I’ve been watching the Senate Committee that’s been grilling Hagel as party of his confirmation hearing for Secretary of Defense. It’s difficult to spell out all the agendas going on here. It seems to be a combination of revenge, neocon fantasy memes, and pro-Israel jingoism. In short, it’s more hyped-up melodrama than substance. It also has convinced me that it’s time for Senators Lindsey Graham and John McCain to retire. So, I’m going to try to link to some of the more bizarre hyperventilating by the revenge and war-thirsty set of Senators. Much of it is coming from the same folks that drug us into the Iraq mistake. It appears that some of the criticism is based in the same kinds of hyped up Islamophobia and blood thirst that characterize the Cheney crowd. Here’s an example of neocon drivel.
The latest example: neoconservative Kenneth Timmerman writing today in the Washington Times that “the Iranian rulers love Chuck Hagel.” Timmerman also writes that he is “Tehran’s best friend in Washington.” That line is part and parcel of the larger smear campaign waged ever since Hagel’s name was floated. Neoconservatives like Bill Kristol have accused Hagel of being “pro-appeasement of Iran.”
Timmerman’s column offers no evidence for his assertions, as is to be expected. But it’s a useful window into how the right is trying to torpedo Hagel’s nomination.
The reason why Hagel is being smeared as an “appeaser” of Iran is because he has voiced mild skepticism over how U.S. policy towards the country has been conducted. In the past, he has been skeptical of unilateral U.S. sanctions on the country and has cautioned against hastily rushing into a military attack. But he has also backtracked on many of his heterodox positions. The backtracking is the price Hagel had to pay to get nominated in the face of vociferous opposition from neoconservatives like Timmerman.
The personal revenge scenario seems to revolve around John McCain who might as well be singing “He was my man, but he done me wrong” as he hammered away Hagel today. He wants some one, any one, to vindicate him and his continual war drum beat for Iraq. Evidently, the war came between the two BFFs. (You can also view Hagel’s opening pitch at this WAPO/Cizilla link.)
The most obvious break in the McCain-Hagel relationship came in the early 2000s over the war in Iraq. While Hagel, like McCain, voted for the use of force resolution against Iraq, he was always wary of America going it alone in the conflict and, as time wore on, became a more and more outspoken critic of the war.
McCain, on the other hand, remained a stalwart defender of the necessity of the war and went on later in the decade to become the face of the surge strategy to put more troops in the country. Hagel opposed that strategy and panned it repeatedly.
“Quite simply, the split began over the length and cost of the Iraq war and Hagel’s decision to not support the surge, which John took as a personal insult,” said one McCain ally granted anonymity to speak candidly about the relationship. “It’s very sad.”
While a disagreement over the right course of action in Iraq might have been the biggest factor in the dissolution of the friendship, politics also played a role in the split.
While Hagel was intimately involved in McCain’s 2000 presidential bid — he served as national co-chairman and was in New Hampshire the night the Arizona Senator won the Granite State presidential primary — by the time McCain ran for president again in 2008 Hagel was much less on board.
Not only did he not endorse McCain, but Hagel also didn’t entirely dismiss the idea of serving as then Sen. Barack Obama’s vice presidential nominee. (Hagel’s wife endorsed Obama in the 2008 race.)
Then, in 2012, Hagel endorsed the candidacy of former Nebraska Sen. Bob Kerrey (D) in the Cornhusker State’s open seat Senate race, a move that badly rankled McCain, who had endorsed Kerrey’s opponent — Republican Deb Fischer — and campaigned with her the day after Hagel made his endorsement of Kerrey public.
Adding to their policy and political disagreements, there was (and is) the fact that McCain and Hagel are similar enough in terms of their personalities — hard charging, irascible, certain that their deeply-held beliefs are correct — that they were always destined to be either best friends or the exact opposite. Put simply: The very personality traits that made McCain and Hagel fast friends in the mid 1990s is what has driven them apart in the last few years.
Miss Lindsey has gotten the vapors over the nomination of Senator Hagel and appears to be worried he’s anti-Semitic. He’s probably more worried about an evangelical/tea party candidate primarying him if he doesn’t support the so-called “holy land” and rebuilding of the temple that’s going to bring on the end times. He’s also probably playing the role of McCain henchmen too. I have no idea why any one in a cabinet position has to take a loyalty oath to a foreign country given they’ll be enforcing the president’s policies anyway, but there it is. He’s not loyal enough to Israel’s right to do anything it wants to without question.
Miss Lindsey even said he got “chills up his spine”. Again, Lindsey appears to want some kind of loyalty pledge to an ally but, again, a foreign country.
The weirdest moment with Miss Lindsey came when he asked Hagel to name names. This rather took me back to the days of black-listing but the right wing appears to find it a big win for the one with the chilled spine. He also wanted Hagel to name the particular lobby and made sure to list the right-wing christian groups that are just dying for Israel to build that temple so the big war can get started.
Sen. Lindsey Graham grilled Hagel over a 2006 interview in which he said that the “pro-Israel lobby intimidates a lot of people” in Congress.
“Name one person here who’s been intimidated by the Jewish lobby,” Graham demanded. “Name one dumb thing we’ve been goaded into doing due to pressure by the Israeli or Jewish lobby.”
“I don’t know,” Hagel replied. “I didn’t have a specific person in mind.”
“So you agree that it was a dumb thing to say?”
“Yes,” Hagel admitted. “I’ve already said that.”
Right after characterizing this exchange as Lady Lindsey ‘crushing’ Hagel, we get this statement written by the article’s author Grace Wyler. It seemed to me that Wyler just proved Hagel’s point.
Pro-Israel groups and Republican defense hawks have leveled harsh criticism against Hagel in recent week. In addition to the “Israel lobby” comment, their grievances include Hagel’s past opposition to multilateral sanctions on Iran and his support for open negotiations with Hamas.
For the life of me, I cannot understand why we just can’t be on the side of peace and human rights instead of blindly supporting any country. But then, I don’t believe in any weird end times story that doesn’t come from scientific evidence and I don’t want to see perpetual war and human rights violations anywhere in the world. I frankly don’t care who the perpetrator is, it’s freaking wrong. I don’t know about you but I hold people I call my friends to higher standards than people I wouldn’t even want to talk to on the street. Besides, the current Israeli government is a put-together coalition of a lot of neocon and right wing groups that doesn’t appear to really represent that many Israeli citizens who would like to see more diplomacy and negotiations.
John Avalon has an interesting post at CNN called “A reality check for Chuck Hagel bashers”. It’s worth a read.
But let’s be honest: Hagel’s cardinal sin among neo-conservatives was his outspoken opposition to Bush-era foreign policy in Iraq and his decision to break Republican ranks and not support the 2007 Iraq surge.
Good people can disagree on policy and personnel; my wife and I disagree on the Hagel nomination. A confirmation hearing can usefully clear up any sincere questions. But a look at the facts, armed with a sense of perspective, suggests that it might be Hagel’s most vociferous critics who are outside the historic mainstream, not Hagel himself.
Hagel’s unvarnished independence is well-known in Washington, but his opposition to the quagmire of the Iraq war is not idiosyncratic. It is philosophically consistent with being a small government conservative and a Vietnam veteran, suspicious of calls to war by people who won’t have to serve in the combat zone.
He still carries shrapnel in his chest from being wounded in Vietnam. After his war service, he said, “I made myself a promise that if I ever got out of that place and was ever in a position to do something about war — so horrible, so filled with suffering — I would do whatever I could to stop it. I have never forgotten that promise.”
This doesn’t mean Hagel is some kind of pacifist. But as the first enlisted man to serve in combat to be nominated for secretary of defense, he does have a grunt’s-eye view of war and a commitment to making it a last resort, consistent with our national interest — hence his reasonable regrets about the invasion of Iraq and his caution about charging into a war with Iran.
Again, the beltway believes that this all started back in the Bush days. One interesting right wing freak out mentioned by Avalon particularly disturbed me.
And yet, the accusation that Hagel is out of the mainstream on Iran and Israel percolates because it is in the talking points. An early broadside came from The Weekly Standard, which published an anonymous e-mail, allegedly from a Senate aide, reading, “Send us Hagel and we will make sure every American knows he is an anti-Semite.”This is a serious accusation and a transparent attempt to intimidate. Anti-Semitism is a rightfully toxic charge. Israel is America’s closest ally in the world, along with the UK. But in a recent interview with his hometown paper in Lincoln, Nebraska, Hagel said that his record demonstrates “unequivocal, total support for Israel.”
In his memoir, Hagel devotes an entire chapter to “The Holy Land: Israel and The Arabs,” full of calls for negotiated peace with statements like this: “There is one important given that is not negotiable: A comprehensive solution should not include any compromise regarding Israel’s Jewish identity, which must be assured. The Israeli people must be free to live in peace and security.”
For what it’s worth, five former ambassadors to Israel have endorsed Hagel’s nomination, and former Israeli Consul Gen. Alon Pinkas has clarified that Hagel is “not anti-Israel.”
This is another conversation that bothers me. I have no idea what you can’t be critical of Israeli policies without being labelled anti-Israel or anti-Semitic. I think the best thing for Israel would be lasting peace in the middle east. I don’t think everything they do works to that end. This includes putting a huge prison-like wall around an entire populace, stopping humanitarian aid, and breaking agreements by allowing settlements in places that settlements should not be. I think their current government is what we’d see if Dick Cheney were ever to creep into the presidency frankly. Just because I think the Bush/Cheney years were basically indefensible does not mean I hate my country or myself as an American.
So, in some ways, this hearing is simply a replay of NeoCon trying to justify their actions that every one pretty much sees as misguided now with the exception of the right wing. It’s another example of how the Republican party is not going to change and how many Democrats enable their silliness on so many issues. Again, this display was a great argument for the people in Arizona and South Carolina to retire their senators and spare the rest of us this kind of reverse morality play.