CNN distorted former Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel's positions on potential U.S. negotiations with Hamas and sanctions on Iran to privilege the bogus argument that the senator is anti-Israel. In fact, Hagel's positions on these issues are not out of the mainstream and are not anti-Israel.
During a report that President Obama is going to nominate Hagel to be secretary of defense, CNN host Zoraida Sambolin played a clip of Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) saying that a Hagel nomination is an "in your face nomination by the president to all of us who are supportive of Israel." CNN foreign affairs correspondent Jill Dougherty followed up that clip by asserting that Hagel's critics "would question his devotion to anything that would help Israel. He, for instance, believes in talking to Hamas." Dougherty also highlighted the argument that Hagel's views on sanctions against Iran show that he is not sufficiently pro-Israel.
But the position Hagel has taken on Hamas is well within the mainstream and the position he has taken on Iran is not an anti-Israel position, but part of his long-held view that unilateral sanctions do not work. Furthermore, Hagel is supported by high-profile pro-Israel commentators.
Regarding Hamas, in 2009, Hagel co-signed a bipartisan letter suggesting steps the United States could take to achieve peace between Israel and the Palestinians. One of the recommendations in the letter was that the United States should take "a more pragmatic approach toward Hamas and a Palestinian unity government." The United States has a policy of not negotiating with Hamas, which won Palestinian legislative elections in 2006 and is the de facto ruler of the Gaza Strip, due to its support of terrorism.
The letter stated: "Direct U.S. engagement with Hamas may not now be practical." But it added that Israel has acknowledged Hamas "is simply too important and powerful to be ignored." It recommended that the United States shift its policy "from ousting Hamas to modifying its behavior, offer it inducements that will enable its more moderate elements to prevail, and cease discouraging third parties from engaging with Hamas."
This is far from an extreme or anti-Israel position. The letter was co-signed by two former U.S. National Security Advisers, Zbigniew Brezinski, who served in the Carter administration and Brent Scowcroft, who served in the Ford, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush administrations. Other signers include former Sen. Nancy Kassebaum-Baker (R-KS), former 9/11 Commission co-chair Lee Hamilton, and former Federal Reserve chair Paul Volcker. New York Times columnist Roger Cohen also endorsed the position on Hamas taken by the letter.
Furthermore, the Israeli government itself has said it is willing to talk to Hamas under certain conditions. The Jerusalem Post reported that Israeli President Shimon Peres said that "Israel would be willing to talk to Hamas, if Hamas complied with the three conditions set down by the Mideast Quartet, namely renunciation of terrorism, recognition of Israel and willingness to negotiate with Israel." The Post also reported: "There's nothing wrong with talking to Hamas, Peres clarified, but Hamas won't talk to Israel."
Regarding Iran, Hagel has repeatedly voted in favor of bills imposing sanctions on Iran, but has repeatedly said he does not support unilateral sanctions against rogue nations because they are ineffective. In 2007, Hagel said we should work with our allies "on multilateral sanctions applying financial pressure" on Iran and work with the UN Security Council to procure additional sanctions. Hagel has, at times, opposed unilateral U.S. sanctions against Iran, but he has not singled out Iran as a country unworthy of sanctions. Rather, he has opposed unilateral sanctions against North Korea, Syria, Libya, and Cuba as well as against Iran, which may not be as effective as multilateral sanctions.
The fact that Hagel is not anti-Israel is confirmed by the number of endorsements Hagel has received. Hagel has garnered the support of the following people:
- Former Israeli consul general Alon Pinkas;
- Top retired officers in the U.S. armed forces;
- Former National Security Advisors James Jones, Frank Carlucci, Scowcroft, and Brzezinski;
- Former Secretary of Defense William Cohen, who also served as a Republican senator from Maine;
- A bipartisan group of seven former U.S. ambassadors;
- Daily Beast blogger and author Peter Beinart;
- The National Jewish Democratic Council;
- New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman;
- And many others.