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 Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), a neoconservative think tank and advocacy group based in Washington, has endeavored to undermine the Obama administration’s negotiations with Iran. FDD executive director Mark Dubowitz recently voiced support for measures by hawkish members of Congress that seek to give Congress a greater role in the negotiations, such as getting an “up or down vote on” any deal. Dubowitz has also suggested that Congress “defend the sanctions architecture” on Iran even if an agreement is reached.
The Center for Security Policy (CSP), run by notorious Islamophobe Frank Gaffney, has rabidly opposed negotiating with Iran over its country’s nuclear program. With the deadline to reach an agreement fast approaching, CSP fellows have argued that it would pose “an existential threat to Israel” and a “deadly threat to U.S. national security.” They have also urged Congress to “repudiate the nuclear talks and any agreement resulting from them.”
AIPAC, “America’s pro-Israel lobby,” has attempted to influence the nuclear negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 by supporting hawkish congressional measures that many analysts say could derail the diplomatic process. The lobby has strongly endorsed a letter from Reps. Ed Royce (R-CA) and Eliot Engel (D-NY) pressuring Secretary of State John Kerry to broaden the scope of demands in a potential agreement, which many observers have criticized as containing “distortions of the truth.”
Although largely dormant in recent years, the Committee on the Present Danger—the Cold War-era pressure group that was re-launched after 9/11 with support from leading neoconservatives—continues to use it website to plug fear-mongering media stories and op-eds, focusing mainly on Iran. One recent article, written by a CPD member, rails against efforts to reach a diplomatic compromise over Iran’s nuclear program, claiming: “It is hard to rationalize the past history of this fanatical Muslim regime’s secret nuclear efforts and any hope that it would abide by such an agreement, or, indeed, that UN or other surveillance would be more effective than in the past.”
The Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI), a leading neoconservative think tank, sought to frame the 2014 midterm elections as a “foreign policy election,” even though only 13 percent of voters listed foreign policy as a top issue in exit polls. FPI nevertheless hopes that the Republican-controlled Senate will “actively lead on foreign policy issues” and has prioritized passing Sen. Robert Menendez’s controversial Nuclear Weapons Free Iran Act. The bill would impose additional sanctions on Iran and would likely scuttle on-going negotiations with Iran.
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