The Hagel Circus

NEW SLAUGHTERAs counter-productive as they are, I doubt Senate Republicans will block Chuck Hagel’s nomination to be Secretary of Defense. “The Club” may have become a rancid redoubt of bag men (and a few women) for special interests, but Hagel has far deeper roots and cred with that crowd than Susan Rice.

But there’s already enough cynical posturing in the air over this guy, a truly endangered species, a “moderate Republican”, that it’s worth commenting on a couple of things.

1: Hagel was absolutely right when he described Israel’s out-sized influence on Congress as the result of the “Jewish lobby”. There’s nothing anti-semitic about that at all, as moderate and liberal Jews have argued in his defense. It’s a simple fact of life, stated bluntly, which is to say, rarely. As an embattled democracy in a region of genuinely lunatic conservative religious tribalism Israel deserves special support and attention from American lawmakers, many of whom have constituents or constituents’ relatives living in Israel. But Hagel’s point was the monolithic influence of Israel’s pan-Jewish supporters. Specifically, hyper-conservative religious tribal factions over there … compounded by extraordinarily well-funded, like-minded stateside supporters/zealots, one of whom is named Sheldon Adelson. (Adelson being a guy who should fear Islamic jihadists less and prosecution under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act more). Looked at big picture, “Jewish” is a more appropriate description than “Israeli”. But Hagel’s now modified his verbiage to calm the precious feelings of the few.

Discussions of Israeli behavior — settlement building, third-class citizenship treatment of Arab laborers — invariably involves the same inflamed, paranoid rhetoric the right has deployed for decades, on so many other issues. “Weakness in the face of terrorism.” “Lack of respect for democracy.” I’m certain there’s also a variation on “our sacred Second Amendment rights” in there somewhere if you look deep enough.  Leaders like Benjamin Netanyahu retain power only by kow-towing to the most conservative, most militant, least tolerant and unyielding religious forces (some of whom, a lot like our chicken hawk neo-cons — Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney — were long exempt from actual military service).

By all accounts Barack Obama can barely stand the scent of so cynically compromised a politician as Netanyahu. But they’re stuck with each other. We can only imagine the constant horse-trading on intelligence and cyber-warfare that must go on to give Netanyahu something to tranquilize Israel’s “deep praying” bullet-avoiding zealots.

2: I have no illusions that Chuck Hagel represents a sea change in US policy toward Israel, or North Korea, or Iran, or … name the scary monster-under-the-bed of your choice. But a standard rule of foreign policy is a bit like the old “Fight Club” line. Namely that you never actually say a dramatic change is taking place. Instead, you just quietly play a smarter game than before, which in the wake of Rummy and Cheney and Paul Wolfowitz (all still held in esteem by current Republican Senate leadership) is a very low bar for improvement.

But I suspect Hagel is in step with Obama’s pretty obvious determination to develop broader means of avoiding multi-trillion dollar ground war fiascos — like Rumsfeld so appallingly botched and Hagel voted against. My guess is that Hagel too snickers at “statesmen” like Lindsey Graham and candidates like, well, every Tea Party-fearing Republican, thumping their pampered chests for a preemptive military “solution” to the Iran problem. Though far less heroic and visibly macho, espionage and cyber-warfare hold far better potential for controlling rogue states — conservative religious tribal and/or purely sociopathic — than another round of “shock and awe”.

3: On the topic of Graham: He continues to reassure FoxNews that he’ll keep the emergency brake on the whole damned government until he gets answers on Benghazi. Now, since the Hillary Clinton smackdown blew up in his face, he wants out-going Pentagon boss Leon Panetta to give him … something … anything … to hold against Democrats for the 2014 election cycle. Personally, I’m still waiting for Graham’s theory of why exactly “we were lied to”? Because in the middle of an election campaign Obama couldn’t risk admitting the truth, that terrorists — i.e. a bunch of thugs with machine guns — had attacked Americans somewhere in a violent region? If that’s his argument, I really did miss Obama’s solemn promise that no American would ever be harmed by terrorism ever again.

4: I like Hagel’s rather more sophisticated thinking on the deterrent effect of nuclear weapons. Have even the neo-cons run a simulation in which an attack on the US is thwarted by the possibility the bad guys in question will get … nuked?

12 thoughts on “The Hagel Circus

  1. PM says:

    You didn’t mention John McCain in your post. What a bitter old man he has become, to the point that he is giving curmudgeons a bad name….

  2. Joe Loveland says:

    The dumbest thing about the Hagel questioning: Most of the criticism of Hagel has to do with foreign policy, not military affairs. Foreign policy is mostly set by the President and the State Department. The Defense Secretary’s job is to prepare for wars and execute wars, not to set foreign policy. So, ask Hagel what it will take to win the wars of the future, and things like that. Don’t ask him how to negotiate with Iran, because that’s not the Pentagon’s job.

    Even more fundamentally, I get bored to death of these confirmation hearings, whether prosecuted by Democrats or Republicans. Unless the nominee is mentally imbalanced or otherwise demonstrably dangerous, confirm them. The fact that you disagree with the nominee is not reason enough to hold them up. Of course you disagree with the nominee, he/she was nominated by a President who you disagree with.

    Elections have consequences, so the people who win elections should be able to have their staff put in place as soon as possible. On the long list of Congress’s time-wasting endeavors, confirmation hearings are at the top of the list.

      1. Joe Loveland says:

        Sure did. And this is one time I actually agree with your standard “both sides do it” response. It’s almost always a complete waste of time. Even if you defeat one person you disagree with, you just get another person you disagree with. So what’s the point?

      2. PM says:

        I also agree. Generally, all President’s should be allowed the Cabinet/administration they wish.

        Both sides play this game, which has been getting worse over time.

  3. john sherman says:

    The thing I have against confirmation hearings is that the nominee is set up to be a pinata to be whacked at by every megalomaniac thug on the committee. I would once like to hear a nominee begin a reply to a grand standing question with, “You stupid son of a bitch. . .”

    Two points ought to have been made:

    (1) Anybody who backed the invasion of Iraq and claimed it would be all peachy-keen has no standing to talk about foreign policy, or anything else deeper than “How about them Vikes?”

    (2) Thinking, like many Israelis, that Netanyahu is an asshole is not the same as anti-Semitism.

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