Hagel, Obama and Iran

Ali Gharib writes: The Washington Post today decried Chuck Hagel as a possible choice to lead the Defense Department, with the editorial board remarking that, “Mr. Hagel’s stated positions on critical issues, ranging from defense spending to Iran, fall well to the left of those pursued by Mr. Obama during his first term — and place him near the fringe of the Senate that would be asked to confirm him.” That Hagel would be near the fringe of the Senate because of his views on Iran speaks to how close the Senate is to the fringes of reality: the Senate’s efforts to limit the President’s diplomacy and impose devastating sanctions haven’t worked to “prevent” Iran from advancing its nuclear program either. In 2007, Hagel asked, “What confidence should we have in a strategy that, to date, has nothing to show for it? That has achieved no tangible changes to Iran’s nuclear program and actually has seen the Middle East become more dangerous, and Iran more defiant?” Five years later, the Post editors — along with perhaps the Obama administration and certainly the Congress — would do well to ask themselves these questions.

There’s a lot to debate with regard to Hagel’s long record of views on Iran, and one might begin with his sober accounting of what the regime there is like: “[T]hey support terrorists, they support Hezbollah,” he told the Israel Policy Forum in 2008. “They’ve got their tentacles wrapped around every problem in the Middle East. They’re anti-Israel, anti-United States. Those are realities. Those are facts.” In the speech, he also called for opening a diplomatic interests section in Tehran and resuming commercial flights to the country. Try though the critics may, these can hardly be classified as “fringe” views, or unreasonable ones, and are certainly open to discussion.

What’s not up for debate is that the overall Senate tack—to impose yet more sanctions, disallow any future Iranian enrichment at any level, and oppose any confidence-building measures that could relieve pressure, as stated in a recent AIPAC-backed Senate letter — hasn’t stopped Iran from continuing to enrich apace (though hedging in various ways). The Congress and an assortment of neoconservatives may consider skepticism about the efficacy of military action a sin, but their view is again divorced from reality: the enthusiasm for keeping the military option on the table hasn’t curtailed Iran either. Rather, experts have assessed that attacking would only delay Iran and harden its resolve to build weapons — not to mention risking a years-long “all-out regional war.” Hagel’s positions may put him on the fringes of the Senate, but he’s firmly in the mainstream of expert opinion, from Israel to the Pentagon. [Continue reading…]

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