David Frum

02.01.13

Why Chuck Hagel is Wrong on Israel

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Jeffrey Goldberg dismantles Chuck Hagel's view that the Israel/Palestine conflict, like a "stone dropped into a placid lake," is an unsettling force for the entire region:

Come with me on a quick tour of the greater Middle East. The Syrian civil war? Unrelated to the Palestinian-Israeli peace process. The slow disintegration of Yemen? Unrelated. Chaos and violence in Libya? Unrelated. Chaos and fundamentalism in Egypt? The creation of a Palestinian state on the West Bank would not have stopped the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak, nor would it have stopped the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood. Terrorism in Algeria? Unrelated. The Iranian nuclear program? How would the creation of a Palestinian state have persuaded the Iranian regime to cease its pursuit of nuclear weapons?

Someone please explain. Sunni-Shiite civil war in Iraq? The unrest in Bahrain? Pakistani havens for al-Qaeda affiliates? All unrelated.
Why does this matter? Because our leaders should have a realistic -- as opposed to a “realist” -- understanding of the root causes of Middle East strife. How can they protect us from threats if they don’t understand the causes of these threats? Decades of dictatorship (with the acquiescence, in many cases, of the U.S. government and the realists who guided its foreign policy) brought the Middle East to its current condition, along with misogyny, poor education, corruption, the politicizing of Islam and sectarian hatred.

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Here are the highlights from Hagel's explosive Senate hearing.

I fervently hope a day comes when we reach a true, lasting peace in the holy land. A two-state solution is morally and practically preferable to its alternatives, and the prospect of a future without two states is most depressing.

That said, I cannot fault Israel for recognizing its opponents have no interest in a lasting piece. Hamas remains openly virulent toward the state of Israel. Fatah's leaders mumble in English that they recognize Israel while delivering incendiary rhetoric in Arabic. Neighboring regimes nurse these movements while refusing to welcome refugees into their broader populations. And this glaring indulgence is nursed by the international community. So why would a pragmatic Israel advance the peace process? To placate entities that seek its destruction? 

That Sen. Hagel retains the perspective of "linkage" or the stone in a "placid lake" reflects that he's willfully missing substantial developments over recent decades. The notion that a resolved Israel/Palestine conflict would suddenly cause peace in the region conflicts with historical facts. Is that what we want in our secretary of defense?

I don't doubt Hagel's expertise in international affairs. I don't even doubt that he's a well meaning man who thinks solving this "constant sore" will alleviate a longstanding conflict. But his thinking on this issue is naive and detached from reality.

Hagel, a hero of mine, is a good man and a deservedly respected public servant. But he's wrong on Israel. That can't be ignored.