Chuck Hagel Moves Toward Mainstream on Iran

Once Contrarian, Pentagon Pick Shifts to Establishment Stance

Falling in Line: Chuck Hagel used to be known as a lawmaker who marched to his own beat, especially on the Middle East and Iran. Now that he’s aiming to be President Obama’s Pentagon chief, he’s hewing closer to the mainstream.
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Falling in Line: Chuck Hagel used to be known as a lawmaker who marched to his own beat, especially on the Middle East and Iran. Now that he’s aiming to be President Obama’s Pentagon chief, he’s hewing closer to the mainstream.

By Nathan Guttman

Published January 16, 2013, issue of January 25, 2013.
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“At that point, the balance of opinion within the Israeli security establishment could very well shift in favor of a unilateral strike,” Boot predicted.

Others countered that having Hagel at the Pentagon’s helm would give added political weight to the administration’s dealings with Iran. Hussein Ibish, a senior fellow at the American Task Force on Palestine, predicted that Obama’s new national security team, with Hagel alongside dovish Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts as secretary of state, will be ideally positioned to present to Iran a credible offer. Moreover, if that effort fails, Ibish wrote, ”it is also the ideal group to convince the American public that… these are precisely the policymakers who can be relied upon to [support military action] only as a last resort and because there are no other options.”

A Pentagon chief averse to using military power against Iran wouldn’t be a novelty. Leon Panetta, the current defense secretary, took to the podium at a Washington conference in December 2011 and made clear that war is not a preferred option. “Our approach to countering the threat posed by Iran is focused on diplomacy, including organizing unprecedented sanctions and strengthening our security partnerships with key partners in the Gulf and in the broader Middle East,” Panetta said. His predecessor, Robert Gates, warned that a military strike against Iran would “prove catastrophic”.

These views also reflect the reluctance of U.S. military commanders to launch another American front at a time when the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are winding down. The military establishment demonstrated very little enthusiasm when Obama decided to intervene in Libya. Ironically, as defense secretary, Hagel will probably have less influence on sanctions policy than he had as a lawmaker with a seat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The Pentagon chief has little to say on sanction legislation, which is discussed and decided among Congress, the White House and the State Department.

Contact Nathan Guttman at guttman@forward.com, or follow him on Twitter @nathanguttman.


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