Friday, January 11, 2013

The unwanted appeaser

Abraham Ben-Zvi
It has been over seven decades since the policy of appeasement pursued by Western democracies in their dealings with the evil Nazi empire crashed and burned. Now, as we begin 2013, we come away with the impression that the man who is in line to serve as the Obama administration’s next defense secretary, former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel, harbors political and diplomatic philosophies that are deeply entrenched in those dark days of myopic appeasement.
Judging from numerous past statements, Hagel clearly believes that the key to ensuring global and regional stability is adopting a soft policy toward any radical entity working to fundamentally change the rules of the game and threaten the prevailing world order, including Iran. According to the man who has been tapped as the next Pentagon chief, the Tehran regime’s moderation is contingent upon shelving the military option as a viable alternative in neutralizing the Iranian nuclear threat.

As Hagel sees it, instead of saber-rattling and tougher sanctions, American diplomacy will offer a package of confidence-building measures in the form of economic and political incentives, which would then ensure regional stability while removing the horrifying specter of a nuclear Iran, which would undoubtedly cast a menacing cloud over the entire Middle East.
Yes, Hagel does specify a limit to his conciliatory, appeasing approach. He is careful to note that in the event of a direct, immediate threat on U.S. national security interests, there remain options of deterrence, containment, intervention, and even the use of force, which Hagel believes should be the last alternative.
Nonetheless, these are scenarios that have little chance of taking place in the long term. The U.S. would likely call upon the application of force in the event of a very serious threat (particularly from China) to the global balance of power and vital American interests. If, however, one takes into account the litany of short-term, immediate threats, Hagel’s philosophy posits that offering carrots and incentives is far more preferable than threatening with the sticks of sanctions and punishment (without mentioning the use of military force).
At Hagel’s core, the strategy of appeasement is a precondition for attaining stability. If and when this sought-after stability is attained, then the American hegemon could realize its dream of hunkering down in its own isolationism, just as the designate secretary of defense planned it. This would enable the U.S. to relieve itself of the arduous burden that comes with managing the complexities inherent in the international system. On a related note, it is worth recalling that Hagel, in this context, is an enthusiastic supporter of massively cutting the defense budget.
A disturbing element
Given this belief system, the elements of which are intertwined, it is easy to understand the deep disdain that the former senator harbors for any country that he perceives as putting obstacles before the realization of his vision. Once Hagel came to the conclusion that Israel is primarily responsible for the prolonged conflict in the Palestinian sphere and its destructive regional ramifications, little doubt remained as to the cumulative consequences of his statements as they relate to Israel.
Despite his unconvincing denials from recent days — which are intended to soften the stiff bipartisan opposition to his nomination that is expected in the Senate — there is little doubt regarding Israel’s place on Hagel’s list of priorities as reflected in his core values and belief system. Irrespective of whether the topic at hand is the second intifada, the Second Lebanon War or Operation Cast Lead, Israel is invariably perceived by Hagel as a trigger-happy country that endangers regional stability.
In echoing sentiments that were often heard during the less-than-pleasant days of the 1950s, Hagel believes that Israel is a clear strategic burden. In addition, he feels that regional crises precipitated by Israel’s actions have dragged U.S. governments into the Middle Eastern swamp against their will, thereby sapping American resources while jeopardizing Washington’s ties with regional allies.
Judging by the worldview espoused by the former senator from Nebraska, Washington’s traditional support for Jerusalem (which Hagel believes is based on the threats and intimidation tactics employed by the powerful pro-Israel lobby in the American capital) is a very bothersome element that has complicated the task of forming a united, pan-Arab bloc that would be closely allied with the West.
It seems that the far-reaching concessions offered by Israel at Camp David in 2000 as well as during peace negotiations in 2008 — which failed to convince the Palestinian Authority to show more flexibility in laying down its conditions for a final settlement — left no impression on the incoming defense secretary’s attitude toward the Jewish State.
As such, Hagel remains convinced that the State of Israel and its policies are the main source of the chronic instability that has bedeviled the Middle East. In his view, even today Israel and the talk surrounding the nuclear threat increase the odds that the entire world (including the American giant) could be dragged toward the precipice of a new, highly destructive Iranian apocalypse.
Since this is a very entrenched, crystallized set of positions and opinions, it would be a mistake to toy with illusory notions regarding what we can expect from the new top man at the Pentagon in the event that his nomination is confirmed, irrespective of how much clout he wields in the administration.
Gearing up for battle
Nonetheless, it is reasonable to assume that the Hagel’s road to confirmation is bumpy. Not only does nominating Hagel constitute a provocative move toward the Republican opposition (many of whose members view their fellow Republican as a wayward step-child), but it is also noteworthy since Hagel’s positions significantly undermine the traditional base of support for Israel, which has enjoyed tremendous backing on Capitol Hill for decades.
The fact that Hagel has yet to be quoted expressing even minor acknowledgement of the cultural, ideological, and historical ties that are shared between the two allies could serve as the key factor that thwarts his nomination. The battle for Hagel’s political future has begun.
While Hagel’s bread-and-butter ideology is rooted in matters of strategic and diplomatic importance, the Israeli aspect of this confirmation battle holds special importance, particularly because it is hard to find central players in the current administration (including in the White House) that will make a special effort to balance the hostile views that Hagel harbors toward Israel. This stands in stark contrast to the two-term presidency of Ronald Reagan.
During that period, then-Pentagon chief Caspar Weinberger consistently demonstrated hostility toward Israel. In contrast, however, the governments of Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir enjoyed warm ties with Reagan himself as well as with his secretaries of state, Alexander Haig and George Shultz. Despite many points of friction and disagreement between Washington and Jerusalem, Haig and Shultz were able to balance out, and even neutralize, Weinberger on numerous occasions.
The only thing left to do is to hope that the current battle will end without the State of Israel being vulnerable, and that Chuck Hagel’s dream of isolationist-driven appeasement will quickly subside into oblivion.

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