Who is Chuck Hagel?
Born in North Platte, Neb., he was a squad leader in Vietnam, twice wounded, who came home to work in Ronald Reagan's 1980 campaign, was twice elected U.S. senator, and is chairman of the Atlantic Council and co-chair of the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board.
To The Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol, however, Hagel is a man "out on the fringes," who has a decade-long record of "hostility to Israel" and is "pro-appeasement-of-Iran."
Lest we miss Kristol's point, Standard blogger Daniel Halper helpfully adds that a "top Republican Senate aide" said, "Send us Hagel, and we will make sure every American knows he is an anti-Semite."
The Wall Street Journal's Bret Stephens continued in this vein.
"Prejudice ... has an olfactory element," he writes, and with Hagel, "the odor is especially ripe." Stephens is saying that Chuck Hagel reeks of anti-Semitism.
Hagel's enemies contend that his own words disqualify him.
First, he told author Aaron David Miller that the "Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up there" on the Hill. Second, he urged us to talk to Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran. Third, Hagel said several years ago, "A military strike against Iran ... is not a viable, feasible, responsible option."
Hagel has conceded he misspoke in using the phrase "Jewish lobby." But as for a pro-Israel lobby, its existence is the subject of books and countless articles. When AIPAC sends up to the Hill one of its scripted pro-Israel resolutions, it is whistled through. Hagel's problem: He did not treat these sacred texts with sufficient reverence.
"I am a United States senator, not an Israeli senator," he told Miller. "I support Israel. But my first interest is I take an oath ... to the Constitution of the United States. Not to a president. Not to a party. Not to Israel. If I go run for Senate in Israel, I'll do that."
Hagel puts U.S. national interests first. And sometimes those interests clash with the policies of the Israeli government.
In 1957, President Eisenhower told Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion to get his army out of Sinai. Would that disqualify Ike from being secretary of defense because, to quote Kristol, this would show Ike was not "serious about having Israel's back"?
If a senator or defense secretary believes an Israeli action -- like bisecting the West Bank with new settlements that will kill any chance for a Palestinian state and guarantee another intifada -- what should he do?
Defend the U.S. position, or make sure there is "no daylight" between him and the Israeli prime minister?