Robert Novak

Hagel was blunt in predicting consequences: "Extended military action will tear apart Lebanon, destroy its economy and infrastructure, create a humanitarian disaster, further weaken Lebanon's fragile democratic government, strengthen popular Muslim and Arab support for Hezbollah, and deepen hatred of Israel across the Middle East. . . . The war against Hezbollah and Hamas will not be won on the battle field."

Such a departure by the second ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee would seem newsworthy. But it attracted little attention outside Hagel's home state of Nebraska. He went to the Senate floor July 31 to deliver an abbreviated version of his Brookings speech. It generated neither approval nor dissent from Senate colleagues -- only silence.

His bold intervention will not abet 2008 presidential ambitions. There is no political upside in criticizing Israel. Other members of Congress who have said anything at all critical of Israel are few in number. Republican Sen. John Sununu of New Hampshire, whose family has roots in Lebanon, deplored Israel's attack on Lebanese power plants and other government infrastructure. Democratic Rep. Chris Van Hollen, in a July 30 letter to the secretary of state, declared that "a continuation of the bombing campaign, as it is being carried out, is against the interests of Israel and the United States."

Such critics of Israel inevitably are taken to task, sooner or later -- usually sooner. When 28 left-wing Democratic House members signed a resolution calling for a cease-fire in Lebanon, Rep. Bob Filner of California was the only Jewish co-signer. The ink was hardly dry before he was contacted by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the lobbying organization that keeps an eye on every member of Congress.

In his speech, Hagel pointed to the 2002 Saudi-sponsored Beirut declaration recognizing the state of Israel as a starting point for Middle East negotiations. In his letter to Rice, Van Hollen said resolution of the Israel-Palestine dispute is essential for Middle Eastern peace. It is hard to send that message to Israel when Congress cheers on a military situation and the Bush administration acquiesces.

Robert Novak

Robert Novak (1931-2009) was a syndicated columnist and editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report.

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