Why Hagel Matters


According to various reports, Obama will nominate Chuck Hagel for defense secretary. Beinart puts the nomination in context:

What makes Hagel so important, and so threatening to the Republican foreign-policy elite, is that he is one of the few prominent Republican-aligned politicians and commentators (George Will and Francis Fukuyama are others, but such voices are rare) who was intellectually changed by Iraq. And Hagel was changed, in large measure, because he bore within him intellectual (and physical) scar tissue from Vietnam. As my former colleague John Judis captured brilliantly in a 2007 New Republic profile, the Iraq War sparked something visceral in Hagel, as the former Vietnam rifleman realized that, once again, detached and self-interested elites were sending working-class kids like himself to die in a war they couldn’t honestly defend. 

To my mind, this is his core qualification. Unlike so many of the lemmings and partisans of Washington DC, Hagel actually called out the catastrophe of the Iraq War as it happened. The neocons cannot forgive him for exposing what they wrought on the nation and the world. For good measure, he has a Purple Heart and has served in combat. Not easy to say about most of the Iraq War armchair warriors and war criminals.

Which is to say, as Chuck Todd said this morning, this nomination is about accountability for the Iraq War. All those ducking responsibility for the calamity – Abrams, Kristol, Stephens – are determined that those of us honest enough to resist, having supported in the first place, be erased from history. Or smeared as anti-Semites. Or given that epithet which impresses them but baffles me: "outside the mainstream". Rephrase that as – after initial support – being "outside the Iraq War mainstream" in DC – and you have a major reason to back him. Ambers explains the personal background:

Why isn't Obama replacing Panetta with a Democrat? Simple: Of all the possible candidates, he trusts Hagel. Hagel was the head of Obama's intelligence advisory board, and was a frequent informal "red cell" brain that Obama privately turned to when he wanted a second opinion. He has been picking Hagel's brain on subjects as diverse as Afghanistan, China, special operations force posture, and intelligence for several years now. (Hagel has all the required clearances.)

Greenwald's view:

All of the Democratic alternatives to Hagel who have been seriously mentioned are nothing more than standard foreign policy technocrats, fully on-board with the DC consensus regarding war, militarism, Israel, Iran, and the Middle East. That's why Kristol, the Washington Post and other neocons were urging Obama to select them rather than Hagel: because those neocons know that, unlike Hagel, these Democratic technocrats pose no challenge whatsoever to their agenda of sustaining destructive US policy in the Middle East and commitment to endless war.

Kristol fumes:

[I]f you read the oeuvre of Hagel's defenders, you'll see that Hagel must be appointed in order to spite many of his critics, whom they deeply dislike. Hagel’s defenders are welcome to their dislikes. But dislike of hawks, neocons, or friends of Israel isn't really a good reason to select Chuck Hagel. And there's something comical about many of the defenses of Hagel. His defenders rise up in high dudgeon to condemn Hagel's critics as smear merchants for criticizing Hagel as anti-Israel and soft on Iran—and then, if they're among the honest Hagel defenders, they praise Hagel for being anti-Israel and soft on Iran.

The language! We're not talking about dislike of people. We're talking about dislike of the mindset that got us into the Iaq War. We're talking about dislike of those who refuse to take moral responibility for anything and actually believe, with the blood of tens of thousands on their hands, they have some right to question a veteran with two Purple Hearts. They need a reality check: Obama won the election, not Romney. It says a huge amount about the Greater Israel lobby that they assume that national elections in no way should impede their usual control of Middle East policy in Washington. Just showing them that the battle to retrieve our democracy from lobby groups is worth something.

And Hagel is not anti-Israel. Kristol is anti-Israel, having fanatically supported this Israeli government's suicidal behavior, and the toxic, illegal social engineering on the West Bank that will render Israel either a non-democracy or a non-Jewish state. Ackerman argues that Hagel is more hawkish than his reputation would suggest:

Hagel earned his reputation as a skeptic of American military adventurism, as anyone who remembers his consistent criticism of the Iraq war will remember. But that criticism has blown Hagel’s reputation for dovishness out of proportion: after all, he voted in 2002 to authorize the war. National Journal’s Michael Hirsch insightfully argues Hagel’s reward for asking hard questions about the war is to have official Washington forget the rest of his record.

Tomasky thinks Obama is picking Hagel to help him trim the defense budget:

Making defense cuts a part of any budget/sequester deal is a must. Obama can't afford a secdef who talks the way Leon Panetta talked, about how this or that cut would be devastating. Hagel probably won't do that because a Republican can more credibly stand up and say no, we don't need X weapon system or two more carriers or whatever it is than a Democrat can.

Larison expects Hagel to be confirmed:

Yes, McCain and the usual hard-liners will grandstand during the hearings, but they likely would have done that anyway, and I doubt that there most Senate Republicans want to be seen blocking Hagel. Not only would that be an extraordinary thing to do in response to any Cabinet nomination, but it would be unheard of to do it to a former colleague and a member of their own party. Republican hard-liners will do what they can to make the hearings a tiresome and drawn-out process, but in so doing they will simply be reconfirming why the public doesn’t trust them and why Hagel was the right choice.

And that is the real opportunity of this nomination. At the hearings, we can see McCain's vision versus Hagel's, and see the difference between a man who refuses to adjust his global mindset after Iraq and a man who has had the strength and character to do so. So many Americans are likely to agree with Hagel over military restraint, diplomatic patience, and cutting defense bloat. The reason the Greater Israel lobby is in such a froth is that the weakness of their arguments could be publicly exposed – by a Republican. And there isn't enough AIPAC money and intimidation to stop that happening.

(Photo: Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE) speaks at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial March 26, 2007 in Washington, DC. By Win McNamee/Getty Images)