Donilon, White House vs. Hagel over Hezbollah, EU Terror List

Yesterday, White House national security adviser Tom Donilon published an op-ed in the New York Times urging the European Union to add Hezbollah to its list of terrorist organizations. In doing so, Donilon took the opposite position to that of Secretary of Defense nominee Chuck Hagel, who has resisted urging the EU to do so.

Donilon was reacting to the outcome of an official investigation by Bulgaria into last summer's bus bombing in Burgas, which killed several Israeli tourists and a local bus driver. The Bulgarian government concluded that Hezbollah was responsible for the terror attack--against heavy diplomatic pressure from other European governments, which are eager to preserve the fiction that Hezbollah has become a legitimate political group.

In his article, "Hezbollah Unmasked," Donilon--speaking, apparently, for the Obama administration--wrote:

The United States applauds those countries that have long recognized Hezbollah’s nefarious nature and that have already condemned the group for the attack in Burgas. Europe must now act collectively and respond resolutely to this attack within its borders by adding Hezbollah to the European Union’s terrorist list. That is the next step toward ensuring that Burgas is the last successful Hezbollah operation on European soil.

The White House position contrasts sharply with that of former Sen. Hagel, who was one of only 12 Senators to refuse to sign a letter in 2006 urging the EU to declare Hezbollah a terror organization.

Hagel reaffirmed his position in his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Jan. 31. The following exchange took place between Sen. Lindsey Graham and Hagel:

Sen. GRAHAM: Now, do you agree with me that Hezbollah is a terrorist organization?

Mr. HAGEL: Yes.

Sen. GRAHAM: Now, in 2006, you were one of 12 senators who refused to sign the letter to the European Union asking them to designate Hezbollah as a terrorist organization for the purposes of the E.U. sanctioning Hezbollah. Why were you one of 12 who refused to sign that letter?

Mr. HAGEL: Because I have generally had a policy during my time in the Senate that I didn't think it was the right approach for the Congress of the United States to be sending leaders any instructions or any documents versus letting our president do that. And I -- as I have already stated --

Sen. GRAHAM: Well, why did you sign a letter to Bill Clinton urging him to deal with the Russians when it comes to their policy against Jewish people?

Mr. HAGEL: Because I think that's the appropriate approach, because I think it's our president who conducts foreign policy.

Sen. GRAHAM: Well, all I could suggest to you is that when a letter is presented to a United States senator about the times in which we live in, you can't write one letter and not write the other and in my view be consistent.

And the letter was urging the E.U. to impose sanctions on Hezbollah, and you've been a big believer that we shouldn't go it alone, we shouldn't do it unilaterally. Why in the world wouldn't you take this chance to urge the European Union to go ahead and sanction Hezbollah because it may help the world at large deal with this terrorist organization? And your answer is you just don't think we should be writing letters.

Mr. HAGEL: That wasn't my answer. My answer was I think the president of the United States is the appropriate official --

Sen. GRAHAM: So Congress has no interest at all in whether or not the E.U. would designate Hezbollah as a terrorist organization? Do you think that's our role up here, that we should just stay out of those things?

Mr. HAGEL: The Congress has an interest and responsibility in all things, but I --

Sen. GRAHAM: OK. I've got you. Now, let me -- apparently not there.

The fact that Hezbollah has remained off the EU list of terror organizations has allowed it to continue to raise money openly in Europe--money that it uses to fund its operations, including propaganda and terror against Israelis and Jews. Donations to Hezbollah are even tax-deductible in some European countries.

Hagel has assured the Senate that he would obey the Obama administration's policies. Yet he seems unaware of those policies on critical issues, such as Iran. Donilon's op-ed emphasizes the fact that Hagel's positions remain to the left of the Obama administration, and outside the American political mainstream.

The only question is whether Donilon intended to highlight the contradiction--and, if so, why. 

Did the administration feel the need to clarify its difference with Hagel over Hezbollah? Or is Donilon's op-ed a signal that it may be backing away from its troubled nominee, after all?


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