Republican realists rap party over ‘preposterous’ Hagel attacks

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Maybe someday the GOP will thank President Obama for helping revive the party’s orphaned realist wing and making it more politically competitive.

A series of the party’s old guard realists—retired Gen. Colin Powell, Council on Foreign Relations president Richard Haass, former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage–took to the news shows Sunday to speak in favor of Chuck Hagel’s candidacy for Secretary of Defense, and more broadly to urge their party to take a more moderate approach on national security and social policies.

“I think what the Republican Party needs to do now is take a very hard look at itself and understand that the country has changed,” retired Gen. Colin Powell, who served as George W. Bush’s Secretary of State, said on NBC’s Meet the Press Sunday. “The country is changing demographically, and if the Republican Party does not change along with that demographic, they’re going to be in trouble.”

The Republican Party has made a “significant shift to the right” in recent years, Powell said, describing himself as a “moderate but I’m still a Republican. … And until I voted for Mr. Obama twice, I had voted for seven straight Republican presidents.”

Powell, who chaired the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the first Gulf war, also praised Hagel as a “superbly qualified” candidate for Secretary of Defense. If confirmed, Hagel, a former two-term Republican Senator from Nebraska and twice decorated Vietnam war combat veteran, would be the first former enlisted soldier to serve as Pentagon chief.

Hagel “knows what war is and he will fight a war if it’s necessary, but he’s a guy who will do it with great deliberation and care,” Powell said.

Haass, the president of the Council of Foreign Relations and former State Department policy planning chief in the George W. Bush administration, said Sunday it’s fair to question Hagel about his policy positions. But Haass but strongly defended Hagel from what he called “preposterous” smears by hawkish foes. Most notably, Elliott Abrams, a CFR senior fellow and former Bush Middle East advisor, claimed in a controversial interview with NPR this month that Hagel is an anti-Semite–a charge refuted by among others the Jewish community of Hagel’s home state of Nebraska.

“These are loaded words that are being cast about, and I think they’re simply beyond the pale,” Haass said on ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos.

The Council on Foreign Relations had previously distanced itself from Abrams’ comments, telling the Back Channel in a Jan. 8th statement that the remarks don’t represent the views of the institution. But Haass’ rebuke on Sunday went further, calling the nature of Abrams’ attack on Hagel out of bounds.

“Where I think people are going over the line is with ad hominem attacks — questioning for example whether he’s an anti-Semite,” Haass said, adding “I’ve known Chuck Hagel for more 20 years. For what it’s worth, I think that’s preposterous.” Continue reading

Roundup: Nebraska Jews defend Hagel, Salehi not running

(Photo: the Information Center of Kurdistan in Paris, where three Kurdish women were found shot dead, Jan. 11, 2013. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann.)

 

Opposition to Hagel may be softening


As President Obama nominated Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense Monday, opposition to the choice appeared to be receding somewhat.

“Chuck knows war is not an abstraction,” Obama said in a ceremony in the White House East Room. “He understands that sending young American to fight and bleed in the dirt and the mud is something we only do when absolutely necessary.”

Several groups and political leaders said Monday they would not formally oppose the choice, though some admitted to being lukewarm. Among them, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the Anti-Defamation League, and former Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), who earlier said he opposed the choice. Continue reading

Obama defends Hagel as ‘patriot’

President Barack Obama on Sunday strongly defended former Senator Chuck Hagel as a patriot and outstanding intelligence advisor, but said he had still not decided who he would nominate to serve as his next Defense Secretary.

Obama, appearing on NBC’s Meet the Press Sunday for the first time since 2009, was asked by host David Gregory, “Is there anything about Chuck Hagel's record or statements that’s disqualifying to you, should you nominate him to run the Defense Department?”

“Not that I see,” Obama responded, after saying he had not made up his mind yet about his pick for Pentagon chief.

“I've served with Chuck Hagel,” the president continued. “I know him. He is a patriot. He is somebody who has done extraordinary work both in the United States Senate. Somebody who served this country with valor in Vietnam. And is somebody who's currently serving on my intelligence advisory board and doing an outstanding job.”

“So I haven’t made a decision on this,” Obama said.

Hagel, who served two terms as a Republican Senator from Nebraska, apologized earlier this month for comments he made in 1998 regarding an ambassador nominee who was gay. Former US ambassador to Luxembourg James Hormel subsequently wrote on Facebook that he accepts Hagel's apology.

“Senator Hagel's apology is significant–I can't remember a time when a potential presidential nominee apologized for anything,” Hormel reportedly wrote on Facebook Dec. 22, noting that over the past “fourteen years…public attitudes have shifted–perhaps Senator Hagel has progressed with the times, too.”

Obama made the same point to Gregory. “With respect to the particular comment that you quoted, he apologized for it. And I think it's a testimony to what has been a positive change over the last decade in terms of people's attitudes about gays and lesbians serving our country.  And that's something that I'm very proud to have led.”

Obama’s comments on the Sunday show gave no indication of when he might announce further cabinet nominations for his second term. To date since his reelection last month, Obama has nominated only Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.) to succeed Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. The longtime chair of the Senate Foreign Relations panel and former Democratic presidential candidate is expected to be easily confirmed. Kerry and Hagel are both Vietnam veterans. Continue reading

Latest appointment chatter

The Back Channel hears that Deputy Secretary of Defense Ash Carter may be tapped for Secretary of Defense. Former Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy, a top foreign policy advisor to the Obama campaign, may not be interested in the top Defense job at this time, sources close to the administration, speaking not for attribution, suggested. They also expected that UN envoy Susan Rice would probably be tapped for Secretary of State, but were not certain of it.

Continue reading

Shoval: Israel seeking US benchmarks on Iran action

My colleague Barbara Slavin reports:

Former Israeli Ambassador Zalman Shoval said Tuesday that Israel does not consider itself a Middle Eastern country but “a Mediterranean” one more attuned to Greece, Italy and potentially Turkey again.

Shoval, who is close to Israel’s governing Likud party, suggested before a small group at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington that Israelis are resigned to remaining the odd man out in the region especially as Islamic governments come into power in neighboring states.

“The trend is clear and not very hopeful for Israel and the world as a whole,” he said.

He also suggested that the US won’t make a nuclear deal with Iran that Israel doesn’t approve of, saying that such “a deal may break apart…if Israel is not satisfied with it.”

According to Shoval, the level of “coordination [between the US and Israel on Iran] has gone to a much higher degree in the last few weeks,” but Israel still would like President Barack Obama to be more explicit about the “red lines” that Iran must not cross or face military strikes. Continue reading

Preparations underway for renewed US-Egypt military talks


Preparations are underway to resume formal US-Egyptian military cooperation talks as early as next month, almost two years after the last round at the Pentagon was cut short by the January 2011 protests that toppled the Mubarak regime, veteran national security journalist Viola Gienger reports on the front page:

“Planning is ongoing for the resumption of the MCC, as early as this fall,” Navy Cmdr. Scott McIlnay, a US military spokesman, confirmed to Al-Monitor. Egyptian officials said the talks likely would be scheduled for sometime after the Nov. 6 elections.

The plan to revive discussions represents a desire by the US to quickly normalize military relations even as administration officials and members of Congress proceed warily with a new Egyptian government led by a president aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood.

US officials are quietly debating how to update military ties to reinforce civilian control of Egypt’s armed forces, advance democratic transparency in its finances and build a more modern approach to securing the country beyond Abrams tanks and fighter jets.  […]

Former Egyptian foreign minister and Arab League chief Amr Moussa, in an interview with Al-Monitor‘s Cale Salih this week, singled out for praise new Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi’s achievement in retiring Egypt’s military council from its predominant role in Egyptian political life. Continue reading

US-Israel war game scaled back (Updated)


Update: The Defense Department belatedly issued a statement Friday noting the exercise still remains the largest ballistic missile defense exercise ever undertaken by the US and Israel.

The Pentagon has scaled back a joint US-Israeli military exercise scheduled to take place this fall,  Time‘s Karl  Vick and Aaron Klein exclusively report:

…Well-placed sources in both countries have told TIME that Washington has greatly reduced the scale of U.S. participation, slashing by more than two-thirds the number of American troops going to Israel and reducing both the number and potency of missile interception systems at the core of the joint exercise.

“Basically what the Americans are saying is, ‘We don’t trust you,’” a senior Israeli military official tells TIME.

The reductions are striking. Instead of the approximately 5,000 U.S. troops originally trumpeted for Austere Challenge 12, as the annual exercise is called, the Pentagon will send only 1,500 service members, and perhaps as few as 1,200.  Patriot anti-missile systems will arrive in Israel as planned, but the crews to operate them will not.  […]

U.S. commanders privately revealed the scaling back to their Israeli counterparts more than two months ago.  The official explanation was budget restrictions.  But the American retreat coincided with growing tensions between the Obama and Netanyahu administrations on Israel’s persistent threats to launch an airstrike on Iran. ….

The back story: Late last year, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak asked US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to cancel the exercise, which was originally scheduled to take place this past spring, defense sources previously told Al-Monitor. Panetta agreed to the request only if the exercise was rescheduled, not canceled entirely. So the Pentagon was deeply annoyed when Israeli officials left the false impression that the US was responsible for the war game being postponed. “It was Barak,” a US official told me.

Update: The Pentagon disputed the interpretation offered by Time for the scaled back exercise in a statement late Friday afternoon, noting Austere Challenge-12 will still represent “the largest ever ballistic missile defense exercise” between the United States and Israel.

“The exercise was originally scheduled for May, however at the request of the Israeli Ministry of Defense and Israeli Defense Forces, the exercise was moved to late Fall of this year,” Ltn. Col. Wesley P. Miller IV, a Defense Department spokesman, told journalists in a statement sent out late Friday afternoon, several hours after guidance had been sought on the Time report.

“When the exercise was moved, the United States notified Israel that due to
concurrent operations, the United States would provide a smaller number of
personnel and equipment than originally planned. Israel reiterated its
request to postpone until late Fall,” Miller continued.

However, “Austere Challenge-12 remains the largest ever ballistic missile defense exercise between our nations and a significant increase from the previous event in 2009,” Miller continued. “The exercise has not changed in scope and will include the same types of systems as planned.”

“As Israel Minister of Defense Ehud Barak has repeatedly said, the US-Israel
defense relationship is stronger than it has ever been,” Miller said. “The United States
agrees. Austere Challenge is a tangible sign of our mutual trust and our
shared commitment to the defense of our nations.”

(H/T Zvika Krieger)

(Photo: U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta (2nd R) and Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak pose with Israeli soldiers after a joint news conference during a visit to the Iron Dome defense system launch site in Ashkelon August 1, 2012. REUTERS/Mark Wilson/Pool.)