Even before their victory-dance over allegedly derailing the hypothetical nomination of Susan Rice to become Secretary of State ends, Republicans have to decide whether to follow right up with a similar campaign against former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel’s hypothetical nomination to succeed Leon Panetta at the Pentagon.
In some respects, that means choosing between the GOP’s past and present foreign policy principles.
Only recently has the GOP emerged as the party whose primary foreign policy principles revolve almost entirely around Iran and Israel, with American strength measured almost entirely by the extent to which American policy is identical to that of the Israeli Right. That’s about all that’s left of the aggressive posture of the Bush administration.
So given that sad state of affairs, it’s no surprise Hagel may be found unusually objectionable, as Eli Lake notes at the Daily Beast:
Chuck Hagel, who is reportedly the frontrunner to be the next Pentagon chief, has made a lot of friends in the U.S. foreign-policy establishment and at the top levels of Obama’s inner circle. Even though he is a Republican, Hagel is co-chairman of the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board. And he has often won plaudits from the elite press for his early opposition to the Iraq war.
The former Nebraska senator has also frequently angered his own party: In 2005, as George W. Bush was beginning his second term, Hagel became the first Republican to oppose John Bolton’s nomination to be the next U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. The year before, he voted with the Democrats on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence to begin an investigation into the pre-Iraq war intelligence.
But Republicans aside, Hagel’s real opposition will likely come from the pro-Israel lobby in Washington. While the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) never takes formal positions on nominees, if the group is asked by senators for its view on Hagel, it’s unlikely AIPAC will have a kind word.
A senior pro-Israel advocate in Washington told The Daily Beast on Thursday, “The pro-Israel community will view the nomination of Senator Chuck Hagel in an extremely negative light. His record is unique in its animus towards Israel.”….
The former senator was not only a frequent no vote on sanctions against Iran, but The Washington Free Beacon reported on Thursday that he also serves on the board of directors of Deutsche Bank—which is reportedly being probed by U.S. authorities for possible violations of the very kinds of sanctions Hagel opposed when he was in Congress.
So you can imagine how well that goes over with Republicans whose most recent mantra, as often expressed by their 2012 presidential candidate, that America must never exhibit “any daylight” between its foreign policy posture and that of Bibi Netanyahu, particularly with respect to Iran.
On top of everything else, Hagel is thought to be less likely to identify with resistance to Pentagon cuts than Panetta.
But all these perceptions make Hagel an ideal target for those who want to depict the president as an enemy of Israel, a friend of Iran, and a peacenik happy to turn swords into plowshares. The bigger question is whether Republicans can pull off two straight freakouts over unconfirmed appointments in the middle of the holidays–and the fiscal negotiations. And they’d also prefer to keep the foreign policy focus on what they now refer to simply as “Benghazi,” a subject on which Hagel has not been a visible commentator.
So Hagel poses a bit of a strategic problem for the GOP, aside from the fact that the White House will be able to turn up a variety of past statements of support and appreciation for the man from his fellow-Republicans. From their point of view, the best outcome would be for Obama to look elsewhere for a Secretary of Defense, allowing them to claim victory once again without any real effort.