Why Chuck Hagel is Unfit to be Secretary of Defense

Senator Chuck Hagel’s nomination has already sent an extremely dangerous signal to the Islamic Republic of Iran that President Obama really doesn’t mean what he says when he declares that “all options are on the table”, when dealing with a nuclear Iran.

A nuclear Iran would not be dangerous to Israel alone. It is dangerous to the United States, and incredibly destabilizing to the region, and perhaps to the entire world.

We know that one of the very first things that Iran did after its revolution in 1979 was to seize the American embassy and take our embassy officials hostage. We know that it was Iranian-backed Hezbollah that bombed the American embassy in Beirut, Lebanon in 1983, killing 244 US servicemen. We know that it was Iranian-made IED’s with Farsi lettering on them that were used to maim and kill our U.S. servicemen in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

We also know that Israel is simply referred to in their rhetoric as “The Minor Satan.” It is America that gets that glorious epithet, “The Great Satan.”  

Within a few years, the Iranians will probably have a missile capable of delivering nuclear material to the United States. At this point their missiles can reach Israel as well as many parts of Europe. And the many Hezbollah cells just beyond our border in Central America may be able to activate something quite horrific to the United States, with a transportable “dirty bomb” carried in a briefcase across the border with Mexico.

However, we have no doubt that Israel will be first in the Iranian crosshairs.

We know that for years Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been preparing his people to do something dreadful to Israel by dehumanizing the Israeli and the Jew. When leaders start making allusions to biological growths and organisms, it is a way of sowing the societal landscape so that their people do not feel the common bond of humanity with Jews. It is a way to minimize any objection they might have to the annihilation of Israel. 

In one of his recent televised speeches marking Al Quds Day, (Jerusalem Day), Ahmadinejad called Israel “a cancerous tumor that will soon be destroyed.” He continued: “Even if one cell of them is left in one inch of Palestinian land, in the future the story of Israel’s existence will repeat itself.”

So vile is the existence of Israel in the eyes of Ahmadinejad (and unfortunately in much of the Arab world, as well) that he views the eradication of Israel and the Jews as a great moral service to humanity.

He went on to proclaim, “Confronting Israel is an effort to protect the dignity of all human beings.”

We have been down this road before. The real cancer that is very much in existence throughout much of the Arab and Muslim world is this cancer of hatred that has metastasized throughout the body politic of much of the Middle East and Iran.

By this twisted logic, Ahmadinejad actually feels that he is doing something virtuous by eviscerating the Jewish state.

We are in a very sensitive period of history. According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, which is an arm of the United Nations--so in no way could be construed as part of the “Zionist conspiracy”--last November, Iran was about one year away from possessing enough fissile material for at least three to four Hiroshima-type weapons.

And that is a very conservative estimate. 

According to Reza Khalili, a former member of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard Corps, who became a double agent and worked for the CIA in the 1980’s and ‘90’s, Iran already has enough weapons grade, highly enriched uranium, plus the delivery mechanism to carry nuclear warheads.

Speaking at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy last July, Khalili said, “This is a messianic regime. There should be no doubt they’re going to commit the most horrendous suicide bombing in history. They will attack Israel, European capitals and the Persian Gulf region at the same time, then they will hide in a bunker (until a religious prophecy is fulfilled), and kill all the nonbelievers.”

How does this apply to Chuck Hagel? 

It apples because we know that whoever will be Secretary of Defense during the next four years will undoubtedly need to deal with this issue. It is a necessary prerequisite of the job that whoever that candidate is, he or she needs to understand the urgency of the threat.

Let’s take a look at Senator Hagel’s record:

According to an editorial in the Washington Post--not a conservative publication, by any stretch of the imagination--Chuck Hagel repeatedly voted against Iranian sanctions, including sanctions against the terrorist Islamic revolutionary Guards Corps, (IRGC). Not only has Senator Hagel had a pattern of opposing sanctions when the vast majority of his colleagues were calling for them, but in a discussion held by the Council on Foreign Relations in 2005, he proposed that Iran should be made part of the regional talks on the future of Iraq.

Think about that: Chuck Hagel wants the United States, which has invested so many American lives and a vast amount of our treasure in Iraq, to allow the Islamic Republic of Iran-- a nation whic, in its inception, declared war on the United States by seizing our embassy, and has since supplied IEDs that have killed American soldiers in Iraq--to be a party in the shaping of the Iraqi government.

Now, many people have proclaimed that Senator Hagel is a friend of Israel. However, the best test of friendship is: what does a friend do when his friend is down? In July of 2006, Iranian-backed Hezbollah crossed the border of southern Lebanon into Israel, kidnapping two Israeli soldiers, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev. They then rained down more than 4,000 rockets on Northern Israel, specifically targeting Israeli citizens and population centers.

There was one Senator, and only one Senator, who stood up on the floor of the United States Senate and upbraided Israel for doing what, according to Article 51 of the United Nations Charter, any nation is entitled to do when its civilian population is attacked, remonstrating against “the systematic destruction of an American friend--the country and people of Lebanon.”

You guessed his name – Chuck Hagel.

Of course, in Chuck Hagel’s worldview, no regime, no terrorist organization, is beyond the pale, no matter how egregious its actions are. 

In 2008, Mr. Hagel said we had to negotiate with the regime of Bashir al Assad of Syria, and in 2009, he sent a letter to the president saying that Israel must begin open negotiations with Hamas.

There is also a pattern that has emerged in Chuck Hagel’s record that I find chillingly reminiscent of a very ugly sentiment. Comments that contain within them statements about either the wealth or the power of Jews reek of classic antisemitic canards.

In a discussion with a JINSA (Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs) staff member, Marsha Halteman, when Senator Hagel was head of the USO, they discussed the cost of building up the port in Haifa, the one stable place within the tumultuous Middle East for American ships to dock. 

Mr. Hagel’s goose-bump inducing quipL: “Let the Jews pay for it.”

Senator Hagel puts American Jews in a very untenable position. I would like to believe that I, according to the Constitution, have the same right to petition my elected officials as an Irish-American or an Italian-American, or any other American.

There are good reasons for American Jews to be involved in the democratic process. On February 2, 2012, the head of the IDF military intelligence, Aviv Kochavi said, “There are 200,000 missiles pointing at Israel in every direction.”

One would hope that if there were a besieged democratic ally anywhere in the world, say in Ireland, with that many missiles pointing at it from all directions, I would still want to educate members of Congress about that situation. To question my right as an American citizen to do this is bringing back ugly sentiments that have been carefully locked in the closet since the days before the Holocaust.

Last summer, my family and I returned to Eastern Europe. I found out that the person whom I was named after, whom I always thought perished in Auschwitz, never made it that far.  She was one of those who had been forced to strip naked and dig her own grave, later to be mowed down by the Nazis.

There are people in this world who would not hesitate to do the very same thing to my people today, as a nation, given the opportunity. These people also want to destroy the United States. 

Our history has taught us that when our enemies speak, we had better heed what they say. Because our enemies mean business.

That is why nominating a person with a track record such as Mr. Hagel’s, so dismissive of the very real dangers in the world, sends such a very dangerous signal to those people.

Sarah N. Stern is Founder and President of EMET, the Endowment for Middle East Truth, an unabashedly pro-American and pro-Israel think tank in our nation’s capital. Her last book was Saudi Arabia, America and the West’s Fatal Embrace (Palgrave MacMillan, 2011).


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