russia. Hagel’s office issue the lame excuse that the then senator had a “policy not to send letters to foreign heads of state regarding their domestic policy.” Really? Well then I guess we can expect President Obama’s nominee to remain silent on Syrian and North Korean “domestic policy” as these nations slaughter their citizens by gunning the down in the streets of Homs or Aleppo or killing them slowly in the gulags of Hoeryong?
Hagel would do himself and the president a big favor by stepping aside. His performance during his confirmation hearings was embarrassing. He seemed woefully ignorant of the president’s own policies toward a nuclear Iran. At one point, he said, “I support the president’s strong position on containment,” suggesting the president believes a nuclear-armed Iran can be “contained” much as the Soviet Union was during the Cold War. But President Obama has not suggested he favors containment, which would be a green light to the Iranians to move ahead with their plans to develop nuclear weapons. So Hagel later tried to correct the record, but in doing so, he made himself look like a fool. In fact, his inability to answer questions before the Senate committee alone should be enough to derail his nomination.
The president has a right to nominate his cabinet — but the Constitution doesn’t give him a blank check. The Senate also plays an important role in advising and consenting on presidential appointments. President Obama may have thought he was extending an olive branch to Republicans by picking a former GOP-elected official for his defense secretary. But Hagel is a caricature of the Republican Party — a man whose personal prejudices (his anti-gay comments about a Clinton nominee seem to have been largely forgotten by his liberal backers) are cringe-inducing and who is as ill-informed as he is inarticulate.
The Senate will take up Hagel’s nomination next week after Thursday’s threatened filibuster delayed the vote. That is unless the president admits his mistake and pulls the nomination. The country would be better served if he did.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .