Hagel for Defense?

Veterans denounce neocons’ “swiftboating” of Chuck Hagel.

| January 03, 2013

If Chuck Hagel is nominated by President Obama to serve as secretary of defense, there will be at least three compelling arguments in his favor: He served with distinction in the military and would — like secretary of state nominee John Kerry — bring a veteran's perspective to his post. He has adopted and articulated a sane perspective on the grave foreign policy blunders whose consequences still haunt the nation, including the Iraq and Vietnam wars. And as we have learned ever since his nomination was first floated, he has made all the right (and right-wing) enemies.


Hagel is a former Republican senator from Nebraska, which means that his voting record was mostly conservative and that he has probably said many things that might offend liberal Democrats. (Already he has felt obliged to apologize for a nasty remark he once made in reaction to President Clinton's nomination of James Hormel as the first openly gay U.S. ambassador.) He is a devout Catholic, an opponent of abortion rights, and he has received poor ratings from the NAACP, the ACLU, and other liberal organizations.

But as a potential nominee for secretary of defense, Hagel is coming under far heavier fire so far from the right — where he is being widely smeared as anti-Israel and anti-Semitic — than from the left. The neoconservatives and their allies on the religious right cannot forgive Hagel for turning against the Iraq war and the Bush administration — a stance that reflected his opposition to reckless warfare and his adoption of a realistic internationalism. They dislike Hagel as well for his refusal to endorse Israel's expansion of West Bank settlements and other actions that undermine the Mideast peace process; for his reluctance to promote war with Iran; and for his critical eye on Pentagon misspending and waste.

In reality, those are all valid reasons to support him. It is hard to believe that the opinions of the same people who assured us that Iraq would be a "cakewalk" are accorded any attention whatsoever, thousands of lives and trillions of dollars later.

Yet it is equally important to emphasize that the charge of anti-Semitism against Hagel is groundless and shames those who have uttered this canard. Among those who have forthrightly denounced it are Jon Soltz, a Jewish army veteran who served two tours in Iraq and now heads Vote Vets, and Jeffrey Goldberg, the Atlantic magazine blogger on Mideast affairs, who once served in the Israel Defense Forces.

In a letter to the 200,000-plus members of Vote Vets, many of whom are, like him, Democratic-leaning Iraq and Afghan war veterans, Soltz writes: "Chuck Hagel, as a Vietnam Veteran, would put troops first. He has a record of challenging neocon dreams of preemptive use of force — and winning that debate. He has a record of challenging wasteful Pentagon spending, taking on the military-industrial complex, to ensure our defense dollars are responsibly spent on equipment we actually need. ... So please, take a stand against this swiftboating of a man who has only served America with honor."

Goldberg favors Hagel's appointment because he believes the Nebraskan, who now teaches at the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service, would push back against Israeli policies that endanger the future of the Jewish state: "I think Israel is heading down a dangerous path, toward its own eventual dissolution, because it refuses to contemplate even unilateral half-measures that could lay the groundwork for a Palestinian state. ... I've spoken to Chuck Hagel in the past. He is not a hater of Israel. On the other hand, he, like Bob Gates, the former secretary of defense, might be able to look [Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu] in the eye and demand an explanation for the Israeli government's actions on the West Bank."

The swiftboating of Hagel is being mobilized by the likes of William Kristol, the Weekly Standard editor, who managed to avoid service in Vietnam but still believes that bloody tragedy was a great idea. Kristol and his ilk have been so wrong about every policy issue over the past four decades that their angry opposition to Hagel is a sterling endorsement of him.

Still, there may be valid reasons to oppose his candidacy, based on his temperament, experience, or record. Before confirmation, he should be questioned closely on his commitment to fair treatment of LGBT personnel and on any substantive issues, such as reproductive rights, where administration policy may conflict with his personal beliefs. He may run into problems among his former Republican Senate colleagues, not all of whom admire him, but their opinions should carry little weight. Indeed, their opposition, too, should serve to strengthen the case for Hagel's confirmation. He has served his country with courage and principle over many years in public service — which is far more than can be said for most of his adversaries.

Joe Conason writes for Creators Syndicate.


Comments (10)

Showing 1-10 of 10

When we had more members of Congress and Presidents who had served in the military,we had fewer calls to socially engineer the US Armed Forces.
This is because they themselves knew how easily morale is affected when changes are forced on them by people who have no idea of what makes the military work beyond "They follow orders".

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Posted by towboatman on 01/05/2013 at 11:49 AM

You'll need to explain that better, towboatman. as it stands it makes little sense and rings of even less truth.

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Posted by mad_merc on 01/05/2013 at 2:59 PM

When the Commander-in-chief tells the SecDef to treat everyone in the military equally, regardless of sexual preference, he will do it and like it. The military is not a democracy.

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Posted by GWCarver on 01/05/2013 at 5:15 PM


That doesn't make any sense to me either, nor to the original constitution.

The constitution was written with the desire that the leaders of the military be civillians, not members of the military.

Secretary of defense is more of a budgetary office than actual workings of the active military. Reccomendations of the active military, how battles are fought and what resources are needed, etc, is handled by the joints chief of staff.

Ultimately, it is the commander in chief, a civillian, the present that makes the decisions.

Look at FDR's decision to let african americans become combat pilots, his decision to let Patton have two african battallions to spearhead his tank corp. How about Trumans bold move to integrate the armed forces?

Let's face it, the military is made up of common citizens, as there social ways change, so does the military evolve to conform with the wishes of the masses.

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Posted by oldtimeplayer on 01/05/2013 at 5:26 PM

It is naturally to be expected that a Muslim President would want someone against any nation, i.e. Israel that gave birth to Christianity. Muslims have always hated Christians and any associations or social orders.

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Posted by CHG on 01/07/2013 at 6:37 AM


Let me call you out for your racist, non-factual post!

First of all, why do you call the president, Obama, a muslin? Do you have any definitive proof that he is or has ever practiced Islam? If so, please state itor be called the hypocrite and racist that your post shows you are.

Chuck Hagel, a Viet Nam war hero, with two purple hearts, a former two term senator(12 years) is not and never have been an enemy of Israel. He has one statement atributed to him about Israel that the Gop and your favorite station, Fox News are trying to lambaste him for.

Fact, Chuck Hagel has voted numerous times for military and other aid to Israel. He did come out and say that Israel should negotiate with Hamas for a lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinian people. He is not the only person that have said that, hell, a lot of Israelites have said the same. The Palestinians had an election and Hamas got the majority of the votes. How do you expect to achieve peace if you don't negotiate with the elected members of the Palestinian people? Answer that one for me.

On religion of the Muslins vs the Israelites. Have you ever read the Koran and/or the Holy Bible? Well, I got news for you. The Koran and the Holy Bible, the old testament reads practically the same for both the Koran and the Holy Bible. Please explain that?

The jewish religion is not christianity as you and I practice it. The Jewish religion is based on the old testament. The jews do not recognize Jesus Christ as the son of god, nor that unless you believe in Jesus, you can't be saved. The imminent Jewish historian, Josephus called Jesus a minor prophet in his acclaimed great works, The History of the Jews. Explain that?

The Koran( Sharia Law) and the Torah reads practically the same with the same laws and punishments as handed down to Moses. Also, I know you didn't know this, Fox News never mentions it, however, there were not just 10 laws given to Moses, but over 600. These laws are what Sharia Law and the Jewish Torah are based upon.

Chuck Hagel voted against only one or two sanctions against Iran. He voted for all of the other sanctions imposed on Iran. A lot of people in the western world, including a lot of americans don't believe in the sanctions imposed upon Iran. Why? They aren't working. Iran is the fourth or fifth largest oil exporter in the world. How can you effectively put sanctions on a country with that much oil and make it effective. You can't put a blockade on the straits, because China and Rusiia are friend of Iran, China gets most of its oil from them. A naval blockade is an act of war.

Jeruselem was made the capital of both the Muslins and the Jews because they both originated from the old testament of the Holy Bible. Mohammed did not come into existence until the 1800's.

Josephus was and is considered the most acclaimed writer of the History of the Jews. In this book, he list ever prophet, judge, major and minor, king and all of their family members. He lists the ages of everyone, starting with Adam. Look him up if you don't believe me. Look up the difference between the Jewish religion and christianity, the Koran, and the Torah. You will be, as a lot of the readers here, shocked and surprised.

Now, I want you to give some proof that President is a Muslin. If you can't, by your own lack of proof, proves that you are a racist and hypocrite.

The ball is in your court!

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Posted by oldtimeplayer on 01/07/2013 at 9:35 AM


I generally don't respond to your posts, because they're SOO far out to the right that I don't think anyone would take them seriously.

However, though I don't know you from Adam, the tenor of your posts leads me to picture you as a man that lives on a compound out in the country. I picture you as a survivalist that probably has 30 years of non-perishable food items and bottled water stored in an underground facility in preparation for the apocalypse. I also picture your compound surrounded by barbed wire fencing with signs posted all around that say "Trespassers will be shot on sight".

That's probably not at all who you are, but it's what I picture when I read your posts.

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Posted by GroveReb84 on 01/07/2013 at 10:17 AM

At least he doesn't have to worry about any thugz with illegal guns and droopy saggin' pants doing a home invasion. LOL I think his compound sounds fine. I only have 20 years of MREs because I probably will not live much longer. I also have 20 years worth of Canadian Club Black 20 year old. Much better than Mad Dog 20 20. My sign says ZOMBIES will be shot on site. That includes about everyone LOL. See there is a very good reason to have assault rifles with very high capacity mags. You never know. You just never know.

Keep up the good work. We will broadcast our secret meeting tonight as always on frequency $%#.%^^&&*&**(&&^

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Posted by clarion on 01/07/2013 at 11:06 AM


It must be tough doing everything with one hand. You have to do that because you are afraid to ever put the gun down! lol

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Posted by oldtimeplayer on 01/07/2013 at 11:23 AM

The only interest CHG and his evangelical goofball brethren have in Israel is as a landing place for their Magic Jeezus dude who needs a place to hang out for that 1000 year reign as foreseen by Buy-Bull prophecy. And their only interest in jews is to convert them, so in that respect they're only marginally better than radical muslims.

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Posted by Kilgore trout on 01/07/2013 at 9:36 PM
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