"Fareed Zakaria GPS," Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET.
Fareed speaks with columnists Bret Stephens and Peter Beinart about the controversy over President Obama’s decision to nominate Chuck Hagel for defense secretary. This is an edited version of the interview.
Beinart: I think the important thing about Hagel is that, in a way, he would be the Obama administration’s Meir Dagan. Meir Dagan is the guy in Israel, from the national security establishment, who pushed back when Benjamin Netanyahu, he felt, was talking too cavalierly about the prospect of war against Iran. Hagel has not ruled out military force against Iran. He actually ruled it in, in an op-ed last fall. But he has said again and again, in very Dagan-esque, in very Eisenhower-esque ways, as...Eisenhower was always saying, let’s not pretend we can control war once it's unleashed. That is the point that Hagel has made again and again. I want that perspective in the Iran debate. I think that’s part of what makes him important.
Stephens: You know, what I find striking about this debate – and this, I think, hopefully, brings us to the larger debate about Chuck Hagel's world view – is that if you are a skeptic of U.S. intervention in Iran, and certainly if you’re against Israeli military intervention of Iran, as I think you are, Peter, you couldn't possibly send a worse signal than to appoint Chuck Hagel as your defense secretary.
The New York Times has a profile of Shimon Peres that was done back in July of last year, before the election…about how Peres, the president of Israel, a largely symbolic position, adamantly opposed an Israeli strike because he said “I guarantee you, if it comes to it, the Americans are going to do it.” So a lot of the Israeli calculation back in September and October, when they were thinking about a strike, was, no, let’s hold off, because we have some confidence that the Obama administration, if it comes to it, will do it…if it’s necessary.
And a lot of the people who supported President Obama said, mark my words, he's a man of his word, he does this quite seriously. Then he turns around and appoints, perhaps, the most prominent skeptic of any kind of military intervention in Iran as his defense secretary. If you're sitting in Israel, you're wondering just how reliable is the United States and maybe we should go it alone. And for that reason alone, simply the appointment of Chuck Hagel is going to make the Israelis more skittish and perhaps more prone to act.
Beinart: But here’s the irony – who said that military action against Iran could prove catastrophic? That was Robert Gates, our former defense secretary. Who said that it could embroil us in a conflict that we would regret? That was Leon Panetta, the guy who was [replacing him]…I think you’re right, that we need to be able to have the military option on the table, as Hagel repeatedly has said. But that surely can’t mean that we cannot have a public conversation in this country about the tremendous dangers that war would bring. That, it seems to me, is absolutely a conversation we have to have and it's being led from the Pentagon because it’s people in the U.S. military who are most concerned about this.