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.)

 

Sen. Nelson: Netanyahu raised no concerns about Hagel

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu raised no concerns about President Obama’s choice of Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense, US Senator Bill Nelson said in Israel Tuesday.

Nelson, a Florida Democrat who sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said “that Hagel has a record of support for Israel” and he will vote to confirm him, the Associated Press reported Tuesday.

Nelson spoke on a visit to Israel following meetings Tuesday with Israeli leaders and Israeli intelligence officials about Iran’s nuclear program.

So far, several Democrats on the armed services panel have indicated they plan to back Hagel’s confirmation, including its chair, Carl Levin of Michigan, Jack Reed of Rhode Island—a close Hagel friend—and now Nelson.

Several Republicans have said they have strong concerns about the former two term Nebraska Republican and decorated Vietnam combat veteran. Among them, Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, the ranking Republican on the armed services panel; David Vitter (Louisiana), Lindsey Graham (South Carolina), and Texas’ junior Senator Ted Cruz.

Both former Defense Secretary Bob Gates and ret. Gen. Colin Powell, with wide bipartisan support, issued statements strongly endorsing Hagel for Secretary of Defense on Monday.

Meantime, the Council on Foreign Relations told Al Monitor Tuesday that controversial accusations made by its senior fellow Elliott Abrams in an interview Monday did not represent the views of the institution.

Abrams, the former Bush White House Middle East advisor, called Hagel an anti Semite in an interview with NPR’s All Things Considered. The accusation was widely lambasted on social media sites after the interview aired. Asked by Al-Monitor what evidence he has to support his accusation, Abrams did not respond.

Abrams’ wife Rachel Abrams is a founding board member of the Emergency Committee for Israel, a Bill Kristol–led, GOP group at the center of the anti-Hagel campaign. ECI previously ran TV ads against President Obama’s 2012 reelection.

“As you may know, the Council on Foreign Relations takes no institutional position on matters of policy,” CFR’s vice president for global communications and media relations Lisa Shields told Al-Monitor by email Tuesday. “The views expressed by our more than seventy experts, who reflect a broad range of backgrounds and perspectives, are theirs only.”

(Photo: Democratic Senator Bill Nelson during a debate October 17, 2012. Credit: Reuters/Joe Skipper.)