Chuck Hagel says he can't remember if he called the U.S. State Department "an adjunct of the Israeli foreign minister's office" in the Q&A following a March 2007 speech at Rutgers University, but that he repudiates the words all the same. Which makes him a crank who lacks even the courage of his convictions.
And he's going to be the next U.S. secretary of defense?
Lest readers miss Mr. Hagel's idea of a literary allusion, it's to Pat Buchanan's 1990 outburst that the U.S. Congress was "Israeli-occupied territory." At least Pitchfork Pat had a point in the sense that the Congress is overwhelmingly pro-Israel. Calling the State Department an adjunct of the Israeli foreign ministry is like accusing the BBC of a pro-Israel bias: The only people who think that are the ones who find Al Jazeera too mild for their tastes.
By now, Mr. Hagel's habit of pulling Buchanans when it comes to the subject of Israel isn't exactly news. Still, there's an unappreciated irony in having him accuse the Israelis of excessive influence-peddling in Washington when he was giving a speech under the auspices of Iranian influence peddlers.
Specifically, Mr. Hagel's Rutgers speech was co-sponsored by the university's Center for Middle Eastern Studies, chaired at the time by an Iranian-American academic named Hooshang Amirahmadi. The Middle Eastern Studies department was, in turn, generously funded by the New York-based Alavi Foundation, whose nominal purpose is to promote the teaching of Islamic culture and Persian civilization.
But Alavi was something else entirely. In December 2009, Farshid Jahedi, its president, pleaded guilty to a count of obstructing justice by destroying documents, after the feds charged the foundation with being a front group for the Iranian government and seized foundation assets in the U.S. worth about $500 million.
"For two decades," charged U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, "the Alavi Foundation's affairs have been directed by various Iranian officials, including Iranian ambassadors to the United Nations, in violation of a series of American laws."
The charges arose from a grand jury subpoena concerning Alavi's relationship to Iran's Bank Melli, which is under U.S., U.K. and EU sanctions. Mark Dubowitz of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies describes Bank Melli as "one of Iran's most critical access points to the global financial system, enabling Tehran's world-wide network of money laundering, terrorism financing and proliferation-related transactions."
As for Mr. Amirahmadi, he is currently running as a long-shot candidate to succeed Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president of Iran. Though he portrays himself as a reformist, Iranian-Americans who follow him describe him as a "Rafsanjanist" eager to make the regime's case in Washington. In 2009, the New York Post quoted Mr. Amirahmadi as saying that "Iran has not been involved in any terrorist organization," and that "neither Hezbollah nor Hamas are terrorist organizations."
At the time of his speech, Mr. Hagel was a member of the Senate's Intelligence Committee. The Alavi Foundation had been under suspicion by the feds since at least 2003. Mr. Amirahmadi makes no secret of his political leanings and ambitions. Did nobody on Mr. Hagel's or the Committee's staff vet his speaking gigs before he gave them? And what does he think today about lending his prestige to Mr. Amirahmadi and his department?
Those are questions to which the Senate ought to have answers before it considers a floor vote on Mr. Hagel's nomination. Over the weekend Sen. John McCain all but conceded that Republicans didn't have the appetite for a filibuster and that Mr. Hagel would be confirmed. That may be right as a (self-fulfilling) prediction. But there's an issue of character that needs to be addressed. To wit, does a senator who denounces Israeli influence-peddling but abets Iranian influence-peddling have the judgment to serve as U.S. secretary of defense?
There is also a question of the character of the Senate. Democrats are complaining that the effort to filibuster Mr. Hagel's nomination is unprecedented and obstructionist. That's rich coming from Democrats who effectively filibustered John Bolton's nomination to be U.N. ambassador in 2005 by refusing to vote for cloture. Among those voting against cloture were then Sens. Barack Obama of Illinois, Hillary Clinton of New York, and Harry Reid of Nevada.
Now some Republicans are saying that a president deserves an up-or-down vote on his cabinet picks. That sounds like a stand on principle, but it's political capitulation. To quote someone who knows something about this:
"The vote we are about to take . . . is about whether the Senate will allow the President to dictate to a co-equal branch of government how . . . to fulfill our constitutional responsibility under the advice and consent clause. It is that basic. I believe it is totally unacceptable for the President of the United States, Democrat or Republican—and both have tried—to dictate to the Senate how he, the president, thinks we should proceed."
That was Joe Biden, voting against cloture for Mr. Bolton. What's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. Republicans have a duty to stop a manifestly unqualified nominee.