The Cable

Friends of Hagel gear up for a fight

Former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel hasn't been nominated for anything, but the onslaught of attacks against him have prompted his friends and supporters to begin a campaign to respond and defend the potential next defense secretary.

President Barack Obama is not expected to announce new nominations for national security cabinet positions until at least Dec. 21 and perhaps later than that. But amid reports that Hagel is Obama's leading choice for the Pentagon, a group of activists, Senate staffers, and partisan journalists have already begun a campaign to paint him as an anti-Semitic, anti-Israel, anti-sanctions, defense cutter.

The Weekly Standard quoted an anonymous Senate aide calling Hagel an anti-Semite last week. Buzzfeed reported about Jewish leaders criticizing Hagel at a White House Hannukah party. The Washington Post ran an editorial today entitled, "Chuck Hagel is not the right choice for defense secretary." The Post's Right Turn blog has been collecting and documenting opposition to Hagel in the Jewish community, including from the Anti-Defamation League.

On Thursday, the Emergency Committee for Israel, which counts among its board members Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol, will begin running this television ad criticizing Hagel's opposition to unilateral sanctions against Iran. "For secretary of defense, Chuck Hagel is not a responsible option," the ad claims.

The effort to intimidate the White House into not nominating Hagel seems similar to the successful effort that ended only one week ago to convince the White House it would be too time-consuming and troublesome to seek Senate confirmation of U.N. ambassador Susan Rice for secretary of state. But while the actual Senate opposition to Hagel is not as strong as it was for Rice, his ability to fight the negative publicity campaign is also minimal next to the resources Rice had at her disposal.

Hagel has no large staff, no official administration position, and no communications infrastructure that is actively working to push back against bad press. The Cable spoke with several of Hagel's friends and former staffers, and they are starting to organize an effort to defend the former Nebraska senator, who they believe is being treated unfairly.

"Those misrepresenting Senator Hagel's positions on this are in the gutter," said Andrew Parasiliti, who was Hagel's foreign policy advisor from 2001-2005 and is now editor of Al-Monitor. "That he is anti-Israel is complete nonsense, not at all supported by his record. He knows the issues and the players there as well as anyone in Washington.  Those tossing around these accusations can't hold a candle to his record of service and expertise on national security."

Hagel supporters have also begun to circulate a memo called "Facts on Chuck Hagel," which is meant to rebut, among other things, the charge Hagel is not supportive enough of Israel because he has declined to sign several letters supported by some pro-Israel groups and because he once referred to the pro-Israel lobby as the "Jewish lobby."

"I don't think it's fair," Richard Armitage, former deputy secretary of state in the George W. Bush administration, told The Cable in an interview. "I've known him quite closely for the last 15 years and I've never heard him utter any anti-Semitic statement. If he used the term 'Jewish lobby, that's a poor choice of words and I'm sure he'll speak for himself on that."

Armitage also pushed back against the reports quoting anonymous sources criticizing Hagel's management style.

"I happen to know the guy. He's not owned by anybody, he happens to think for himself, and this apparently causes some fear in some cases. He's got an unerring bullshit sensor, he's got real stones, and he doesn't mind telling you what his opinion is, which will stand him in very good stead in the Pentagon if the president nominates him," Armitage said.

Other criticisms of Hagel include that he has made comments supporting smaller Pentagon budgets. But Armitage said that Pentagon budget cuts are coming with or without Hagel and that Hagel is perfectly prepared to oversee that process.

"Chuck Hagel might be just the guy to come in to steward the Pentagon through what's going to be a tough budget environment," he said. "He is a straight thinker, he thinks for himself, and if that makes him subject to criticism from either party, so be it."

If Hagel is nominated, a series of Republican foreign-policy heavyweights from previous administrations are preparing to come to his defense.

"Senator Hagel is one of the most well-respected and thoughtful voices on both foreign and domestic policy," retired Gen. Brent Scowcroft, a former Republican national security advisor, told The Cable. "At an uncertain time in America-with a significant debt burden, a polarized Congress, and a host of challenges facing the international community, I am confident Senator Hagel will provide a vibrant, no-nonsense voice of logic and leadership to the United States."

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The Cable

Three State Department officials resign over Benghazi

Three State Department officials have resigned in the wake of a State Department report that faulted the Diplomatic Security and Near Eastern Affairs bureaus for security that was "grossly inadequate" to deal with the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi that killed Amb. Chris Stevens and three other Americans.

Former Under Secretary of State Tom Pickering and former Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen briefed reporters Wednesday on the unclassified version of the report of the State Department's independent Accountability Review Board, which was set up to investigate the attacks. 

The Cable has confirmed that Eric Boswell, the assistant secretary of state for diplomatic security, and Charlene Lamb, the deputy assistant secretary of state in charge of embassy security, both resigned Wednesday after the issuance of the report. The third official who resigned was from the bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, officials said, although the name of that official has not yet been released.

"Systemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies at senior levels within two bureaus of the State Department ... resulted in a Special Mission security posture that was inadequate for Benghazi and grossly inadequate to deal with the attack that took place," the report stated.

"We fixed [the blame] at the assistant secretary level, where the decision making takes place, where the rubber hits the road," Pickering said Wednesday.

Officials told The Cable that NEA Assistant Secretary of State Beth Jones was not the third official who has resigned over the incident. Under Secretary of State for Management Patrick Kennedy testified Dec. 10 that he was inclined to support the Benghazi mission's request for more security, indicating he was involved in the decision making. He is not expected to resign.

There was no "willful misconduct or intentional disregard" of policies and procedures, Pickering said, although he said "certain state department bureau level officials in senior positions" failed to used their leadership authority.

"There were performance inadequacies," he said, "Frankly, the State Department had not given the mission in Benghazi the security, both in personnel and resources, that they needed."

Mullen said that security at the Benghazi mission "fell through the cracks bureaucratically" because the mission was categorized as a temporary facilities and he added that the lack of a sufficient number of security agents there was "a major factor" in the security failures at the site.

That conclusion calls into question the Dec. 10 testimony of Lamb, who said before the House Oversight Committee "We had the correct number of assets in Benghazi on the night of 9/11."

Committee Chairman Darryl Issa (R-CA), issued a statement Wednesday saying that the report calls into question the testimony of Kennedy and Lamb on Dec. 10 and accused them to being party to "an intentional effort to mislead the American people."

Issa also criticized the board for not investigating the perpetrators of the attack. Pickering said that was outside the board's purview and mandate.

"We were not asked to conduct an investigation into the attacks to find out who the perpetrators were or their motives," said Pickering, saying that was the job of the intelligence community.

Mullen also said the board had concluded that the Defense Department was not in position to respond to the attacks that night.

"We looked at the force posture and it is not reasonable they could have responded in any kind of timely way," Mullen said.

UPDATE: The NEA official who is resigning is Deputy Assistant Secretary Raymond Maxwell.

"The ARB identified the performance of four officials, three in the Bureau of the Diplomatic Security and one in the Bureau of Near East Asia Affairs," said Nuland. "The Secretary has accepted Eric Boswell's decision to resign as Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security, effective immediately. The other three individuals have been relieved of their current duties. All four individuals have been placed on administrative leave pending further action."