White House defends Chuck Hagel, cautiously

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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White House spokesman Jay Carney Thursday lauded former Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel, a former senator now being touted for the job of Pentagon chief.

“Sen. Hagel fought and bled for his country, he was an excellent senator, he served his country well” as a soldier, Carney said.

But until a candidate is formally nominated, “we’re not going to engage in that process, in a side-door way of talking about decisions on personnel that the president has not made or announced,” Carney said after praising Hagel.

So far, White House officials have not publicly worked to shield Hagel from criticism, or to whip up support among Democratic senators.

Some of Hagel’s supporters have spoken out in his favor, but many Democratic advocates and senators have been quiet.

When asked if the White House officials should protect potential candidates from rapid-fire criticism, Carney replied that “I’m not aware of any obligation to do anything beyond what we’ve been doing.”

Hagel has drawn criticism because of his stance in the long-standing conflict between Islamist movements and the democratic state of Israel.

In 1999, he was the only senator who did not sign an advertisement that urged the Russian government to counter discrimination against Jews in Russia.

Hegel has urged that the United States begins talks with hard-line Islamist groups, including the government of Iran and the leaders of the Hamas jihadi group.

In response, his critics say that advocates of talks with officials in Hamas, Iran and other hard-line Islamist and jihadi groups misunderstand the groups’ religious and ideological desire to expand Islamic rule into democratic Israel and other countries.

On Dec. 8, for example, Hamas chief Khalid Mishaal told a rally in the Gaza enclave on Israel’s border that “we will never recognize the legitimacy of the Israeli occupation and therefore there is no legitimacy for Israel, no matter how long it will take.”

“We fight the Zionists because they are conquerors and we will continue to fight anyone who takes our land and our holy places. … We will free Jerusalem inch by inch, stone by stone,” he said about Israel’s capital.

By hoping for negotiated peace deals, instead of preparing for a long struggle, advocates of talks merely spur further rocket and gun attacks against Western targets in the United States, Europe and Israel, say critics.

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