Ever since the news came out that former Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel may be Obama’s preferred choice to head the Department of Defense, I’ve had difficulty developing what we call a “strong take” on it.
I never exactly warmed to Hagel as a champion of foreign policy realism. What good is this realism if its contribution to the debate is only a set of sad faces and “grave concerns” voiced years after it endorsed the disaster? In the Iraq debacle, Hagel’s function was to eventually embody the troubled conscience of a foreign policy establishment that could no longer ignore its own failures. The absolute best case for Hagel is that he somehow “learned his lesson” and was truly committed to a gradual demilitarization of America’s foreign policy. There are data-points to support this view, but Hagel hasn’t connected them in a speech or a book.
One is tempted to throw in behind him merely to deny the neoconservatives the scalp they so desperately want. Frankly, their campaign against Hagel is shaping up to be more sophisticated than I expected. First they charge that Hagel smells like an anti-Semite. Or they quoted a number of unnamed sources saying he was a jerk. The crudeness of the attack inspired a wave of liberal support for Hagel. Now he is being accused of being too anti-gay in the 1990s. My guess is that liberals will fall silent before this one until Hagel comes out as “evolved” on the issue.
It is pretty dangerous for conservative outlets like the Washington Free Beacon to help make 1990s era pro-gay rights views a litmus test for Cabinet appointments. Presumably that is why no one there was willing to byline that post. They’re inadvertently excluding many of the people that would be most amenable to their views in the next Republican administration.
So how do we feel about the Hagel nomination? Of course it is the nature of things that you embolden a bully by not standing up to him. But letting the outsized and hysterical reaction of neoconservatives dictate my judgement of him seems just as counter-productive. He’s much more important to them than he is to me. I’ll be happy to see them embarrassed if he gets the post. But I don’t see his appointment as changing Obama’s foreign policy for the better. If anything it helps to further entrench a foreign policy establishment that still needs to be chastised.
I’m not going to the wall for Chuck Hagel.