Like most supporters of Chuck Hagel’s appointment to serve as Secretary of Defense, I was appalled by his performance at the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday. He was inarticulate, incoherent and bumbling. Nonetheless, I completely sympathize with him.
An honest man, lying about his views doesn’t come naturally to him. Unlike John McCain and his other attackers and many of his supporters, he has a real inability to say what he doesn’t mean. It affected his whole performance. He is not the man we saw on Thursday.But lying is required on the subject of Israel (the only subject that mattered at this hearing).
No, Hagel is not anti-Israel. Nor does he want to see Iran develop nuclear weapons. But his views on Israel-related matters are nuanced. Having spoken with him on Israel, I would characterize his views as pretty much the same as Israel’s president, Shimon Peres. He wants the occupation to end. He favors war only as a last resort in dealing with Iran. And he supports territorial compromise with the Palestinians. He certainly supports a secure Israel and would help preserve that security.
However, although it is fine for Shimon Peres to publicly hold these views, the lobby will fight to the death to destroy any American official who does.
So politicians lie. I don’t think Hagel lies about his views on Israel any more (actually he lies less) than Al Franken, Chuck Schumer,* Sherrod Brown, John Kerry, Joe Biden, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Barbara Boxer or Bernie Sanders. Not one of them believes the things he or she is forced to say about Israel. It’s just that the Nebraskan does not lie as smoothly as the others.
But he has no choice but to lie. Otherwise the lobby will go after him. And, adding insult to injury, he has to lie about the existence of the lobby that is making him lie as he did when he apologized for saying that the lobby makes senators take positions they know are “stupid.”
I really don’t know what a guy like Hagel can do about this. The lobby is going to be a domineering force in American political life until the current generation of Israel First donors dies off (Jewish kids are as likely to join AIPAC as the NRA).
But here is my recommendation for now: learn to lie better. Be smooth, get tears in your eyes when you mention Israel, invoke the Holocaust, quote your “sainted mother” (as Biden does) who told you to love Israel like a brother.
And then get in there and support negotiations with Palestinians, Iranians, and an end to the occupation. In other words, fake it. But do it well. On Thursday, Hagel failed the test. He is a terrible faker. And the lobby’s dominance ensures that only the best get to serve. Except as president of Israel.
The lobby has got to go. But, until it does, this is reality. On Thursday, we all got to see the lobby in all its ugliness and unlimited power. We can’t just look away.
*I worked On Capitol Hill for 20 years including working closely with Chuck Schumer and his staff. He has no interest in Israel whatsoever, other than as a cash cow for his campaigns. That makes it all the easier for him to support positions that could lead to its collapse; he does not care. Never did. His opposite is Dianne Feinstein who actually cares about Israel and (unlike her Schumeresque colleaguse, Barbara Boxer), avoids advocating lobby dictated policies that are destroying Israel.