US President Barack Obama is wavering about the potential nomination of former
Republican senator Chuck Hagel for the position of defense secretary, according
to a report published Sunday by the National Journal, a well-connected
Citing an anonymous senior administration
official, the National Journal reported that Obama was now considering Michele
Flournoy and Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter for the
Should Obama pick Flournoy, who served as undersecretary of
defense for policy before stepping down in the summer, it would be the first
time a woman would be nominated to be Pentagon chief.
nomination has raised the objections of some American Jewish leaders who point
out that the former Nebraska Republican senator, who left the Senate in 2008,
had a problematic voting record on issues key to Israel – voting several times
against US sanctions on Iran – and made disparaging remarks about the influence
of what he called a “Jewish lobby” in Washington.
These comments were
made to former US diplomat Aaron David Miller for his 2008 book, The Much Too
Promised Land, in which Hagel was quoted as saying, “The Jewish lobby
intimidates a lot of people up here.”
In 2001, Hagel was one of two
senators who voted against renewing the Iran-Libya sanctions act, in 2007 he
voted against placing the Iran Revolutionary Guards Corps on America’s list of
terrorist organizations and in 2008 he voted against Iran
Other problematic positions regarding Israel taken by Hagel
include being one of only four senators in October 2000 who would not sign a
letter of support for Israel during the second intifada, being only one of 12
senators in 2006 who refused to sign a letter calling on the EU to place
Hezbollah on its terrorist lists and signing a 2009 letter – after he retired
from the Senate – urging Obama to negotiate with Hamas.
But Hagel is not
only under fire from Jewish or pro-Israel organizations, and on Friday he issued
an apology for comments about gays he made during the 1998 approval process of a
gay philanthropist, James Hormel, as the US ambassador to
Hagel said in an interview at the time with an Omaha
newspaper that Hormel was “openly, aggressively gay,” and that it would be an
“inhibiting factor” for a US ambassador to be gay.
The Journal article
quoted a senior administration official as saying it was “fair” to say Obama was
considering other candidates.
South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey
Graham said Sunday that Hagel’s nomination process would be challenging and that
he would probably not get many Republican votes, and on Friday Texas Republican
John Cornyn told The Washington Post that he would vote against the
Flournoy, whose name is now being bandied as a leading
contender for the position, is a well-known figure in Israeli security circles,
having served as the number three official in the Pentagon.
She spoke in
May at the annual conference of the Institute for National Security Studies
(INSS) in Tel Aviv and, addressing the Iranian nuclear issue, said Israel’s
question of whether to go alone in attacking Iran or rely on a broader
international effort sustained over time “comes down to your comfort level, your
degree of strategic trust that the US will be with you, that others will be with
Flournoy said Israel and the US’s strategic interests on Iran were
fully aligned. Both realize a nuclear Iran will lead to a “cascade of
proliferation in the Middle East” and both realize it will provide “greater
cover for Iran” in the region and for its “destabilizing activities and support
She said it all came down to the credibility of the US
“Do you believe that we see this in the same way and that the
US will ultimately back up our statements with actions,” she asked.
then quoted her mother and said “actions speak louder than words,” before
listing a series of diplomatic actions she said the Obama administration has
taken to back Israel.
During that speech she also addressed the tense
Israeli-Turkish relationship, and advised Israel to act “more strategically” and
reconcile with Ankara.
Flournoy, who played a key role in shaping Obama’s
national security policy, characterized Turkey as one of the strongest and most
influential voices in the region, remained a close and valued NATO ally for the
US and shared “our interest in preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear weapon
While acknowledging that she understood that “past events have
made concrete steps toward reconciliation quite difficult,” she said that “if
there is ever a time for Israel to rise above past differences and
recriminations with Turkey, now is that time.”
Reuters contributed to