After Chuck Hagel was nominated for defense secretary in the Obama administration, some surmised that his leadership would bring a dramatic shift in U.S. policy toward Iran and Israel. However, even if one considers Hagel’s previous political acts, it is unrealistic to imagine that once he becomes part of the administration, he will be able to fully follow his beliefs. However, there is no doubt that Hagel is an interesting choice for the position, and he will try to incorporate his views in the official policy toward Iran and Israel.
Here are the four ways he's likely influence the policy towards these two countries.
1. A more balanced approach in the Israel-Palestine conflict
In the past, Hagel was a strong opponent of Israel's policies and was one of 12 senators who did not sign the petition in 2006 that urged the EU to put Hezbollah to its terrorist organization list. Moreover, in 2009 he publicly supported negotiations with Hamas by calling on President Obama to open the negotiations and signing the letter backing up that call. Finally, he once said that he is a “senator from Nebraska, not Israel,” calling for more balanced approach to the conflict between Israel and Palestine, making many believe that he will have more sympathy for the Palestinian side.
2. War with Iran as an unviable option
During the Bush administration Hagel proclaimed that he thoroughly believes that war with Iran is not going to prevent it from developing its military nuclear program further. Moreover, he voted against sanctions on Iran, expressing his concerns that negotiations would only jeopardize the negotiation process. However, since his nomination became public, he has softened his attitude, and now is closer to Obama’s official position, calling the military strike “the last resort.”
3. Nuclear arms reductions
Hagel was co-author of a May 2012 study by the advocacy group Global Zero that called for an 80% reduction of U.S. nuclear weapons and the elimination of all nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missiles. The group argued that with the Cold War over, the U.S. needs no more than 900 total nuclear weapons. Now, the United States and Russia have about 5,000 each, either deployed or in reserve. Both countries are on track to reduce the deployed strategic warheads to 1,550 by 2018 — the number set in the New START treaty the Senate ratified in December 2010. With an attitude like this, it might be concluded that Hagel is personally against nuclear weapons, and therefore would not be supportive for Iran developing one, nor Israel possessing them either (though it does). Not even for the sake of deterrence politics.
4. Defense budget cuts
“The Defense Department, I think in many ways, has been bloated,” he told Financial Times last year. “So I think the Pentagon needs to be pared down.”
We will see how he is actually going to cut spending once he gets into the office, but it is presumable that with the budget cuts, military activities of the U.S. will decrease as well. In the case of Israel and Iran, that probably means that there simply would not be funds to support military campaigns against either Iran or helping Israel in its military endeavors.
Because of the reasons above, one can argue that the U.S. will approach the Middle East differently when Hagel takes office. Moreover, the policies will shift under the beliefs of the new Defense Secretary and that might be exactly what Obama had in mind when he nominated Hagel for this position. This might be very beneficial for the U.S. foreign policy as well, as their major partners, namely the Europeans, are more and more taking Palestinian side in the conflict, which makes the U.S.’s full support for Israel unsustainable in foreign affairs.