Prof. Alan Dershowitz of Harvard Law School is a legendary defense lawyer, and the country's foremost pro-Israel advocate. He is also a steadfast supporter of President Barack Obama. Breitbart News spoke to him in an exclusive interview today about the nomination of former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) as Secretary of Defense.
Sen. Hagel is controversial for his views on Israel, the Iraq War, Iran, and gays, among other issues. Dershowitz had, prior to Hagel's nomination, urged President Obama publicly not to appoint Hagel to the position.
Breitbart News: Does the Hagel nomination represent a slap in the face to the pro-Israel community?
Dershowitz: No--I think it's a heartfelt decision by the President, based on his personal relationship with Hagel. I think it's a policy mistake. And I'm not the only person who thinks its a policy mistake. There are several people within the White House who urged him not to do it.
And I'm opposed to him for one primary reason, and that is [Hagel's appointment] is going to send the wrong message to the Iranian mullahs. They could easily misunderstand that the President is backing away from his commitment not to allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons, because Hagel has opposed keeping a military option on the table.
And it's the wrong time to send mixed messages to those who are looking for an excuse for misunderstanding.
Breitbart News: Who were the opposing voices among Democrats and the administration?
Dershowitz: I don't know for sure. I've been told--well, the head of the National Jewish Democratic Council came out against it...but I'm told that an number of others within the White House advised him not to do it. And there are a number of Democratic Senators, Jewish and non-Jewish, who are opposed but who will either vote for Hagel, if needed, to get him through--or will vote against him if their votes are not needed.
But this is not a liberal-conservative split or a Democrat-Republican split. Nor is it about whether Hagel used the term "Israel lobby" or "Jewish lobby," for me. It's all about Iran. And I think that's a serious policy issue.
And I have been approached to testify, possibly, about it. And if asked, I will testify against Hagel's nomination--on the issue of Iran.
Breitbart News: Is this a sign of the direction of Obama administration foreign policy in his second term?
Dershowitz: I don't think so. I hope not. I think this was a personal decision.
Hagel is, in my mind, in the same league as [former Secretary of Defense] Robert Gates, who was appointed by [George W.] Bush, and Casper Weinberger, who was appointed by Reagan. Weinberger was virulently anti-Israel, and Gates was, in my view, the worst Secretary of Defense in modern history, and is largely responsible for why Iran continues to purse its nuclear program, because he had been softer on Iran than anybody. So it's a bad choice for the country. It's bad for peace. It makes the likelihood of military action actually increase, and it makes it more likely that Iran will develop nuclear weapons.
Now, there is a way out: if Hagel testifies and makes very clear that these are not his views, and that he is completely in favor of military action as a last resort, and that he agrees with President Obama that containment is off the table.
I am hoping to hear that. I was hoping to hear that today. But I did not.
Breitbart News: There were no Democratic senators to be found on the Sunday shows to defend Hagel--why not?
Dershowitz: A lot of them are upset at President Obama's choice, but they're going to support their President. As I've said, normally, the President gets his man. But when the choice involves deep policy decisions, the Senate has a job to do.
[Dershowitz wrote today in the online Jewish newspaper, Algemeiner: "But when the President’s decision risks sending a mixed message that could increase the chances of having to employ the military option against Iran, the Senate has an especially important role to play....We hope that these concerns can be allayed by the President and his nominee, but if they are not, it will be the highest of patriotic duties to oppose Senator Hagel’s nomination."]
Breitbart News: How can Obama send a strong signal to Iran and nominate Hagel, as you suggested in your column, given Hagel's well-known views?
Dershowitz: I think he has to say: "I'm the President, I make the decisions, and what I said before about the military option remaining on table is the policy. I don't bluff. Iran will not be able to develop nuclear weapons, there will be no containment." He should reiterate that after making the Hagel nomination, and has to say, "Hagel works for me and will follow my orders."
As I wrote today, independence is a virtue for a Senator; it is not a virtue for a Cabinet member when dealing with Iran.
Breitbart News: Did Obama ignore the concerns of Jewish organizations, or were they just not vocal enough?
Dershowitz: Well, they were split. J Street, of course, supports Hagel. [Peter] Beinart supports Hagel. AIPAC was quiet. And so I think J street gave President Obama cover, as it often does, and I think he made the wrong decision.