Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Hagel: I don't get the appeal

President Obama's nomination of Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense is drawing a great deal of criticism. Bret Stephens at the WSJ takes issue with the idea of Hagel's much lauded courage, specifically his political courage, by noting how Hagel's record in the Senate appears to be that of someone who simply went with whatever was in the wind, more often than not:
In each case, Mr. Hagel was articulating a view that was exactly in keeping with received Beltway wisdom. In each case, he was subsequently disproved by events. In no case was Mr. Hagel ever held to any kind of account for being wrong. In no case did he hold himself to account for being wrong.
Pulling even fewer punches, Jennifer Rubin hammers Hagel on the issues of Israel and anti-Semitism, essentially accusing Hagel of the latter:
There is no other meaning to Hagel’s phrase “Jewish lobby.” The declaration from Hagel that he is not “the senator from Israel” (Who said he should be?) is again a direct attack on Jews’ fidelity to the United States. For decades this kind of venomous language has been gaining acceptance in Europe. But never in America. In elevating Hagel the president in a real and troubling way moves us closer to Western Europe. Indeed the most disturbing aspect of Hagel’s nomination is not his impact on policy (President Obama has and will continue to make one blunder after another), but what it says about the U.S. president’s willingness to embrace a man espousing the world’s oldest hatred.
Richard Cohen, however, comes to Hagel's defense. Cohen agrees that there are problems with the choice, but some of the criticisms are unfair. For instance, he points out that Hagel has recanted his previous display of homophobia, though Stephens' point was that Hagel only did so because it became politically advantageous to do so. But it is the charge of anti-Semitism that really perturbs Cohen:

The most depressing aspect of Hagel’s nomination is not his severe case of Vietnam Syndrome and not even some of his foreign policy views. It’s been the unremitting and underhanded attack on him, especially the imputation of anti-Semitism. In fact, he could be the necessary corrective to the Netanyahu government’s expectation that anything Israel wants from Washington it’s entitled to get.  
There is nothing Hagel has said about Israel that is not routinely said in the Israeli press on a daily basis. Trust me: By The Wall Street Journal’s standards, Israeli media would be deeply anti-Semitic.
There's a great deal of irony here. Consider this article penned by Cohen a couple of years back. In it, he seems deeply aware of how marginalized groups--in this case African Americans--sometimes view history and current events through a different lens, rightly or wrongly. Yet when it comes to his own group--Jewish Americans--he has no such understanding. It's a case if hubris, plain and simple. And in a general sense, it's amusing to see people on the left complaining about something like this after years of characterizing most every attack on the President as racist.

Moreover, the final comment suggests Cohen has the same sort of double standard when it comes to "in-groups" and "out-groups," with respect to internal dialogue and language choices. But that's maybe a discussion for a different day.

Returning to the selection of Hagel, I have to say that I just don't see the appeal. My own memory of Hagel as a Senator is of a man who consistently over-estimated his importance. I seem to recall a multitude of Hagel press-conferences called so Hagel could give his position on one thing or the other. And every time, I found myself asking "who cares?" It's like Hagel's intention to possibly run for President in 2008. He never had a prayer; he's just not that good. Never was. I can't figure out why he thought differently, why he thought he was a major player on the national scene.

But I guess, in some ways, this nomination proves me wrong. Apparently, the Administration thinks Hagel's name and record mean something significant. Apparently, it thinks Hagel brings something important to the table.

What that is, I have no idea.

Cheers, all.


  1. Only thing I can figure is an attempt at making the President seem "bipartisan" by putting up a Republican nomination, even if it's a poor excuse for a candidate. When Republicans reject the nomination, he can point and tell everyone, "They don't want to play nice with me. It's all their fault."

  2. Barry Rubin has a lengthy piece on the issue of nominations. While Obama will guide the policy, the fact that Kerry is at State, Hagel in the Pentagon and (more importantly in my view) Brennan is in the CIA tells you all you wanted to know about policy directions and delusions. Time to take cover and try to weather the next four years as best as we can.

    What's interesting, by the way, is the fact that neither Hagel nor Brennan have any visible qualifications for their prospective jobs.

  3. Yeah, and the last is why I really don't get the Hagel selection. I don't see the "why" behind it, at all.

  4. There are some speculations floating around. One is that he won't fight Obama on slashing the Pentagon budget. Another is that he will provide Obama with cover from being called soft on defense (though, given strong Repub opposition to Hagel at the moment, I don't buy that one for even a minute).
    My own take would be that Obama sees him as someone relatively weak that won't rock the boat on foreign policy decisions that might otherwise be controversial (people throw "containment" policy towards Iran out ther, but I am not sure).

    Brennan, on the other hand, is a loyal sycophant with no understanding, whose views are largely in line with Obama's (and Kerry's). His positioning as a CIA chief is extremely problematic. If I am not mistaken (I can dig it up) he was the guy who said in essence that Hezbollah couldn't be a terrorist organization because it had lawyers and doctors in its ranks. I am not sure whether he was the one who testified before Congress that the Muslim Brotherhood was a largely secular organization.

  5. What's also interesting to watch is the fervor of some supposed liberals who defend Hagel. One can only speculate why, but it rather likely because he has the "right" enemies. I read an article by a pretty liberal guy about a week ago who wondered wtf was going on, when liberals defend a pretty conservative person (with problematic views on just about everything that liberals consider dear with the exception of defense) at the expense of more qualified real liberals such as, what's her name -- the deputy director of Pentagon,