The next U.S. secretary of defense will affect world affairs in profound ways — the drawdown of troops from Afghanistan in 2013, the use of military drones to launch attacks on Yemen and Pakistan, and the ongoing strategic interest of U.S. armed forces in the Asia/Pacific theater.
It wasn’t pre-destined that the nomination of former U.S. senator Chuck Hagel as U.S. defense secretary would come to be defined by U.S.-Israel relations. But Hagel’s nomination has been hit with a wall of criticism against his record as being anti-Israel, and while that makes his confirmation in the U.S. Senate trickier, it’s also given Obama somewhat more power to influence the shape of the next Israeli government.
The main charges against Hagel are that he’s not sufficiently pro-Israel, that he’s not sufficiently serious about Iran’s potential nuclear program because of his call for unilateral talks with Iran, and, most recently, that he’s somehow anti-gay because he made some less-than-charitable remarks in 1996 about James Hormel, who was then-U.S. president Bill Clinton’s nominee as ambassador to Luxembourg, even though Hormel has accepted Hagel’s apology and Hagel fully supports openly LGBT servicemembers, and he supported the end of the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy in September 2011.
The Israel charges, however, will dominate Hagel’s confirmation hearings, which may well coincide with Israel’s upcoming election for the Knesset, its 120-seat unicameral parliament.
Although Benjamin Netanyahu’s center-right Likud (הַלִּכּוּד, ‘The Consolidation’) is expected to win the largest number of seats, it remains unclear whether his ultimate governing coalition will be more right-wing or more centrist — it’s likely he will have several paths in cobbling together a majority. That’s the key fact of the Jan. 22 election, and that’s what makes the ongoing dynamics of the Hagel nomination so intriguing.
The New Yorker explains the anti-Israel rap against Hagel as well as anyone: Continue reading Hagel’s Defense nomination may be about Israel — but not in the way you think