Critics of Chuck Hagel’s nomination as defense secretary claim he is anti-gay, anti-military, anti-Semitic, and a host of other antis.
It’s all a dodge. The critics, led by William Kristol of The Weekly Standard, are out to sink Hagel’s nomination because the former Nebraska senator is a warrior who knows and understands the true cost of war and is reluctant to use force except as the last resort.
Hagel served with distinction and honor in Vietnam. He came home with shrapnel in his chest, blown eardrums, bad burns, and a healthy skepticism about war.
Note the word: Skepticism; it doesn’t translate to opposition. “I’m not a pacifist,” Hagel says, “I believe in using force, but only after a very careful decision-making process.”
That’s Barack Obama’s view, too, and the president has the prerogative to name whomever he wants to advise him.
Apparently, though, neoconservatives don’t agree that the president has wide latitude in choosing members of his Cabinet. These military hawks seek instead to undo the results of the recent election and force an aggressive foreign and military policy upon a reluctant commander-in-chief (not unlike tea party members of Congress who continue to push their no-government policies despite the November electoral rout).
In a podcast Kristol revealed his motive in opposing Obama’s choice: “Chuck Hagel on Iran, on Israel, on foreign and defense policy issues in general is out of the mainstream; [he] really became a bitter opponent of U.S. power and authority in the world.”
Kristol’s mainstream, however, is not everyone else’s. Moreover, Kristol’s record as a pundit is less than stellar; he is the hawk who assured us in March 2003 that the Iraq War would be “a two-month war.”
Give or take a decade.
Kristol’s arrogant prediction wasn’t his only error; he led the charge of neocons who insisted that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. He didn’t.
Now, Kristol would have us bomb Iran immediately and invade Syria the day after.
Kristol is the most prominent face of the neocons, a group who never met a war it didn’t like. It’s easy for him, since he has never seen the face of war as Chuck Hagel has. As Nicholas Kristof put it in The New York Times: “How refreshing to imagine decisions about war made by brave doves rather than by chicken hawks.”
Of course, it’s not good PR to say you love war, so Kristol and his neocon allies have to fight the Hagel nomination on other grounds. Hence the charge of anti-Semitism.
The evidence: Hagel once referred once to the “Jewish lobby” rather than the “Israeli lobby” and that he has in the past criticized Israeli policies. Now, the term of art is “Israeli lobby,” if only because it is more accurate: Many of the most strident supporters of the current right-wing Israeli government are conservative Republicans, very few of whom are Jews.
But it’s not as if the term “Jewish lobby” is never used. A search of the Web site of the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reveals more entries for Jewish lobby than is humanly possible to count. And columnist Richard Cohen notes that an Israeli scholar writes of “the Jewish lobby in the U.S. Congress.
It is true that Hagel has refused, unlike most feckless politicians, to endorse wholeheartedly all the policies of the far-right government of Benjamin Netanyahu. Many Jews also criticize the current government; moreover, to label any criticism of Israel as anti-Semitic devalues the term in a world where anti-Semitism still exists.
The accusation of anti-gay is serious, and it is very touching indeed to see conservative Republicans slamming Hagel for comments he made fourteen years ago.
Those comments were, as Hagel now admits, “insensitive.” The former senator has apologized for them; he claims, “They do not reflect my views or the totality of my public record.”
Many in the nation have evolved on gay rights in the last fourteen years, and unless other, more recent evidence comes to the fore, Hagel should be given the benefit of the doubt.
But the anti-Semitism and anti-gay accusations are not the real issues. Rather, the neocons oppose Hagel for the same reason the president gave for nominating him: “Chuck knows that war is not an abstraction. He understands that sending young Americans to fight and bleed in the dirt and mud, that’s something we do only when it’s absolutely necessary.”