The IPF on Senator Chuck Hagel

Dec 24, 2012 Published under Israel, Middle East
The note below from Israel Policy Forum’s Chair, Peter Joseph, and Executive Director, David Halperin, responds to the outcry against Senator Chuck Hagel from members of the Jewish community who question Hagel’s support for Israel. Joseph and Halperin bring Senator Hagel’s 2008 address to the IPF as evidence that Hagel does not propose a threat to the US or Israel with outlandish ideas.
Spotted by Daniel Lubetzkty, by Julianna Storch

In His Own Words: Sen. Chuck Hagel on the Middle East

From Israel Policy Forum’s Chair, Peter Joseph, and Executive Director, David Halperin:

Senator Chuck Hagel, rumored to be President Obama’s nominee to serve as Secretary of Defense, is under attack for his views on Israel.  Certain Jewish organizations and conservative commentators have voiced concerns about his support for Israel, even coming close to calling him anti-Semitic for his remarks about the “Jewish lobby.”

We are pasting below the entirety of Senator Hagel’s wide-ranging remarks to Israel Policy Forum (IPF) on December 4, 2008. None of his remarks to us suggested he is anti-Israel or anti-Semitic. Far from it.

To be sure, any concerns regarding Hagel’s views should be aired by those in our community.  But as they were outlined in his IPF address in 2008, his ideas are not outside the mainstream.

His statement that “The United States cannot impose peace in the Middle East, but I don’t believe any way you come at this, there will be peace in the Middle East without the United States,” is exactly right.

Regarding Iran, he recognized that: “(Iran) support(s) terrorists, they support Hezbollah, they’ve got their tentacles wrapped around every problem in the Middle East that is anti-Israel, anti- the United States. Those are realities. Those are facts.”

His description of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as the “strategic epicenter” of the Middle East have been subsequently reflected by CENTCOM chief General James Mattis, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, former CIA Director General David Petraeus and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who have all similarly identified resolving the Arab-Israeli dispute as critical for advancing regional stability and American interests.

None of this should be considered dangerous for the United States or the State of Israel.

Hagel should be applauded for his service to date, and given a chance to answer the considerable charges that have been leveled at him in a nomination hearing.

Hagel has served his nation as a veteran and a dedicated public servant.  As a Senator he fostered strong ties on both sides of the political aisle, and created a reputation as an experienced, honest and independent-minded thinker.  These are all qualities that make for a fine candidate to serve as Secretary of Defense.

Of course, much of the outcry against Hagel stems from a passage in Aaron David Miller’s book, The Much Too Promised Land, in which Hagel is quoted as saying that “the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here.”   Though that wording is unfortunate, it is also regrettable that the exuberant manner in which Hagel’s potential nomination is being vilified could be considered to be a case in point.


Senator Chuck Hagel Keynote Speech

Israel Policy Forum Annual Event

December 4, 2008, New York City

Thanks to this important institution for what you continue to do, for what you stand for, and the impact you are having at as an important a time in the history of our world, our country, and certainly the State of Israel as I think we have ever lived through. Your voice, your efforts, your leadership, and your involvement will be more important in the next few years than ever before…

It was 40 years ago today, Dec. 4th, 1968 that I returned from a 12-month tour in Vietnam as an army infantryman. Those of you who have served in wars and the military and other rather significant times and events in your life, you remember those kinds of dates. I remember that date also because when I was taking basic training at a glorious spot out in the desert, called Fort Bliss, TX…which is El Paso, and in the middle of the summer, it’s 130 degrees in June and July of 1967. You all in this room recall what was happening in the world, specifically in the Middle East in June of 1967. I remember there was much conversation in our barracks during our training, mainly coming from our drill sergeants, that it was a matter of where the army would send us as we completed our basic training, then advanced infantry training, whether we would be going to the Middle East because of the war in the Middle East at the time or we were going to Vietnam. I remember very serious conversations within our barracks about that issue. I, being from Nebraska and had never been outside of Nebraska until I went to basic training in Fort Bliss, TX, was most intrigued by the perceptions of these young men who were with me in basic training. Mainly these young men were from the Midwest and the South, Southwest, and in particular, their perceptions of Israel, of the Middle East. What was this about? Was this America’s war? Why would we send American troops to the Middle East? What a crazy idea that was. It was okay if we sent American troops to Vietnam, but not to the Middle East.

I have always recalled those days, that kind of conversation. I really acknowledge that I was not a great geo-political thinker in 1967. Most people acknowledge that I am not a great political thinker now. But, nonetheless, you stumble through things as best you can. But at the time, listening to the comments and questions, shaped a sense of what I would later learn more and more about this strange place Catholics knew as the Holy Land where Jesus Christ was born, where he was crucified, where we all emanated from our faith, our hope, everything we believed in that was good, everything we believed America was about. Somehow that was tied to the Holy Land, to the Middle East. As I have worked my way through the years and through life and had some wonderful opportunities, and not the least of which has been the great privilege of the last 12 years to serve my state and my country in the United States Senate, I have learned a lot more about this place called the Holy Land and the Middle East. I have tried to inform myself and educate myself not just by many trips to that area of the world and meeting leaders and understanding the dimensions of that area. I have come to believe and, as Peter noted in my book, I have a chapter on the Middle East, and I have a chapter on Iran, I have two chapters on Iraq. Much of my book is about the Middle East, not that I intended to write about the Middle East, but it is much about the Middle East because that represents that part of the world, the strategic epicenter of great conflict.

When I listen to Peter tonight talk about justice, about hope, about possibilities—that is not reserved for Catholics or Jews or Hindus or Muslims. That is what we all aspire to: justice, equality, hope, better world. I have referenced that as the common denominators of the human condition. Most of you in this room have been to many places in the world, and I suspect that most you would find it hard to believe that somehow one religion or one region has a corner on those virtues. That somehow Christians are more noble than Jews, or Jews more noble than Muslims. I don’t think so. I think all people love their children and their families, and want a better world. That has led me to one very fundamental observation about the world and somehow it eludes us in this great dilemma in the Middle East, and that is the human condition. The human condition has dictated every event in the history of man, and it always will because men are locked in cycles of despair and when there is no human dignity, when there is no hope, then it’s fairly predictable that it will not result in a better world, in a safer world, in a more justice world. I don’t mean that I connect poverty or despair with terrorism or extremism. But I will tell you, when you look at the world today – 6.5 billion people – the regions of the world that have been left behind since World War II, that in fact have not enjoyed human liberties and advancement of the human condition, an increase in the standard of living, and hope and possibilities. They are the most troubled areas of the world and we know where they are: the Middle East, much of Asia, Africa, a good part of South America. It is about the human condition, and when we do not deal with the human condition, the human condition will deal with us.

The human condition will dominate, always, the realities of policy, the abstractions of Washington. We live in Washington, this great bubble of abstractions. There is no shortcut, no easy way to great accomplishments. The Middle East, as Peter had noted, in regard to President-elect Obama’s cabinet that he is selecting, conversations I have had with President-elect and Vice President-elect Biden…the Middle East is central to what they want to accomplishment as any one thing. Why is that? Yes, there is a sense of justice but they also understand that unless we bring this Israeli-Palestinian issue to some higher ground, and unless we are able to break through the fog that has surrounded, dominated, and consumed the effort that all presidents have made since 1948, and leaders of the world have made that continues to elude us. Unless we break through that, then we will continue to see a more dangerous, complicated world.

It is clearly in the interest of America, and clearly in the interest of the Middle East and the world that this issue be brought to a higher ground of confidence and trust to move to a different plateau of finally trying to solve the problem in a relevant and realistic way. I noted the topics of the three breakout sessions tonight- all quite relevant to your topic and your focus here because all three, in my opinion, are part of the comprehensive, strategic context and approach that must be employed in a coherent way to deal with getting where we all or almost all of us agree we need to get to- and that is a two state solution. And if we almost all agree with that, and the leaders of the free world: the US, Israel, the Palestinian Authority, most all the Arab nations, Russia China, P5 plus 1, NATO, most of the UN all agree that that is the objective, that is the point, then why can’t we get there? Why do we keep going backwards? Partly, like all great challenges and objectives in life, they’re difficult. They require a concerted, concentrated focus, day in and day out, to get it done. I have called over the years, and most recently the last two years, for a presidential special envoy that must stay there and work day in and day out. The good efforts of many who have been involved in these efforts over the year I do not diminish, I acknowledge. But, it’s going to take an effort that is day to day, hour to hour, minute to minute.

The United States cannot impose peace in the Middle East, but I don’t believe any way you come at this, there will be peace in the Middle East without the United States. Because if for no other reason, we are the only nation capable, with the capacity, but most importantly, still I believe, with the confidence and trust of all sides to be able to bring this and elevate this to the position it requires in order to move it toward an accommodation toward a resolution.

My dear friend Ambassador Ilkin, here tonight, who was the Turkish Ambassador to the United States, now the Turkish Ambassador to the United Nations…What his country has been doing – the subject of one of your breakout sessions tonight – to move the Syrian-Israeli peace closer to engagement – a critical component of this as I know that all three are. But as important as any one of those pieces and they all play a role in the larger framework in a strategic comprehensive effort to accomplish this objective is engagement. Engagement is not appeasement. Diplomacy is not weakness.

The most dangerous thing the United States or any nation can do in the completely interconnected world that we live in today…we don’t need much more evidence of an interconnected world then the global financial crisis that we are all trying to work our way through now. If there is any doubt about how interconnected the world is, you go to any country in the world today, fly out tonight and see if that country is affected by this global financial crisis. It is. It’s deep. Most countries are being affected far worse than the United States. There isn’t any debate about this. This is a world that’s interconnected. It’s combustible. It’s complicated and it’s dangerous. So what do we do about it? The worst thing we can do, the most dangerous thing we can do is continue to isolate nations, is to continue to not engage nations. Great powers engage. Great powers form coalitions of common interests. They form alliances. They strengthen alliances. What just occurred in India – we the civilized world, combating this kind of ruthlessness…despicable, outrageous barbaric terrorism, which Israel has been dealing with for a long time as well as other nations.

The only way we start to get a fix and our arms around that is to work a common denominator dynamic of all peoples, the human condition and that requires engagement; that requires alliances; that requires seamless networks of intelligence sharing and gathering; that requires jobs and hope and possibilities and education. Armies aren’t going to fix this problem. The military can’t fix the problem in Iraq. The military can’t fix the problem in Afghanistan- part of it- but it will require all the instruments of power of a great nation, diplomatic, trade, economic, education, alliances, intelligence, military is part of that, but it can’t fix the problem. We’re learning that the hard way in Iraq. We’re learning that the hard way in Afghanistan. I don’t believe that you’re going to have a solution to Afghanistan and Iraq without bringing in all the powers of the region…a comprehensive strategic context of all those pieces. Iran. I know it’s easy to dismiss Iran – oh we’re not going to talk to Iran, they support terrorists, they support Hezbollah, they’ve got their tentacles wrapped around every problem in the Middle East that is anti-Israel, anti- the United States. Those are realities. Those are facts. Now we’ve got a choice here. We can continue to push Iran out, back, and say to Iran “we will give you the privilege of sitting down and talking with us based on our preconditions.” As that goes on, Iran continues, most likely, to develop nuclear activities, it continues to enhance its position with a significant population in the Middle East, which is a direct threat against Israel, a direct threat against the interests of the United States, a threat against Iraq. In fact, the United States solved two of Iran’s biggest problems: Saddam Hussein, and the Taliban. Why did Iran cooperate with the United States and work with the United States after the US first invaded Afghanistan? Because it was in their interests. I don’t think it was because they wanted to do us a favor. It was clearly in the interests of Iran not to have that problem on their Eastern border. Drugs, terrorists – that is not in the interest of Iran.

Now, these are realities that I believe we must factor into a comprehensive component of a strategic, diplomatic effort to bring the nations of that region into some alignment of common interests. We’re not going to get everybody in the same way, on the same page, at the same time, but surely, at least this is my opinion, if we continue to push countries back away and out and we don’t engage, then it is very predictable what the outcome is going to be. When I think of jobs and improving people’s conditions, I think of what, for example, Stef Wertheimer has been doing in Turkey and Israel. I suspect most of you, if not everyone in this room is aware of what Stef Wertheimer has been doing over the last few years. He has five very hi-tech industrial base firms in Turkey and Israel. They’re planning twenty more. I’ve been there. I’ve seen them. Here he has Palestinians and Israelis and Jews working side by side in these plans, and he is helping educate their children. They have futures, they have opportunities. This is not some idealistic dream, in fact it’s happened. It’s working because he understood a long time ago, as many do, that we have to get underneath this. What is it that drives people? What is it that drives extremists and the terrorists? Variations to the answer I recognize. But unless we begin to direct our attention and focus on this underlying dynamic as Stef has done and others, then we will never get to the next stage of resolving the problem and getting where Israel needs to be, should be, (and where) the Palestinians need to be, should be: a two state solution.

I believe that this new President and this new Vice President and their new team that will take office January 20th are committed to make every effort to do that in different ways. I think that they will examine new approaches. I can’t speak for this administration and wouldn’t dare try, but I know the people in this new administration and I know the commitment they have. I know because I’ve talked directly for long lengths of time to President-elect Obama and Vice President-elect Biden about this. This is possible, this is doable. But unless we recognize the regional component of the Middle East and until we start to understand that we cannot take any of these challenges and deal with them in capsules and compartments…

Iran has everything to do with the outcome in Iraq, the outcome in the Israeli-Palestinian issue, of the Middle East itself, the stability of those Persian Gulf countries, of oil. The Russians are connected into this. We have to set up a whole new framework of a Russian-U.S. relationship. India has a piece of this and I believe, and I was in Afghanistan and South Asia twice this year, that until we are able to come up with a comprehensive policy for that strip of land from Iran through India – Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India – all four of those countries have to be dealt with with a larger regional context. When we’re talking about Iran, I believe that it will require some kind of security guarantee. I believe it is going to require some easy to do breakthroughs, like an intersection, a commercial exchange of flights. We can do those kinds of things. One of the things that I think is on track now is. Gordon Brown has now instigated his own initiative as we know. The new French President has been very active the last year in this. I’ve already mentioned our friends from Turkey. I’ve had long conversations with President Olmert about this. The Syrian-Israeli peace is a logical next piece in how this plays out. It’s a logical next piece. We have to also know, understand, and remember that all this is imperfect. There is not a perfect solution and plan and never will be. It’s imperfect. But, we need to keep a wider lens view of all this. Isn’t it better to work our way through some accommodation and getting on these higher plateaus of resolution so we can get the larger dynamics of this in place so we can work on the underlying parts of the problem? We don’t have any choice today in a world that’s as complicated and interconnected as the world we live in. If we do not make progress in the Middle East in the next four years, then we run the risk, not just the Middle East, but South Asia, and every area of the world that is in some state of turmoil, we run the risk of the problem becoming so big, so overpowering, that no nation, no set of nations, is capable, nor will they have the capacity to deal with it. That’s the kind of risk we run. 6.5 billion people on the face of earth today, we’re going to get to 8 billion people on the face of the earth. Think of the resources here- water, oil, energy of all kinds. Think of what has to happen in the world over the next few years- growth, opportunity. All of things must be factored into this wider lens policy.

That is where I started my comments tonight – seems to me, leads back to the strategic epicenter of the Middle East, the Israeli Palestinian issue. Why do I say that more than any other reason? It is the one issue, the one issue alone, the Israeli-Palestinian issue alone. Fixing that alone is not going to fix every problem in the Middle East. We understand that. We have religious hatred. We have centuries of it. We have regional, tribal issues. Yes, all complicated. But that one issue, the Israeli-Palestinian issue shapes almost every other issue, not just the optics of it, but the reality of it. It is allowed to – as it plays itself out to dominate relationships, to dominate the people who would like a different kind of world. I know that there is a lot made on the issue of – well it’s important, but it certainly doesn’t affect everything. It does. I don’t know any other way to gage this, then you go out and listen to the leaders. You listen to Jewish leaders, and you listen to Arab leaders. You sit down with all the leaders with all those countries, and I have many times, different leaders, and they will take you right back to the same issue. Right back to this issue. Now I am not an expert on anything, and I’m certainly not an expert on the Middle East. Most of the people in this room, especially those that were on the panels tonight know a lot more about this issue than I do. But I do listen. I do observe. I am somewhat informed. That informs me that when the people of the Middle East themselves tell me that this issue has to be dealt with or there will there will not be a resolution to any other issue in the Middle East.

One last point on this. When we survey the next year, the next six months, we are going to see an interesting evolution in the Middle East at a very interesting time of a confluence of events in the world. The world, by the way, is living through that great historic confluence. Today, the fusion of power. The greatest economic diffusion of power that the world has ever seen. At a rate we can’t even calculate. We are changing relationships, geo-political centers, and strategic dynamics at a rate we’ve never seen before. Energy is driving that and so many other factors are driving that. So we have an opportunity as this great world confluence comes at a very interesting time, a dangerous time, but a time of some significant crisis, not just financial crisis, but crisis in these areas, to really change things…to really do some things that we have needed to do but the status quo has drug us down or for some reason it has inhibited the ability to get it done- leadership, whatever it is.

This is a very precious historic moment. A time of great global transformation. When you look at the next 6 months in the Middle East, look at the set of elections that is going to occur: in Israel, most likely in the Palestinians, the Iranian Presidential elections, more elections in Iraq…a very interesting time. What we need to do, it seems to me, in the United States, and our allies, and our friends, is encourage this time of possibility by encouraging the moderate leaders in the Middle East, encouraging people who do have a role to play, strengthen their sense of purpose, strengthen who they are, and that’s possible. This time will not come again for a long time, if ever. I believe that’s the kind of world we’re living in, with the kind of possibilities that are at stake. That’s why I said at the beginning of my comments that this organization has a very important role to play and to continue to play because this organization is a voice of moderation. It is a voice of reality. It is a voice of common purpose. You can make a difference. Policy is influenced by real people. Institutions, constitutions, governments, they don’t change anything. People change things. It is individuals who make things happen, and I don’t know of a better role model or an individual to point to than Yitzchak Rabin. What Yitzchak Rabin did, what he represented, what he still represents is hope that in his memory, in his honor, but for his courage and boldness, we can come back with a Rabin too. It takes leaders on the other side. Sadat, Begin. It will take a unique set of leaders to do this. It’s possible. Leaders change the world. Governments and ideology don’t change the world, leaders change the world. It is within our power to change the world, and we must not fail or squander this moment. I am grateful for the opportunity to exchange some thoughts on this very important issue. I am continually encouraged that we have people like you who are willing to continue to stay committed to this great cause. It is about the future of your children, your grandchildren; you know that, the future of the world. The stakes are as big as they have ever been. But I also think, as much as the 21st century challenges are as big as they’ve been, so are the opportunities, so is the capacity and the capabilities we have to deal with them. Thank you very much.

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Israel Policy Forum (IPF), a non-partisan, non-profit US organization founded in 1993, advocates for a strong, Jewish and democratic state at peace with its neighbors.

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