A letter backing Chuck Hagel for secretary of defense, signed by 13 former cabinet-level officials from both parties, highlights the marginalization of the beltway neoconservatives who have opposed Hagel’s nomination.
Jim Lobe, last updated: January 25, 2013
Nearly six weeks after launching their campaign to derail the prospective nomination of former Sen. Chuck Hagel as Obama’s second-term secretary of defense, hard-line neo-conservatives, led by Bill Kristol, Elliott Abrams, the Wall Street Journal’s Bret Stephens, and Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin and ultimately joined by Danielle Pletka and her colleagues at the American Enterprise Institute, find themselves more isolated—and, in their words, further “outside the mainstream” of U.S. foreign policy thinkers than at any time since the end of the Cold War, and possibly longer. I say that not only because they have failed to enlist the main organizations in the Israel lobby (of which they consider themselves the rightful vanguard) in their cause, but also because Hagel is supported by virtually everyone who is anyone in what could be called the foreign policy establishment of both parties.
This was made abundantly clear by the publication by ABC News Thursday of a new letter — a copy of which is reproduced below — of endorsements by 13 former top Republican and Democratic national-security officials. While almost all of the signatories have previously come out in support of Hagel, the list includes two who have not spoken out before and who, while not neo-cons themselves, have cooperated closely with them in the past—former Secretary of State George Shultz and former National Security Adviser Robert “Bud” McFarlane. Both, of course, served under Ronald Reagan.
Of the two, Shultz is particularly significant because, in many ways, he has been a hero and mentor to key neo-cons, notably Abrams, who prospered under Shultz’s stewardship—first as assistant secretary for human rights and then for Inter-American Affairs—at least until he was indicted for lying to Congress, and Bob Kagan, who served as Shultz’s speechwriter. Initially distrusted by the neo-cons and the Israel lobby when he succeeded Al Haig because of his service on the board of Bechtel (which was close to the Saudi royal family), he became much-admired by them as a result of his strong stand against terrorism, his battles with then-Pentagon chief Casper Weinberger over the use of military force, his deep hostility toward Syria, and his enduring support for Israel (despite the fact that he laid the groundwork for U.S. recognition of the PLO). More than anyone else in the Reagan administration, Shultz espoused the kind of “moral clarity” in foreign policy that neo-cons love to extol when they talk about the Reagan administration.
After 9/11, he also worked closely with them, agreeing to serve as one of six co-chairs of the Committee on the Present Danger(CPD)—which was big on the concept of “World War IV” against “Islamofascism”—and as honorary co-chair of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq (CLI), a Bush administration front group to mobilize support for the invasion. Some idea of the appreciation felt by neo-cons for Shultz at the time is suggested by the fact that, in an editorial published by Kristol’s Weekly Standard in May, 2002, both Kristol and Kagan called for him to co-chair (with Sam Nunn) a “blue-ribbon commission” to investigate the government’s failure to anticipate the 9/11 attacks. That Shultz should now come out in favor of Hagel’s nomination – particularly given accusations by the Standard and his former protégé Abrams that the nominee is an anti-Semite – has to be considered a body blow to the neo-conservatives’ credibility.
McFarlane, who was forced to resign as NSA as a result of his extremely ill-considered trip to Tehran (facilitated by Michael Ledeen) as part of the Iranian component of the Iran-Contra scandal, is naturally less significant given the relatively short time (two years) he served in that position. But his ties to the neo-cons are even more extensive: he serves on the advisory boards of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and the American Foreign Policy Council and also served as a member of the board of directors of the Committee for the Present Danger and the Set America Free Foundation of which Frank Gaffney is one of the principals. He was also associated with Kristol’s and Kagan’s a Project for the New America Century (PNAC). That he, too, should now turn his back on the neo-cons is particularly surprising.
Look at the names on the letter below and try to think of a still-sentient cabinet-level foreign-policy Republican, apart from Henry Kissinger, Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney and Condoleezza Rice, who has not endorsed Hagel’s nomination. So what does that mean for the neo-conservatives’ place in the mainstream foreign-policy community?
Here’s the letter:
January 24, 2013
To Members of the United States Senate:
We, as former Secretaries of State, Defense, and National Security Advisors, are writing to express our strong endorsement of Chuck Hagel to be the next Secretary of Defense.
Chuck Hagel has an impeccable record of public service that reflects leadership, integrity, and a keen reading of global dynamics. From his time as Deputy Veterans Administrator managing a quarter of a million employees during the Reagan presidency, to turning around the financially troubled World USO, to shepherding the post-9/11 GI Bill into law as a United States Senator, and most recently through his service on the Defense Policy Board at the Pentagon and as co-Chairman of the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board, Chuck Hagel is uniquely qualified to meet the challenges facing the Department of Defense and our men and women in uniform. As President Obama noted in announcing the nomination, this twice-wounded combat veteran “is a champion of our troops and our veterans and our military families” and would have the distinction of being the first person of enlisted rank and the first Vietnam veteran to serve as Secretary of Defense.
His approach to national security and debates about the use of American power is marked by a disciplined habit of thoughtfulness that is sorely needed and these qualities will serve him well as Secretary of Defense at a time when the United States must address a range of international issues that are unprecedented in scope. Our extensive experience working with Senator Hagel over the years has left us confident that he has the necessary background to succeed in the job of leading the largest federal agency.
Hagel has declared that we “knew we needed the world’s best military not because we wanted war but because we wanted to prevent war.” For those of us honored to have served as members of a president’s national security team, Senator Hagel clearly understands the essence and the burdens of leadership required of this high office. We hope this Committee and the U.S. Senate will promptly and favorably act on his nomination.
Hon. Madeleine Albright, former Secretary of State
Hon. Samuel Berger, former National Security Advisor
Hon. Harold Brown, former Secretary of Defense
Hon. Zbigniew Brzezinski, former National Security Advisor
Hon. William Cohen, former Secretary of Defense
Hon. Robert Gates, former Secretary of Defense
Hon. James Jones, former National Security Advisor
Hon. Melvin Laird, former Secretary of Defense
Hon. Robert McFarlane, former National Security Advisor
Hon. William Perry, former Secretary of Defense
Hon. Colin Powell, former Secretary of State and National Security Advisor
Hon. George Shultz, former Secretary of State
Hon. Brent Scowcroft, former National Security Advisor
The Washington Institute for Near East Policy recently published a letter signed by former officials from both the Bush and Obama administrations that has been framed as critical of the Obama administration’s nuclear negotiations with Iran. However, the letter, which was also signed by prominent neoconservatives, has been described by one signatory as “very much in line with current U.S. policy.”
Gary Samore, a former adviser to the Obama administration who is now the president of the hawkish United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI), recently signed onto an open letter published by the “pro-Israel” Washington Institute for Near East Policy that several media outlets have framed as a warning from President Obama’s “ex-advisers” about the “Iran nuclear deal.” Samore, however, appears to disagree with this interpretation of the letter, saying in a recent CNN interview: “If you look through the substance of the letter, you'll see that the positions we take on the key unresolved issues are very much in line with current U.S. policy.”
Before there was a campaign to attack Iran there was the campaign to attack Iraq, and one of the leaders of that effort was the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq (CLI), a short-lived yet apparently influential group supported by many of the same ideological actors who are today pushing a hardline on Tehran. According to CLI founder Bruce Jackson, the group was formed at the behest of Bush administration officials who asked him to replicate his earlier success pushing for NATO expansion through his U.S. Committee on NATO.
Charles “Chuck” Wald is a retired U.S. Air Force general and board member of the hawkish Bipartisan Policy Center. He also holds a number of positions at the hardline “pro-Israel” Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, where he recently chaired a report on the 2014 Gaza conflict that echoed right-wing Israeli talking points about the conflict. Wald has also lashed out against a recent U.N. report that found Israeli officials responsible for war crimes during the conflict, calling it “unbalanced” and saying it failed to “accurately assess which parties violated the Law of Armed Conflict.”
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