The frantic campaign unleashed by Republicans against the appointment of Chuck Hagel as secretary of defence by President Barack Obama has come to naught. The president has proved time and again that he is not the one to flinch if he is challenged and kept his record this time too by choosing to nominate Hagel as defence secretary.
The entire controversy surrounding Hagel reeks of Republican frenzy and its ideological extremism. Hagel haters have accused him of being anti-Israel (some even calling him anti-Semitic) and he has also been targeted for being less hawkish on the Iran nuclear issue and for fear of cutting the military budget. On all these points, experts have said he would behave like any other secretary of defence once he occupies his seat. American policies are not decided by individual policies, and whatever Hagel’s views on any issue, he will be expected not to deviate far from the general narrative dictated by lobbies.
Does Republicans’ visceral hatred of Hagel and his alleged diminished liking for Israel give any hope to our region, especially on the Palestinian issue? Absolutely not. Even if Hagel has less allegiance towards Israel, it doesn’t mean he would dare to differ on anything concerning Israel. He wouldn’t budge an inch from the lines drawn for him by the AIPAC (the American Israel Public Affairs Committee), the powerful Jewish lobby. The proof of this lies in the fact that though Obama has been denounced by his critics as soft on Israel, he is actually not so, and is said to have done more for the Israeli security than any US president in recent history, as a recently retired Israeli defence minister put it. Nine former US ambassadors, five of them ex-ambassadors to Israel, in an open letter, have strongly endorsed Hagel for secretary of defence and rejected as ludicrous the charge that he’s anti-Semitic. AIPAC and the Republicans will know more about Hagel more than these former ambassadors because he is a former Republican senator.
Perhaps Hagel’s sin could lie in the fact that he had called AIPAC a ‘Jewish lobby’ instead of an Israeli lobby, which is actually true, and if this has been the reason for the Republican anathema, it shows the stranglehold of the Jewish lobby on American politics. By campaigning against him, Republicans could be sending him a fierce warning that he dare not deviate from the set agenda.
Even if Obama and his team think differently on key Middle East issues, they can hardly translate them into action, as they have already proven, because American politics and policies are held at gunpoint by the Israeli lobby. A change is not possible, at least in the immediate future.