Chuck Hagel: Toeing the Obama Line on Iran

John Glaser, January 10, 2013

The Associated Press is reporting that “Chuck Hagel, is meeting with senior Pentagon staff to try to set the record straight about his stand on Iran, saying he backs strong international sanctions against Tehran and believes all options, including military action, should be on the table.”

As was eagerly pointed out in the pre-nomination debate over Hagel, his views on Iran have been pro-diplomacy and anti-war, throwing in a heavy skepticism about unilateral sanctions.

“Isolating nations is risky,” Hagel wrote in his 2008 book. “It turns them inward, and makes their citizens susceptible to the most demagogic fear mongering.”

Diplomacy, he wrote, is necessary to avoid war: “Distasteful as we may find that country’s rulers, the absence of any formal governmental relations with Iran ensures that we will continue to conduct this delicate international relationship through the press and speeches, as well as through surrogates and third parties, on issues of vital strategic importance to our national interests. Such a course can only result in diplomatic blind spots that will lead to misunderstandings, miscalculation, and, ultimately, conflict.”

Hagel even hints that containment of a nuclear Iran is preferable to war: “The genie of nuclear armaments is already out of the bottle, no matter what Iran does. In this imperfect world, sovereign nation-states possessing nuclear weapons capability (as opposed to stateless terrorist groups) will often respond with some degree of responsible, or at least sane, behavior. These governments, however hostile they may be toward us, have some appreciation of the horrific results of a nuclear war and the consequences they would suffer.”

These are the views Hagel caught flack for from the war-mongers in Washington. Those wondering what accounts for Hagel’s apparent abrupt switch shouldn’t be surprised: that’s politics.

On the one hand, I think the AP article describing Hagel as being suddenly supportive of an “all options, including military attack, being on the table” position may be misleading.

First of all, as my colleague Justin Raimondo pointed out in conversation, there isn’t a single direct quote from Hagel in the entire article. These are Pentagon officials and administration apparatchiks deliberately putting forth the Hagel they want the public to know.

Secondly, although I’ve never been in a presidential administration or sat in on conversations at the White House, it strikes me as obvious that “the administration” displays unity on the issues publicly, even if they vehemently disagree privately. That, to me, is a more likely explanation than to believe the caricature that Hagel opposed war on Iran the day before his nomination and supported it the day after.

And finally, while the Obama administration’s policy has been to continually regurgitate the euphemistic line for military attack – “all options on the table” – it’s policy on Iran thus far has decidedly been to avoid direct military action.

There is plenty to criticize the administration’s Iran policy for – I make a living doing just that. But to say the administration line is to bomb Iran back to the stone age, simply ignores the record. At the height of the war rhetoric on Iran in the last two years, Obama expended a certain amount of political capital by marching out his minions from Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to Director of National Intelligence James Clapper to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey to reiterate the fact that Iran has no nuclear weapons program, despite constant rhetoric to the contrary.

And when Israel was feverishly lobbying for a US-backed war on Iran, Gen. Martin Dempsey, America’s top military official who answers directly to President Obama, reiterated that the US would not be “complicit” in an Israeli strike, which he also explained would be counterproductive. Less than a week later, Israeli press reports came out saying the Obama administration sent a surreptitious message to Iran promising not to back an Israeli strike, as long as Tehran refrains from attacking American interests in the Persian Gulf.

In September, a report by former government officials, national security experts and retired military officers – people who generally reflect establishment views in DC like Zbigniew Brzezinski, Richard Armitage, Thomas Pickering, James Dobbins – concluded an attack on Iran would prompt large-scale Iranian retaliation that would spark an uncontrollable regional war. It said “achieving more than a temporary setback in Iran’s nuclear program would require a military operation – including a land occupation – more taxing than the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined.”

Point being: Hagel’s position of multi-liateral sanctions and diplomacy – not war – are not as unwelcome in DC as some would have us believe.

So have Hagel’s views magically changed? I’d say no, not yet. But as Glenn Greenwald pointed out this morning, the example of Harold Koh and countless others proves that power in DC can and does intoxicate people, leading them to positions and policies wholly antagonistic to their previous iterations. If and when Hagel does turn, he’ll be as despicable as the rest who’ve done so.




19 Responses to “Chuck Hagel: Toeing the Obama Line on Iran”

  1. Well argued, Mr Glaser. I, for one, am currently giving Obama the benefit of the doubt on the Hagel nomination. If Obama wanted to maintain the current, antagonistic policy towards Iran, and was still siding with the disgraced trigger-happy neocons, why would he pick a big fight with them by choosing Hagel? The neocons in both parties can cry all they want, but I don't believe that a Dem controlled Senate would risk ruining Obama's 2nd term by voting him down. My bet is that there will not be an invasion of Iran by the US while Obama is POTUS. I am troubled, however, by Obama's pick of drone-loving Brennan for CIA head.

  2. It is a most a slap in the face to Nutanyahoo and AIPAC for supporting Romney. That is all. Has antiwar lost its mind?

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  4. I disagree completely on the notion that Obama is somehow inherently against an Iran war. You simply cannot conclude that based on his actions vis-a-vis Israel.

    What such actions appear to establish is that Obama doesn't want to be BLAMED for starting the Iran war – and he would prefer Israel not be blamed as well. What Obama wants is to squeeze Iran's economy hard enough to cause Iran to retaliate in some way that he can use to "justify" the war, thus putting the blame on IRAN for starting it, rather than the US or Israel.

    This is the same approach the US took to get into WWII: they squeezed Japan until Japan decided to attack the US.

    I see no reason to believe Obama is doing anything different. It certainly fits his narcissistic personality as well as his "lead from behind" (also known as "stab you in the back") political style.

    As for why he would pick Hagel instead of someone more acceptable to the neocons, it could well be that he wants someone to cover for him at the Pentagon and also to run more effective interference with the Joint Chiefs so he isn't being run over all the time as he was over Afghanistan.

    Nonetheless, there is zero evidence that Obama is not out to start an Iran war. That is purely speculative and an indication that the Obama Kool-Aid is still being consumed by many who should know better.

  5. [...] Read more [...]

  6. [...] I wrote last week that it was unlikely Hagel immediately abandoned his political views once Obama nominated him. But this explicit disavowal of almost every one of his positions is just foul. Either Hagel is willing to verbally placate nearly anyone for his own political career, or he is actually shifting his views for the sake of his political career. I’m not sure which is worse. [...]

  7. [...] I wrote last week that it was unlikely Hagel immediately abandoned his political views once Obama nominated him. But this explicit disavowal of almost every one of his positions is just foul. Either Hagel is willing to verbally placate nearly anyone for his own political career, or he is actually shifting his views for the sake of his political career. I’m not sure which is worse. [...]

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