, 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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Since its founding in 2011, the right-wing advocacy group Secure America Now has made a name for itself by publishing biased, wildly inaccurate “push polls” and running over-the-top ads criticizing the Obama administration’s security policies. “This might be the only ad you'll ever see that complains aloud, 'He shut down the black sites!’” quipped one commentator about an ad the group ran in 2012. The organization recently produced a remake of the infamous Lyndon Johnson ad “Daisy,” which wildly accuses the Obama administration of “failing” to stop “the jihadist government of Iran” from getting “a nuclear bomb.” Noting the many factual errors in a website linked to the video, one observer noted, “It’s not surprising, then, that this group would revive an attack ad that sought to portray a presidential contender as dangerously eager for confrontation to attack a president for being too soft.”
Commentary magazine editor John Podhoretz, son of the trailblazing neoconservative ideologue Norman Podhoretz, has been a strident critic of the Obama administration’s foreign policy, charging the president with “setting the world on a course for nihilistic chaos” and calling him an implacable “antagonist” of Israel. He has also been a staunch critic of Hillary Clinton, once penning a book urging right-wing activists to mobilize against her. However, has recently joined other neoconservatives in taking a more conciliatory approach towards Clinton, praising her for supporting “more aggressive efforts” on Syria and Russia than Obama and separating herself from what he terms “the administration’s disdainful treatment of Israel.”
Jay Garner, the retired lieutenant general who oversaw reconstruction efforts in Iraq for less than a month before being replaced by George W. Bush loyalist Paul Bremer, has broken sharply with his successor over how to respond to the latest ISIS offensive in Iraq. While Bremer has called for boots on the ground, Garner said recently, “The Iranians should solve this problem, not us.” Instead, Garner advocates sending arms to Iraqi Kurdistan, where he served during the first Gulf War and later invested in oil interests.
United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) is a bipartisan pressure group that targets corporations that allegedly do business with Tehran in violation of sanctions. A defamation suit filed by the target of one such attack has prompted scrutiny of UANI’s political connections. In a surprise move described by the New York Times as “highly unusual,” the U.S. Justice Department recently intervened to block subpoenas for UANI’s donor list, claiming that it could contain information the U.S. government considered sensitive. Although “American intelligence agencies are prohibited from secretly working with organizations to influence American public opinion and media,” noted the Times, “the court filings indicated close ties between the American government and a group that has proved adept at pressuring the government and corporations to isolate Iran economically.” The news prompted one investigative reporter to uncover ties between UANI’s CEO, Mark Wallace, and billionaire investor Thomas S. Kaplan, both of whom have heavily invested in precious metals mining ventures, which they say could prove extremely profitable in unstable geopolitical environments like the one UANI seems intent on encouraging in the Middle East.
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