A Moral and Political Dilemma

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By Edmond Y. Azadian

Upon the nomination of Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel as the next secretary of defense, a political firestorm broke out involving gays, the Israeli lobby in Washington and the Armenians. The nominee being a straight talker has offended the above groups, and perhaps many others throughout his political career. Now, as he faces the uphill battle for his confirmation before the Armed Services Committee and later the full Senate, he has to answer all those
groups in a satisfactory manner to win the confirmation.

On the other hand the nominee for the position of secretary of state, former presidential candidate and current senator, John Kerry, does not anticipate hurdles.

Before we draw our battle lines, we need to postulate the offenses of which the Republican maverick Hagel is accused.

First, the gays have an axe to grind with Mr. Hagel who had remarked in 1998 that James Hormel, a philanthropist and later, an ambassador to Luxembourg, was “openly, aggressively gay,” the inference being that he was not a suitable candidate for an ambasadorial post in that country.

Next in line is the Jewish lobby with the “neo-cons” in the background because of Hagel’s remark that “the Jewish lobby in the United States intimidates a lot of people.”

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Now all the political weapons in the arsenal of the Israeli lobbyists are directed against Mr. Hagel, calling him anti-Israel, anti-Semitic, soft on Israel’s enemies and so on. A crusade has already been mounted against him. There is a Kaf kaesque irony in standing up to deny the obvious, just for the sake of political expediency. And indeed, Hagel has tried to accommodate his critics in an interview given on January 7, 2013, to the Lincoln Journal Star where he stated that his record demonstrates his “unequivocal, total support for Israel […] There is not one shred of evidence that I’m anti-Israel, not one vote that matters hurt Israel.”

This kind of categorical denial, to save his career, only confirms rather than denies his earlier statement that the “Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people.”

Mr. Hagel tried to come clean with the gay community stating that he had demonstrated “insensitivity” towards gays, meaning that his views have evolved since over the issue.

These are powerful interest groups in America which any aspirant for a political position can ignore at his or her own risk. In order for any campaign to succeed, it must be aligned with the interests of other powerful groups. This time around, Armenians are in good company, because not only have they been handling the firing line but also many human rights groups and prominent Jewish leaders have joined the fray.

Hagel’s statements are unfortunate and abominably wrong. “What happened in 1915 happened in 1915,” Hagel said during a 2005 trip to Armenia when he was serving in the senate. “As a United States senator, I think the better way to deal with this is to leave it open to historians and others to decide what happened and why.”

This is a vintage Genocide-denial recipe concocted in Ankara and delivered hot to Mr. Hagel. The former senator compounded his insensitivity by voting against the Armenian Genocide bill in the Senate.

Topics: Chuck Hagel

Now, as a result, a powerful ally has rushed to the rescue of the Armenians: “What Chuck Hagel said in his press conference in Armenia in 2005 regarding the Genocide of the Armenians by Turks is shameful,” said Walter Reich, a former director of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. “In his forthcoming confirmation hearings, senators should confront him with what he said and should expect him to address it. It is a disgrace and a disservice to the memory of the victims to say that their murder should be forgotten in the service of the peace process, as if a real peace process is possible if one hides or ignores or mischaracterizes what actually happened,” Reich said

It is better said than any Armenian could have formulated it. It is a very happy coincidence that Jewish leaders have taken up our cause, of course not without self-interest. But that’s the nature of politics and we can only be thankful to them for articulating so forcefully the Cause of the Armenian Genocide.

Now comes the moment of truth; Mr. Hagel has apologized to the Jewish and gay lobbies, he has yet to make a statement about his scathing remarks on the Armenian Genocide. We can easily extrapolate the reason why he has been silent so far on the Armenian issue, after so much outcry. The answer is simple; those lobbies are powerful enough that every politician has to reckon with. What clout do the Armenians wield in the US and the Caucasus region? The answer to that question alone will determine Mr. Hagel’s actions and behavior.

Armenian lobbying groups are not entirely in harmony — the scandal about the Genocide Museum is the hallmark of our weakness. Besides, large contingents of Armenians have been voting with their pocket books, with little or no regard about this country’s problems and exigencies in Armenia. President Obama won the election for his second term by empowering a coalition of Latinos, blacks, gays, immigrants and the dispossessed, while Tea Party zealots and unelected neo-cons took for granted that they owned the country.Where were the Armenians in the election shuffle? Some were trapped in “single issue syndrome,” others were out of sync with the political currents and crying needs of Armenia and the Genocide recognition. This situation can only teach one lesson; unless we mobilize the masses for political action, Mr. Hagel, and for that matter, any other politicians will never oblige.

On the other side of the equation is Turkey’s growing political clout in the world scene and Azerbaijan’s dangerous escalation of militarization, while Armenia’s work force abandons the country in droves and Diasporan armchair politicians have only criticism to direct at their homeland, without any actual input. But there is a silver lining in Chuck Hagel’s nomination yet that cannot be viewed as an isolated issue. It has to be analyzed within the context of broader political developments.

When the first President George Bush was elected, he promised a “gentler, kinder America.” But all we witnessed was a series of wars and bloodbaths around the world, especially with the election of the younger Bush, who became a hostage to the neo-con cabal, and fell into the trap which President Eisenhower had warned against: the takeover of the country by the military-industrial complex. Economic collapse, insecurity and instability around the world became the standard and pessimism reigned.

President Obama was elected with the promise of improving the economy, overhauling the healthcare system and winding down the senseless wars abroad. His opponent, Mitt. Romney, was promising $15 billion more to the  Army, which did not know what to do with it. That was, of course, in line with the neo-con policies of supplying
cannon fodder for the growing military-industrial complex.

Chuck Hagel was chosen first as a Republican, to deflect criticism against the administration when it takes up the task of sizing down the Armed Forces, to become leaner yet more efficient and affordable.

In his inaugural speech, President Obama stated: “We, the people, still believe that enduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war […] We are also the heirs of those who won peace and not just the war, who turned sworn enemies into the surest friends.”

These statements introduce monumental strategic changes to the White House world views. Mr. Hagel fits in the perspective of the president’s policies. Plus, as Bill Keller stated in his op-ed piece in the January 20 issue of the New York Times, Obama’s foreign and defense policies are directed from the White House.

President Obama seems to have subscribed to Moshe Dayan’s statement, “If you want to make peace, you don’t talk to your friends; you talk to your enemies.”

If this peaceful policy is implemented, we can see a relaxation in the intensifying Cold War with Russia over the plans to use Turkish territory to install new missile systems aimed at Moscow. We can also anticipate further diplomacy with Iran, rather than threats whose fallout could be disastrous for Armenia.

Currently Washington has taken a neutral position between Japan and China over the dispute of coastal islands.

Since Mr. Hagel is amenable to develop his views, and since he can only implement the president’s policies, we may expect some light at the end of the tunnel. The secretary of defense can no longer be a loose canon; he has to implement the president’s policies. While it is true that Mr. Obama still hesitates to use the word “genocide” with
regard to Armenian history, his views thus far are closer to the historical truth uttered by any US president, with the exception of Ronald Reagan.

Hagel’s nomination still remains a moral and political dilemma until he makes good on our expectations.