Since I penned a piece warning not to assume we know why President Obama floated Hagel’s name in the first place (maybe that’s what they mean by lack of enthusiasm), I should say that I’m pleased that the President is going through with the nomination. And I’m hopeful that Hagel, who I remember from the Senate as being someone who didn’t quite have the courage of his own purported convictions, has changed with time and retirement from the Senate. I’m not expecting Hagel to set foreign policy – that’s the responsibility of the President, and whatever advice Hagel might give him in office he could also have given him privately. But if we’re actually going to trim military expenditures, we need someone at Defense who isn’t captive to the interests who want to keep spending at a maximum. Whatever else Hagel may or may not be, he is somebody who has publicly called for cutting defense spending.
I said in my previous note on Hagel that the charges leveled against him of being anti-Israeli or even an anti-Semite are baseless, but I wanted to add that while it is plain that Israel has benefitted from American sponsorship generally, there’s much less evidence that a carte blanche attitude has benefitted either Israel or the US-Israeli relationship. It’s kind of become a cliche for critics of Israel to say they are the truly pro-Israel voices, because they are trying to save Israel from itself, and I think there’s an understandable resistance to what looks like concern trolling from that corner. But, nonetheless: it’s a fact that the only time Israel was threatened with catastrophic defeat, it was saved in the clutch by President Richard Nixon, who was personally no lover of the Jewish people; it’s a fact that the Camp David Accords, negotiated under the aegis of President Jimmy Carter, who got a lower percentage of the Jewish vote than any modern Democrat when he ran for reelection, hugely benefitted Israel’s security position; and it’s a fact that George H. W. Bush, whose Secretary of State infamously said, “f- the Jews; they don’t vote for us anyway” midwifed, by careful management of the end of the Cold War and the conduct of the Gulf War, a more favorable strategic environment for Israel than it ever enjoyed before or since.
The point being: if Israel and America have a natural alliance of common interests, that alliance will be strengthened by enduring through periods when points of divergence achieve greater prominence, and the personnel in office devote necessary attention to those points.