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Former Secretary of State and retired Army Gen. Colin Powell offered a powerful endorsement Sunday on NBC’s Meet the Press for former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel to take over as defense secretary.
The former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff offered his support for Hagel, a Republican, following promises from senators in his party to block President Obama’s nomination. Some of those critics have said Hagel’s resume -- which includes combat in Vietnam, a senior appointment with the Department of Veterans Affairs and a seat on the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations -- is too thin for the job as Pentagon chief.
“I’ll tell you who thinks [his background] makes him a good candidate for Secretary of Defense, the men and women of the armed forces of the United States and their parents, who know this is a guy who will be very careful about putting their lives at risk,” Powell told NBCs David Gregory
“He put his life at risk [in Vietnam],” Powell continued. “He knows what war is. He’ll fight a war if necessary, but he’s a guy who will do it with great deliberation and care.”
Powell pointed out that Hagel, since leaving the Senate, has taught at Georgetown University’s foreign service school, co-chairs the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board and serves on the Defense Policy Board.
Hagel has received support from many former senior officials in the national security and diplomatic corps, including former U.S. ambassadors to Israel, Powell said.
The retired Army four-star described Hagel as a man who speaks his mind, which “sometimes gets him in trouble with people who don’t think he should speak his mind. But he says what he believes and sticks with it.”
Hagel is “supremely qualified” to head the Pentagon, Powell said. He predicted Hagel would be confirmed by the Senate.
Powell slammed those who have suggested Hagel is an anti-Semite for once using the phrase “Jewish lobby” when discussing lawmakers’ fear of offending pro-Israel groups. The head of the Anti-Defamation League called the remark “borderline anti-Semitic.” Certain organizations and pundits also have questioned Hagel’s support of Israel because of stands he has taken or votes cast in the Senate.
Powell defended Hagel on Sunday against those claims, saying they go beyond legitimate criticism.
"When they go over the edge and say because Chuck said 'Jewish lobby' he's anti-Semitic, that's disgraceful," Powell said. "We shouldn't have that kind of language in our dialogue."
Hagel had used the phrase once during an interview with author Aaron David Miller for his book “The Much Too Promised Land.” Miller has since defended Hagel, pointing out that Hagel used the phrase once and later described it as the “Israel lobby.”
The former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff dismissed the debate.
"Chuck should have said 'Israeli lobby' not 'Jewish lobby' and perhaps he needs to write on a blackboard 100 times, 'It is the Israeli lobby,' " he said.
Powell said that’s not an unusual slip, and pointed out that a recent edition of the Israeli paper “Haaretz” also used the phrase Jewish lobby instead of Israel lobby.
One of the earliest reported uses of the phrase in terms of politics, however, may have been in 1982, when the head of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee credited his organization with defeating Rep. Paul Findley, R-Ill., who suggested the U.S. should talk with the Palestine Liberation Organization.
“This is a case where the Jewish lobby made a difference,” AIPAC Executive Director Thomas Dine told a Jewish group in Texas only days after the election went to AIPAC’s favored candidate, Dick Durbin, an Illinois senator. “We beat the odds and defeated Findley.”