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Former U.S. Senator Chuck Hagel (R) walks past U.S. President Barack Obama (L) after Obama announced the nomination of Hagel to be his new Secretary of Defense, at the White House in Washington January 7, 2013.  (REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)
Former U.S. Senator Chuck Hagel (R) walks past U.S. President Barack Obama (L) after Obama announced the nomination of Hagel to be his new Secretary of Defense, at the White House in Washington January 7, 2013. (REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)
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The president of the United States is sometimes referred to as the leader of the free world. As in, the head of the strongest country in the world, and for a long time the unrivaled engine of the global economy.

The U.S. president at this particular moment in time, Barack Obama, has just completed a successful re-election campaign. This week, he put forward his nomination for a new defense secretary, former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel, and the selection would appear to be a solid choice. Hagel is from the other party; he is a war veteran from the Vietnam era who still has shrapnel in his chest today, and his record on defense issues appears to be good enough to earn him the job.

So what happens?

Instead of the White House discussing the merits of Hagel’s confirmation and spending minimal time on seeing him through the process, it is greeted with a storm of disapproval, as in Israel-inspired disapproval, of the choice.

That the pro-Israel lobby wields a huge amount of influence in Washington is naturally no surprise to anyone. But the question is: Where does this influence end? Republicans and Democrats are raising hell about Hagel, because of his earlier comments about the power of the “Jewish lobby,” as he once called it in shorthand, and the fact that he dared to say he didn’t consider himself a “senator for Israel,” but for the U.S. Moreover, he questioned America’s disastrous war in Iraq, and has expressed a desire to work out differences with Iran through negotiations, and not useless rhetoric.

Iran’s government put out a professional statement, saying it hoped Hagel would be part of a change in U.S. foreign policy, while leading Israeli government officials kept silent – although second-rankers, and the speaker of the Knesset, announced their reservations.

The scandalous aspect of the Hagel nomination is of course that a country of more than 300 million people must endure the Israel loyalty test for its top officials. A country that is an international pariah, whose policies are criticized by the overwhelming majority of countries in the world, sees its interests dominate the selection of a defense secretary in the U.S.

The American political class is mobilized to stop the Hagel nomination, for the simple reason that he doesn’t view the world through Israeli eyes. If anyone in the U.S. wonders why the country’s policy initiatives fail to inspire trust in the Arab world and beyond, all that a person has to do is take a long look at the latest scandal over a Cabinet appointment.

The U.S. can’t have it both ways. If it wants to portray itself as an “honest broker” in the Middle East, on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and other issues, it cannot allow these kinds of critically important issues to be flagrantly dominated by pro-Israeli sentiment, with Israeli political, military and other interests as a top priority.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on January 09, 2013, on page 7.
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