, last updated: January 16, 2013
The Emergency Committee for Israel is a neoconservative pressure group that has pushed the United States to attack Iran and smeared critics—real or perceived—of the U.S. relationship with Israel. Its latest target is former Sen. Chuck Hagel, a Republican nominated to head the Obama administration’s Department of Defense. In a series of vicious attack ads, which one blogger called “ugly” and “facts-optional,” ECI has accused the Vietnam veteran of being weak on Iran and hostile towards Israel.
Well-known neoconservative activist and Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol has tried to shape national discourse on everything from the Iraq War to the choice of Sarah Palin and Paul Ryan as GOP vice presidential candidates. Kristol’s latest campaign has been aimed at spurring opposition to the nomination of former Senator Hagel as defense secretary. The campaign appears to be part of a broader Kristol-led effort to de-emphasize unpopular GOP fiscal positions and instead focus on cultivating the party’s hawkish agenda in the wake of Mitt Romney’s defeat.
Marshall Wittmann is a longtime Washington operative whose interventionist, “pro-Israel” politics have led him to take a variety of positions—including on the staffs of Sens. John McCain and Joseph Lieberman, at the Christian Coalition, and at think tanks espousing various ideological stripes. Now a spokesman for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), Wittman was recently tasked with explaining why AIPAC would stay silent on the nomination of former Sen. Chuck Hagel to head the Defense Department—a nomination other “pro-Israel” groups have made a cause celebré of opposing. Wittman said AIPAC “does not take positions on presidential nominations,” but experienced insiders think the group is reluctant to sacrifice its influence at the Pentagon over a nomination fight it is likely to lose.
Randy Scheunemann is a well-connected Washington lobbyist whose clients have included Tea Party politicos, the National Rifle Association, defense contractors, and George Soros’ Open Society Institute. Scheunemann also frequently teams up with neoconservative ideologues to help push particular foreign policy agenda items. A one-time director of the notorious Project for the New American Century—the letterhead group that helped push the United States into the Iraq War—Scheunemann has more recently joined his fellow neocons in trying to sink the nomination of Chuck Hagel as defense secretary. He quipped recently that Hagel is a “now the über-realist about not committing ground troops” but he had “no compunction about endorsing the guy [Senator McCain] who wanted all options on the table” in Kosovo.
The track record of Danielle Pletka, vice president of foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, includes pressing the Iraq “surge,” arguing against U.S. engagement with Iran, and charging Chuck Hagel with “anti-Semitism” for criticizing the influence of the Israel lobby. It is not the first time Pletka has wielded this slur. In May 2004, for example, she told a Washington Post reporter: “I think the phrase 'neocon' is much more popular among people who think it shields their anti-Semitism. But it doesn't.”
According to the GOP strategist and super-PAC head, Chuck Hagel’s support for John McCain over George W. Bush in 2000 revealed something about the former senator’s character. “When McCain became a credible candidate he just flipped,” Rove said in a recent interview. “That’s Hagel: mercurial, focused on doing it his way.”
FROM THE WIRES
Chuck Hagel is no political progressive, but the former Nebraska senator does have a history of butting heads with neoconservatives, the defense industry, and the Israel lobby.
President Obama’s appointment of Chuck Hagel to head the Pentagon will likely prove contentious, even as his appointment of John Brennan—an architect of the administration’s controversial targeted killing program—will likely proceed unencumbered.
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Max Boot, a neoconservative military historian based at the Council on Foreign Relations, has urged the United States “unambiguously to embrace its imperial role” and asserted that “America should be the world’s policeman.” Boot, who is also a veteran of the Project for the New American Century and a lifelong Republican, is among a small group of neoconservatives—many of whom are concerned about the rise of an anti-interventionist faction in the GOP—to express tentative support for a potential presidential candidacy by Hillary Clinton, whom Boot has credited as “a principled voice for a strong stand on controversial issues, whether supporting the Afghan surge or the intervention in Libya.”
Despite Robert Kagan's deep ties to the neoconservative movement, the Brookings Institution historian has carefully sought to frame his work in a bipartisan manner. Kagan's efforts have earned him an audience in the Obama White House, where he has had the opportunity to exchange views with the president. Now, with a resurgent anti-interventionist wing challenging the neoconservatives for dominance in the GOP, Kagan has hinted that he would consider backing a presidential bid by Hillary Clinton, who has frequently expressed hawkish views. "I feel comfortable with her on foreign policy," said Kagan, a lifelong apologist for U.S. "superpower."
Ahmed Chalabi, the onetime Iraqi exile who aggressively courted neoconservative support for the U.S. invasion of Iraq by spreading falsehoods about Saddam Hussein's weapons programs, long ago fell out of favor in Washington and has never enjoyed much popular support in Iraq, where he currently serves in parliament. But amid Iraq's current political crisis, Chalabi has been floated as a possible compromise candidate to replace Nouri al-Maliki as the prime minister of Iraq—and some of his old neoconservative allies, especially Richard Perle, have expressed joy at the possibility. Concluded a writer for the Washington Post, "It seems a sad indication of the absurdity of the past 11 years of Iraqi history that the man who helped dupe U.S. officials into that invasion should now be backed in his bid for leadership by those very same people."
Reuel Marc Gerecht, a senior fellow at the neoconservative Foundation for Defense of Democracies, has advocated bombing Iran for years, once admitting that even his mom thought he’d “gone too far.” He recently wrote that U.S. credibility "is overwhelmingly built on Washington’s willingness to use force" and lamented that the Obama administration's reluctance to intervene in Syria's civil war amounts to "retreat" from the region. Dismissing the supposed moderation of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Gerecht has also advised U.S. policymakers to "forget diplomacy" with Iran and instead bolster sanctions and military threats.
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