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Pro-Israel Right Gangs Up on Chuck Hagel to Sink Defense Secretary Nomination

Chuck Hagel

The Washington Post editorial board came out against Hagel today

The fury with which neoconservative pro-Israel groups have struck out at Chuck Hagel’s imminent nomination as the Secretary of Defense is both striking and completely expected. There is such a thing as learned behavior. Many of the same groups spoke out against Susan Rice, and they succeeded in getting her to withdraw consideration for Secretary of State. They know that the President has a history of giving up in the face of a ginned-up fight. And so they’ve set their sights on Hagel.

The pro-Israel right has gone as far as calling Hagel anti-Semitic because he once posited the existence of an Israel lobby. How dare he, said the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee! Groups like this try to stand in for the American Jewish community though American Jews at large share none of their preoccupations. But they continue to smear Hagel with whatever they can muster, be it that he has it in for Israel or is a Ron Paul-style “isolationist” or whatever else. Daniel Larison gets this right:

If one can’t stand someone as conventionally hawkish as Obama because he is not hawkish enough, Hagel would be even more infuriating. It’s impossible to portray Hagel as a would-be McGovernite, and the fact that he and Obama are frequently in agreement exposes how absurd most hawkish complaints against Obama are.

Hagel has not been a maximally hawkish supporter of Israel, but the smear against Hagel on this point is particularly loathsome and of course has absolutely no merit. If Hagel criticized Israel’s 2006 Lebanon war, that’s because the overkill and folly that war represented deserved to be criticized. If he believes that attacking Iran would have disastrous consequences and war ought to be avoided, that makes him unusually sane for a member of the political class. The fact that such a despicable smear is already being thrown around (albeit by an anonymous aide who won’t attach his name to the slur) reeks of desperation.

The fact that Hagel has enemies who have been wrong about everything in foreign policy for over a decade should be a point in his favor. But because there is such a thing as an Israel lobby, the movement to stop Hagel is gaining traction. Today the conventionally pro-Israel Washington Post editorial board came out against Hagel, saying that his views on defense spending (less) and bombing Iran (not a good idea) put him on the “fringe” of the national debate. Only if you think the debate is defined by the ten miles square in Washington. In the rest of the country these are conventional ideas.

The Post also hides behind the “diversity” of Michèle Flournoy as the nation’s first female Defense Secretary, something that could appeal to Democrats who don’t necessarily prefer a Republican at the Pentagon in a Democratic Administration, again. But diversity of viewpoints apparently is forbidden, particularly when it comes to Israel.

National Review is licking their chops on this one as well. If history is any guide, Hagel won’t get nominated. And regardless of whether or not you support him, that would be a shame.

…empowering the likes of John McCain and Lindsey Graham to hold veto power over any nominee the Administration puts out is just deeply depressing.

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David Dayen

David Dayen