Peter Feaver argues that that "battle over Hagel is a battle over the meaning of Iraq":
The debate over the historical meaning of Iraq matters because it has such obvious implications for the analogous challenge with Iran. Many of the pro-Hagel supporters openly acknowledge that they hope Hagel's pick signals that the President is willing to abandon the military option in dealing with Iran, for much the same reasons that they argue the option was disastrous in Iraq. President Obama has not publicly connected those dots, but I expect he will be challenged to explain whether that interpretation makes sense in the days to come.
And I expect him to keep his options open. Reihan explains why he remains a neocon who wants more of a neo-imperial presence across the globe:
I object to Hagel primarily because I see him as a faithful adherent to President Obama’s approach to foreign and defense policy and I disagree with what I take to be the president’s approach. Like Frederick Kagan and Kimberly Kagan, for example, I believe that the U.S. should have made more of an effort to retain a sizable military presence in Iraq. And though I support cuts to some defense expenditures, e.g., I favor an overhaul of personnel policies to more effectively deploy human capital and resources across the military … I also support the recapitalization of the armed forces, and I believe that defense expenditures should have been a central part of fiscal stimulus efforts.
"Recapitalization of the armed forces". And where will that money come from? Frum fears – yes, fears – that Hagel would prevent another Middle East war:
[H]e would have substantial control over the information, advice, and policy options available to the person who does determine foreign policy. Suppose a president were to request an assessment of a hypothetical strike on Iran. Suppose the secretary of defense delivers to him a plan requiring the insertion of US ground forces into Iranian cities to be sure of destroying relevant facilities. That "plan" is as much a veto of a strike as any decision. Donald Rumsfeld enabled the Iraq war by producing estimates it could be won with as few as 135,000 troops. Had he instead on 300,000, the war would not have occurred: it would have seemed too heavy a lift. (As indeed it proved.) A Secretary Hagel could similarly thwart policies he disapproved of by magnifying their cost and difficulty. That's why his views matter, and that's why it's so disingenuous to claim they do not.
I take the point that the defense secretary is an important voice at the table. But I've seen no feasible plan that could accurately target Iran's nuclear sites without boots on the ground, and all that entails. And is David actually using Rummy's utopian over-ruling of Shinseki as a reason to oppose someone who will precisely not engage in such wishful thinking? Does David really want a defense secretary who will always lean in favor of intervention – even after the catastrophes of Iraq and Afghanistan?
It's as if the Iraq war never happened, isn't it? Which is why the three most powerful attributes of the neocons are amnesia, ignorance and denial.
Goldblog made the calculation, staying politically neutral (which is itself a political decision for him to retain access with both the Obama administration and the American Jewish Establishment):
I’m not so sure AIPAC will be throwing itself into this fight.
The less compromised Beinart puts the decision in context:
It’s easy to exaggerate how big a defeat all this is for AIPAC. The Hagel nomination isn’t a good test of AIPAC’s strength precisely because it’s a cabinet nomination—a topic on which presidents usually get their way. It’s much easier for AIPAC to rally members of Congress behind resolutions that limit the Obama administration’s room to maneuver on actual policy questions, where opposing the president doesn’t look like such a direct slap in the face. (It’s also easier for the Israeli government to lobby Congress on policy questions like settlement growth and Iran sanctions than on cabinet appointments.) Furthermore, the Hagel struggle hasn’t been a complete loss for hawkish Jewish groups. His political near-death experience may leave Hagel more cautious when it comes to U.S.-Israel relations than he would have been otherwise (though I doubt that means he’ll turn hawkish on Iran).
I’ll wait and see. I don’t see the Greater Israel lobby ever taking a pass to defend the settlements or advance a new war in the Middle East. What I’m interested in is whether Senators, in discussing the nuclear balance in the Middle East, will ever mention Israel’s hundreds of nuclear warheads, pointed at Iran. At some point, portraying Greater Israel as merely a victim stretches credulity.
"I'm sure that the Arabs are drinking orange juice and toasting Hagel’s good health," – former New York mayor, Ed Koch, on the nomination of Chuck Hagel to head the Pentagon.
Note his use of the phrase "the Arabs." One amorphous entity. Do you think any public figure could use the equally foul term "the Jews" when discussing those with whom he disagrees? Or do you think he'd be called a bigot – and deserve to be?
"If disarmament in Iraq requires the use of force, we need to consider carefully the implications and consequences of our actions. The future of Iraq after Saddam Hussein is also an open question. Some of my colleagues and some American analysts now speak authoritatively of Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds in Iraq, and how Iraq can be a test case for democracy in the Arab world. How many of us really know and understand much about Iraq, the country, the history, the people, the role in the Arab world? I approach the issue of post-Saddam Iraq and the future of democracy and stability in the Middle East with more caution, realism and a bit more humility… Imposing democracy through force in Iraq is a roll of the dice. A democratic effort cannot be maintained without building durable Iraqi political institutions and developing a regional and international commitment to Iraq's reconstruction. No small task."
Now let's take a look at the record of Bill Kristol, who, unlike Hagel, didn't serve in uniform. Here's how he attacked Hagel at the time:
Iraq's uncertain future, as opposed to its totalitarian present, has become the principle [sic] concern of many realists. "What comes after a military invasion?" Senator Chuck Hagel would like to know. "Who rules Iraq? Does the United States really want to be in Baghdad, trying to police Baghdad for twenty or thirty years?" … Predictions of ethnic turmoil in Iraq are even more questionable than they were in the case of Afghanistan. Unlike the Taliban, Saddam has little support among any ethnic group, Sunnis included, and the Iraqi opposition is itself a multi-ethnic force…
[T]he executive director of the Iraq Foundation, Rend Rahim Francke, says, "we will not have a civil war in Iraq. This is contrary to Iraqi history, and Iraq has not had a history of communal conflict as there has been in the Balkans or in Afghanistan…"
Which one would you trust to have input on foreign policy in the coming years? A pro-Greater Israel fanatic who has been proven definitively wrong about almost everything in the past decade? Or one of a handful of senators who stood up against the tide for war and his own party and asked all the questions I didn't?
(Photo via TPM: "Chuck Hagel and his brother Tom sit on an armored personnel carrier in Vietnam in 1968. More photos here.")
In one of their more desperate moves, the neocons, who have shown zero interest in the plight of gay servicemembers in the past, decided to play the gay card. Some of them may even have shoveled money at the Log Cabin Republicans to get them to reverse position on the Purple Heart Republican (LCR won't tell who financed the Hagel smear ad in the NYT). But the reality is that Hagel has clearly evolved, which again offers an opportunity, not a threat:
The charges of Hagelian insensitivity to gay rights, based on several of past votes and one 1990s comment, have largely evaporated. Hagel, like most of the country, has “evolved” on the issue. If the question comes up in the hearings, it will be as a coming out party for acceptance of the gay rights revolution by the Republican establishment. Those who have been involved in the struggle will cheer, as indeed will many who have done no more than observe, often skeptically, from the sidelines.
It seems to me that politically-attuned gays, far from engaging in AIPAC-style smearing, should be thrilled to see a Republican military figure openly backing open gay military service as a nominee for defense secretary. He's a blow both to the neocons and the Christianists. Which, believe it or not, is why many of us supported Obama in the first place: a voice of reason against the fanaticism, utopianism and cant of the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld years.
(Photo: U.S. President Barack Obama shakes hands with former U.S. Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) during a personnel announcement in the East Room at the White House on January 7, 2013 in Washington, DC. Obama has nominated Hagel for the next Secretary of Defense and Deputy National Security Advisor for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism John Brennan to become the new director of the CIA. By Alex Wong/Getty Images)
“Hagel’s critics have helpfully informed us that Paul Wolfowitz considers someone else a better choice. Were Dick Cheney and Paul Bremer not available for advice? ” – Jim Fallows.
Let me add that this nomination is actually, in my view, a strike against anti-Semitism. For it’s highly reckless to throw that epithet around so promiscuously on such flimsy grounds simply because of a difference of opinion on foreign policy. The more the neocons’ self-serving trivialization of real anti-Semitism is ignored, the sooner we may get to the point of identifying actual anti-Semitism and its poisons.
“If the Republicans are going to look at Chuck Hagel, a decorated war hero and Republican who served two terms in the Senate, and vote no because he bucked the party line on Iraq, then they are so far in the wilderness that they’ll never get out,” – an Obama administration official to Rosie Gray.
One reason I’m so happy that this nomination will go ahead is precisely because we’ll have the debate in the Senate. We can debate who was right about the Iraq War. We can debate why the Pentagon should be protected from any serious cuts, while seniors get their healthcare cut, everyone gets a payroll tax increase, and the US spends more on defense than the next ten countries combined, many of whom are allies.
Another debate we will have is exactly how brilliant that “surge” was in Iraq – a surge Hagel and the Dish opposed. Here’s Fred Kaplan on the matter:
It only bought time for the Iraqi political factions to settle their differences. (That’s all that Gen. David Petraeus, the strategy’s architect, ever claimed it could do.) And now it’s clear that the factions didn’t want to settle their differences, and so ethnic clashes have persisted, and the issues that divide the factions are no closer to settlement. Therefore, was Hagel so wrong?
I wouldn’t be so positive about the “surge”. It bought time for a quick US exit, under the pretense that some viable multi-sectarian democracy was sustainable. We know now how big an illusion that was – but the master of DC public relations, David Petraeus, told us all to believe it – and who didn’t want to believe it? What a Hagel nomination provides is a re-examination of this myth as well – as well as showing the country that being a Republican and a conservative does not mean being a risky interventionist, a pro-torture anti-American, or a pro-West-Bank-settlement fanatic. That’s an incredible gift to the GOP, a way out of their neocon dead-end, if they could only see it.
Elliott Abrams – proud intellectual architect of the Iraq War – is relentless in his campaign to tar Chuck Hagel as an anti-Semite (which might be more effective if Abrams hadn't tried this out on virtally everyone with whom he disagrees on foreign policy). Steve Clemons helpfully rebuts that latest round of neocon smears.
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 Republicprofile, 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.)
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.
[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.
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)