With no access to Nate Silver, it’s too soon for me to discern the prospects for Chuck Hagel to be nominated and confirmed as Secretary of Defense. But I note that thus far, the neoconservative campaign against him (which includes fabricated quotes and smears of anti-Semitism) seems narrow in scope, and has not grown beyond a claque which counts for much inside the Beltway but is small in the country at large.
One indicator is Jennifer Rubin, one of the Washington Post‘s resident neoconservatives, who has been campaigning against Hagel for weeks now. Last night she produced a post, “Democrats Speak Out Against Hagel as Flournoy’s Star Rises”–seeking to give the impression of a burgeoning anti-Hagel revolt in Obama’s own party. But who were the Democrats? Shelley Berkley, a congresswoman from Las Vegas, who released a statement lambasting Hagel’s “tarnished record” on the Mideast. The tarnishment is that he is reluctant to go to war against Iran. Berkley is known as one of the Israel lobby’s staunchest backers and really for not much else. Members of the House, last I checked, aren’t going to vote on Hagel’s confirmation. And then Rubin cites Senator Joe Lieberman, a one-time Democrat rejected by own party because of his hawkish and militaristic views. Actually, no, she quotes Lieberman’s communications director who says that his boss is more enthusiastic about sanctions than is Hagel. That’s it. Somehow Shelley Berkley and the retiring Senator Lieberman’s communication director don’t add up to the anti-Hagel bandwagon one might have expected two weeks into the smear campaign.
Rubin then switches gears: wouldn’t it be great to have a woman heading the Pentagon? There is one, Michelle Flournoy, a DOD technocrat no doubt seen by neocons as likely to be less robust than Hagel in resisting their plans for a third Mideast war. The “ladywashing” (as Open Zion’s Emily Hauser felicitously labeled it) would not be necessary if there were a more solid line of attack against Hagel.
Then there is the Washington Post editorial page, its liberal reputation a residue of its Katherine Graham anti-Nixon days, thoroughly neoconservative in its present incarnation. In an editorial, the Post opposes Hagel’s nomination, asserting his positions are “well to the left” of those expressed by Obama in his first term. It attacks Hagel for his readiness to pare down the “bloated” Pentagon budget and his support for negotiations over sanctions. The Hagel positions are stated more or less accurately, but Obama may not heed the advice. The Washington Post edit page was one of the largest and most influential media cheerleaders for the Iraq war, producing one bellicose editorial after another in early 2003. Several times it echoed the false claims of Iraqi WMDs that the administration used to justify the war, warned Bush to be wary of the UN, and to cap it off did a victory dance around Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” speech on the aircraft carrier. The “real gripe with Mr. Bush is that he looked great,” claimed the Post, contrasting the president with Michael Dukakis in a tank.
I assume the president considers the source of this tender concern for the ideological tenor of his cabinet. Obama didn’t take his political cues from the Washington Post editorial page in 2002-2003. Nor for that matter, did he follow the lead of Bill Kristol and the Weekly Standard. I hope he won’t hitch his administration to that wagon now.