Chuck Hagel Failure May Haunt Hawks

Obama May Be Emboldened To Take Own Path on Peace, Iran

All Smiles: By nominating Chuck Hagel, President Obama showed he was ready for a fight. If and when he wins, it may embolden him to pursue his own path on the Mideast.
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All Smiles: By nominating Chuck Hagel, President Obama showed he was ready for a fight. If and when he wins, it may embolden him to pursue his own path on the Mideast.

By Laura Rozen

Published January 09, 2013, issue of January 18, 2013.
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Some Washington Middle East analysts worry about how Iran will perceive Hagel’s nomination. They fear it may signal to Tehran that the United States is unwilling to use force to prevent it from acquiring nuclear weapons, as Obama has vowed to do, if other options fail. Hagel’s “views are to the left of the president on key issues,” one worried Washington insider who works on Middle East issues and requested anonymity told me. “People are wondering what message is Iran getting at this critical time…. If [Hagel has] ever said, ‘Put everything on the table,’ maybe I missed it.”

(In fact, Hagel co-authored a Washington Post oped in October 2012 analyzing the risks and potential objectives of the military option on Iran. “Though not the only way to achieve these objectives, a U.S. attack would demonstrate the country’s credibility as an ally to other nations in the region and would derail Iran’s nuclear ambitions for several years, providing space for other, potentially longer-term solutions,” he co-wrote. “An attack would also make clear the United States’ full commitment to nonproliferation as other nations contemplate moves in that direction.”)

Iran expert Trita Parsi says what such analysis misses is the very fact that because Hagel — as well as Obama and John Kerry — has not thrown out loose war talk, it would make a credible threat of force versus Iran from them that much more credible.

“In my view, it’s the opposite. In the sense that when someone like Chuck Hagel says the military option is on the table, it carries far more credibility,” Parsi, head of the National Iranian American Council, told me.

What lesson might hawks take away from the episode? That their overreach has a cost, one that has generated a backlash and a determination to fight on the part of the administration that may result in a real diminution of their influence, both real and perceived, in Washington policy debates during Obama’s second term.

“For people to go out and accuse this twice-decorated soldier of being an anti-Semite,” Parsi said, is a bridge too far, crossing a line of decency even by Washington’s debased standards. Indeed, once the White House signaled that the Hagel nomination was in motion, much of the organized opposition seemed to melt away almost overnight, revealing a rather diminished assembly of mostly GOP special interests — the Emergency Committee for Israel, the Republican Jewish Coalition, Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol, and WashingtonPost.com “right turn” columnist Jennifer Rubin — that are already overwhelmingly hostile to Obama and single-handedly generating most of the Sturm und Drang smear campaign against Hagel.

“Chuck knows war is not an abstraction,” Obama pointedly said in the White House ceremony announcing his choice, drawing an implicit contrast with Washington’s cadre of armchair warriors. “He understands that sending young Americans to fight and bleed in the dirt and the mud is something we only do when absolutely necessary.”

Laura Rozen writes the Back Channel column for Al-Monitor. She previously served as a foreign policy reporter for the magazine Foreign Policy and for the websites Politico and Yahoo! News. You can follow her on Twitter at @lrozen.


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