Debating the Chuck Hagel nomination
January 17th, 2013
06:16 PM ET

Debating the Chuck Hagel nomination

"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.


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Topics: Israel

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soundoff (14 Responses)
  1. Quigley

    Exactly what is there to debate about Chuck Hagel's nomination to be Sec. of Defense, anyway? At least he's not just another trigger happy, right-wing nutjob trying to glorify the killing of Muslims and other people. Moreover, he won't be the disgrace to this country as much as other right-wingers have been. This country sorely needs a moderate like him!

    January 17, 2013 at 7:04 pm |
    • j. von hettlingen

      Indeed, Chuck Hagel wouldn't do more harm to the US as some of his predecessors had done. I do think that the country would benefit from his pragmatism.
      Fareed, the debate betweeen Beinart and Stephens was one of the liveliest I've seen on your show. I loved it! You should invite the two antagonists more often to your studio. Beinart was brilliant!

      January 18, 2013 at 4:58 am |
  2. JAL


    January 17, 2013 at 9:00 pm |

    To Stephens: Don't be worried , Israel will never do anything about Iran. As for US, it has been evident for a while that war is not an option ( of course it is an option if you will to spend another 2-4 trillion dollar- which should be lended from China)

    January 17, 2013 at 11:51 pm |
  4. Jean

    A Hagel confirmation kills any chance of Iran agreeing to stop it's nuclear weapons program through negotiations. why would they take the tremendous political risk of telling their people that years of sanctions privations was for nothing when they know their really is no risk of an American military action?

    January 18, 2013 at 2:58 am |
    • Steven

      Hey Jean. If a war breaks out, will you send all the ones you love into that thankless maw the middle east? Its people like you, Kristol, Rubin and STEPHENS! that sicken me. We Americans had enough of people like you and your ilk. It's all the same characters. They've never dodged a bullet, nor have any of their loved ones and they never will. But Its ok to send American young men and women, stuck doing tour after tour, their home life suffering, and for what? Its a religious war, it can't be won, or all the trillions and blood would have amounted for something. It hasn't.
      Jean, go and self deport, and take the neocon traitors with you.

      January 18, 2013 at 12:57 pm |
      • wjmccartan

        Thank you Steven, I totally agree. These stinking warmongers have had their way for far too long and that makes me sick!

        January 18, 2013 at 3:05 pm |
  5. tom

    the notion of isreal's right to attack is just stupid to me, how will the west justify the fact that isreal has nuclear weapons and nobody else must have, why not no nuclear for all in the middle east so that everybody have rest of mind; whats even anoying is the readiness of the congress to embarass the president to protect so called isreal's interest, i think congress should pass a bill that will protect isreal's interest before national interest.

    January 18, 2013 at 7:05 am |
  6. Hahahahahahaha

    How about we throw some "TAX CUTS FOR THE RICH!!!!!!" in there for good measure before we attack Iran. Right GOP??? Hahahahahahahaahah

    January 18, 2013 at 9:45 am |
  7. rightospeak

    Why is there such an obsession with attacking Iran ? Israel has nuclear weapons and no oil. Iran lots of oil , so why can't Iranians have nuclear weapons to protect their oil ? Why should there be such a monopoly ?
    My take: Iran already has nuclear weapons and they will not be another Libya or Iraq. If Israel attacks it will simply be a death wish and the Holy Land will be gone in smoke. I am sure that there are a lot of brains in Israel that figured that out. If the US attacks Iran – internal collapse in the US and Israel gone. There are no good options except peace and cooperation. I believe Hagel is one of the few who has some common sense and will advise our president well.

    January 18, 2013 at 1:54 pm |
  8. joe anon 1

    stephens and beinart – 2 zionists.

    one is lunatic and shows himself to be lunatic.
    the other is lunatic but wants to appear human.

    January 18, 2013 at 2:20 pm |
  9. CB

    There is much more below the surface on this issue that is not discussed. Science is advancing and Iran is not sitting on there hands. Watch for news this week that will change the posture of all players. And don't expect a shooting war, rather a shouting war.

    January 20, 2013 at 1:15 pm |
  10. In Home Personal Training

    Hagel has not ruled out military force against Iran.I think that is the smart move. I also think that his comment about not being able to
    control war is a smart thought. I think he is a good pick.

    April 15, 2014 at 10:02 pm |

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