The Pentagon has begun a campaign to rebut what it calls “myths” about Defense Secretary-designate Chuck Hagel and is sending to senators documents purporting to show that he is pro-Israel and tough on Iran.
The papers — one of which is titled “Chuck Hagel’s Record: Myths and Facts” — kick off what is expected to be a strong lobbying effort by the Obama administration and liberal groups to win Mr. Hagel’s confirmation by the Senate Armed Services Committee and then the full Senate.
Republicans have voiced opposition, principally because of his statements about those two countries — one an ally, the other an adversary who fought a proxy war against U.S. troops in Iraq and wants nuclear weapons.
One Pentagon document lists six “myths” about the former Nebraska Republican senator, including “Senator Hagel is not supportive of Israel” and “Senator Hagel is soft on Iran.” The Washington Times has obtained copies of the documents.
On Israel, the Pentagon papers quote Danny Ayalon, the Israeli deputy foreign minister, as saying: “I cannot say that we agreed on everything, but he was a decent and fair interlocutor and you can reason with him.”
The Pentagon quoted Mr. Hagel’s 2008 book, “America: Our Next Chapter,” as stating that “there will always be a special and historic bond with Israel exemplified by our continued commitment to Israel’s defense.”
A Capitol Hill source said the documents were provided by the Pentagon’s congressional liaison office.
It is the Israel question — Mr. Hagel’s criticism of the Jewish state in a crisis and perceived soft approach to the Iranian-backed terrorist groups Hamas and Hezbollah — that has angered Israel’s longtime defenders.
A leader of the Hagel opposition is William Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard. In his latest online post, Mr. Kristol cited Mr. Hagel’s statement that he has shown “unequivocal, total support for Israel.” Mr. Kristol labeled this “unequivocal, total nonsense.”
“Hagel was once proud of his standing as a lonely figure in American public life who would stand up to those who unequivocally and totally supported Israel,” Mr. Kristol wrote. “Hagel was once a senator who, unlike his colleagues, was proud not to have been intimidated by ‘the Jewish lobby.’ Hagel was proud of his votes against pro-Israel resolutions backed by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), aka ‘the Jewish lobby.’ Hagel was contemptuous of those who signed AIPAC-endorsed pro-Israel letters.”
As a senator, Mr. Hagel once talked of the intimidating force of the “Jewish lobby” instead of using the more accepted term “Israel lobby.”
The Pentagon’s pro-Hagel documents also take on what it calls Myth 2, namely, that “Senator Hagel is soft on Iran.”
“Senator Hagel is committed to President Obama’s goal of preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon,” it says. “He believes that all options must be on the table — including military options — to achieve that goal.”
It cites a column he co-wrote four months ago that said, “Our position is fully consistent with the policy of presidents for more than a decade of keeping all options on the table, including the use of military force.”
As a senator, Mr. Hagel regularly stung the George W. Bush administration for not entering into unconditional talks with Iran over its nuclear program.
He also has lauded what he describes as help that Iran provided the United States in the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan. He also has called for U.S. companies to invest in Iran, and voted against some sanctions against Tehran.
In 2009, Mr. Obama reached out to Iran, as Mr. Hagel advocated, with a video offering a new start. The offer was publicly rejected by Iran’s hard-line ruling mullahs, who intelligence officials believe are committed to building a nuclear arsenal.
The Pentagon notes as Myth 3: “Senator Hagel has been soft on Hezbollah and Hamas.”
“Senator Hagel has been clear that Hezbollah and Hamas are terrorist organizations that pose a threat to Israel, the stability of the Middle East, and the United States,” the Pentagon says.
Mr. Hagel has called on Israel to negotiate with Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that governs the Gaza Strip and is dedicated to the destruction of Israel.
The Atlantic Council, a think tank of which Mr. Hagel is chairman, published a major policy document last month that puts the onus on Israel to make peace and does not mention Hamas.
The Pentagon’s myth-busting paper also rebuts the charges that Mr. Hagel “would weaken our nuclear deterrent,” “would gut the defense budget” and “lacks management experience.”
“Senator Hagel has extensive government, corporate and non-profit experience that has prepared him well to be Secretary of Defense and to lead a large and complex organization,” the papers say.
A second pro-Hagel document sent to senators labeled “frequently asked questions of Chuck Hagel,” such as “Why did Hagel not sign onto a Senate-wide letter on anti-Semitism to Russian President [Boris] Yeltsin in June 1999?”
The Pentagon’s answer: “Hagel believes that America’s President is the nation’s leader and director of foreign policy and is the most effective advocate for America’s foreign policy interests.”
Copyright © 2021 The Washington Times, LLC.