When Hagel talks about the difference between war’s ghastly reality and the antiseptic way in which it is discussed in Washington, and when he describes how the dishonest selling of the Iraq War awakened in him a fury he had been suppressing since his days as a grunt in Vietnam, he’s not only authentic, he’s eloquent. I suspect that’s what made him compelling to Obama, who after being pressured into supporting an Afghan surge he never really believed in, wants to surround himself with people willing to stand up to the mainstream assumptions that have served America so poorly over the last decade.
But that Chuck Hagel didn’t come through yesterday because instead of speaking from the gut, he said what he thought other politicians wanted to hear. That strategy failed because right-wingers like McCain, Graham, and Cruz saw Hagel’s ideological incoherence and smelled his political fear. And it failed because Hagel shouldn’t have been speaking to the armed services committee. He should have been speaking over them, to the majority of Americans who voted for Obama, twice, in part because they want a leader who will break with the foreign policy thinking that has brought us a decade of endless war.
Agreed. But the fact that the defense secretary for the US was required to spend almost all his time on the question of Israel was even more remarkable for being unremarkable:
“I’ve said that I’m a strong supporter of Israel… I’ve said that we
have a special relationship with Israel… Ive never voted against Israel
in my career… I’ve been to Israel many times,” he told Jack Reed of
While Kirsten Gillibrand of New York made no bones about “the most
urgent issues– Israel and Israel’s security issues… We are
fundamentally tied to [Israel].” Then Gillibrand demanded that if there
has to be a continuing resolution in the event of a budget crunch,
Hagel’s Pentagon will take pains to keep money going to Israel for its
Iron Dome missile defense.
So in the sequester, Israel comes before the US, if push comes to shove. Hagel will almost certainly survive this process, but it has served its purpose: to reveal how no president and no defense secretary can speak honestly and openly about their views on the Middle East, and that US defense, so far as the Congress is concerned, is basically fused with that of another country – a country that isn’t even in NATO or the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty and is illegally occupying and ethnically engineering conquered territory to its West.
And, of course, the unspoken assumption is that Obama is trying to return to a more balanced approach in the region, in the tradition of George H W Bush. But you can only do that as a president if you have publicly insisted you won’t – and every official is required by the Congresss to reiterate blind, unequivocal, permanent support for anything any far-right Israeli government may do.
(Photo: Former U.S. Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) pauses as he testifies before the
Senate Armed Services Committee during his confirmation hearing to
become the next secretary of defense on Capitol Hill January 31, 2013 in
Washington, DC. By by Alex Wong/Getty Images.)
Update from a reader:
Sorry, but as a geographer I have to correct you. While the majority of the Palestinian territory is called the West Bank, it is actually to the east of Israel proper. If they were occupying conquered territory to Israel’s West the Israelis would be occupying the seabed under the waters of the Mediterranean Sea! Sorry to be nit-picky. But in the Middle East, quite often, the geographic specifics really matter.