Washington — The heated debate over Chuck Hagel’s nomination as secretary of defense may have left a bitter aftertaste for those following the exchange.
But for Washington insiders, the accusations, retorts and congressional battles, are nothing more than politics. With Hagel now at the Pentagon’s helm, political disputes are being set aside in favor of getting back to business.
“Everything that happened in recent months means nothing now,” said Lawrence Korb, who was an assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration. “Chuck Hagel is not the kind of guy who will try to get back at people.”
Korb, currently a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, added that Hagel could easily seek retribution against lawmakers who opposed his nomination by cutting military programs in their states, but he did not indicate he’d take any such action.
Current and former government officials largely dismissed concerns that the barbs hurled against Hagel from some quarters of the Jewish community would mean a loss of access to the Pentagon by Israel advocates now. Some pointed to the fact that Hagel invited Ehud Barak, Israel’s minister of defense, to be the first foreign counterpart he would meet with at the Pentagon. For his part, Barak, in a March 3 speech at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual policy conference, sent greetings to Hagel from the podium. “As Secretary of Defense he will no doubt serve his country with the same pride and honor with which he served both on the battlefield and in Congress,” Barak said.
Ties between pro-Israel lobbying groups — in particular AIPAC — and the Pentagon run long and deep. Steve Rosen, a former top AIPAC official, estimated that “nearly half of the traffic between Israel and the United States goes through the Pentagon.”
This traffic includes military cooperation, procurement, and intelligence sharing. The pro-Israel lobby deals only with a small portion of it, mainly with issues related to arms sales and military assistance requiring Congressional legislation.
AIPAC does not deal with issues pertaining to classified information on military cooperation. These issues are discussed by Israeli and American military personnel. Arms sales contracts are dealt with by local lawyers hired by Israel. The Pentagon also influences most of the issues relating to American foreign aid to Israel since this aid is in the form of military assistance and is used to purchase American arm systems.