The anti-Hagel brigade has a tactical difficulty, which is becoming a major strategic one. For instance they (Jennifer Rubin here and Jonathan Tobin here) are in a snit about the purported revelation that Hagel apparently said, at Rutgers in 2010, that Israel is on its way to becoming an apartheid state. Oh, the horror!
As Dave Weigel reported, here is the damning Hagel utterance:
As long as in this territory west of the Jordan river there is only one political entity called Israel it is going to be either non-Jewish, or non-democratic. If this bloc of millions of Palestinians cannot vote, that will be an apartheid state.
Except, aha!—these viciously anti-Israel words don’t come from Hagel, they come from former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, who voiced them in his capacity as Israel’s defense minister in 2010. Hagel’s alleged comment came a few months later. Of course, in the real world the Barak-Hagel analysis is altogether reasonable.
Nor is Barak the only Israeli prime minister to reach such a conclusion. In 2008, Israel’s prime minister Ehud Olmert told Haaretz that “If the day comes when the two-state solution collapses, and we face a South African style struggle for equal voting rights, then as soon as that happens, the state of Israel is finished.” The “South African style struggle” is, for anyone who needs it spelled out, a reference to Israel becoming an apartheid state. Israeli leaders Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres had the same worries a generation ago, which is why Rabin permitted the Oslo process to develop momentum, despite his own discomfort with Palestinian statehood.
Here then is the problem for the Hagel haters. It is not simply that Hagel is being accused of saying thing like “the State Department sometimes acts like an adjunct of the Israeli foreign ministry”—which State Department officials actually do complain about, albeit off the record. He is being accused of saying things which Israeli prime ministers say on the record. And much as Commentary, Jennifer Rubin, the Weekly Standard, and the Washington Free Beacon try to bend these remarks into supposedly damning evidence of a viciously anti-Israel mindset, they can’t make their argument without quoting the alleged quotes. And almost any journalist must at least note that the “damning” quotes are extremely similar to what Israeli leaders say in public themselves. So by damning Hagel, they call attention to the Israeli occupation, which is in fact turning Israel into an apartheid state. I don’t really see any way around it. Read More…
As Jim Antle points out, Rand Paul’s vote against cloture for the Hagel nomination has been roundly criticized by antiwar conservatives, libertarians, and liberal admirers of Ron Paul—not only by Scott McConnell and Daniel Larison here at TAC but also by Justin Raimondo (a longtime Rand critic) and Glenn Greewald (who had been more favorable). The criticisms are entirely justified, but Rand’s vote shouldn’t come as a surprise, and there are a few things that we should all understand going forward.
Since he first won the Kentucky GOP Senate nomination in 2010, Rand Paul has set out to become the Republican’s Republican—not in the sense of being the most loyal party trooper, but in the sense of being its most ideologically committed leader. So when other Republicans propose cutting government, Rand urges deeper cuts. When Marco Rubio gives the party’s official State of the Union rebuttal, Rand gives the Tea Party response. The brand he cultivates is that of the antithesis of the RINO Republican. He takes the party’s core rhetorical concerns—taxes, states’ rights, smaller government—and pushes them farther. Quite probably that reflects what he really believes; it also aligns him with the party’s activist base ahead of the 2016 presidential contest. When he goes up against Rubio, his argument will be, “I’m more Republican than he is.”
But if that were all Senator Paul wanted to do, he would not make a speech at the Heritage Foundation citing George Kennan and calling himself a realist. Talk is cheap—but these weren’t words that fit with his attempt to be the Republican’s Republican. Nor have some of his efforts on civil libertarian issues and the drug war in particular been what you would expect from someone who just wants to be as acceptable as possible to the activist GOP base. One should not make too much of this—but one should not dismiss it, either.
The Hagel vote put Rand’s Republican identity in direct conflict with his secondary brand, and—no surprise—his primary identity won out. Why would a man who has said and done the things Senator Paul has said and done since 2010 break with his party on such a high-profile, virtually party-line vote? He can call himself a realist without jeopardizing what he’s worked to achieve. But a vote for Hagel would bring him serious grief in the 2016 primaries; he’d be handing his opponents something they could use to shred his identity as the Republican’s Republican. So he voted against cloture. Read More…
President Obama’s State of the Union last night was something of a dud. Cautious and boring, the speech was Obama’s message to a Congress that’s unable either to pursue his goals or to develop alternatives. Soaring rhetoric would have been wasted on that audience, as would detailed proposals. The main point was this: when Congress does nothing, the executive will press his independent authority to the legal limit, and perhaps beyond. In that respect, the speech could have been given by any recent president, including George W. Bush.
In addition to its assertions of executive power, the speech offered more clues about Obama’s economic vision for his second term. As laid out in the speech, Obama’s agenda is based on federal spending for infrastructure and research, along with tax and regulatory incentives for manufacturing.
Contrary to many critics on the right, this perspective is neither socialist nor corporatist. Rather, it’s a kind of updated mercantilism, with elements of Henry Clay’s American System. The guiding thought is that “free” markets tend lock in the status quo because they do nothing to balance the existing advantages of big economies. On this view, the best way to encourage innovation and growth isn’t to remove government from the economy. Rather, it’s to use public funds and regulation to level the playing field between international competitors.
Take Obama’s persistent interest in green energy. Despite the Solyndra debacle, this really isn’t a sop to campaign contributors or environmentalists. Rather, Obama believes that solar and other alternative energy sources are going to be a big business. Unless America gets in on the action, it will find the field dominated by foreign companies, whose cheaper and more sophisticated products it will then be compelled to buy. In order to prevent this dependence, the government must “invest” now, even if the returns are not obvious or immediately forthcoming.
Although it may seem contradictory, Obama’s proposal of a North Atlantic free-trade agreement is consistent with this argument. In Obama’s view, the United States and EU are in a position of rough economic parity, and can therefore accept the stabilizing effect of free trade. That’s not the case with China, with which the U.S. is in competition for jobs and markets.
Many economists are critical of this style of argument, which assumes (among other things) that the president knows what industries are likely to be important in the future. But it has considerable popular appeal and deep roots in the American political tradition. Unlike academic economists and “free market” pundits, most ordinary people see international trade as a zero-sum game and fear that the destruction involved in technological shifts is not always creative.
Should the economy continue to stagnate, we can expect to hear more economic nationalism in Obama’s remaining annual messages. If Obama fails to seize the opportunity, Republicans will have a more promising message at their disposal than Marco Rubio’s dusty Reaganisms.
President Obama is visiting Israel next month. Obviously there is little love lost between the president and Prime Minister Netanyahu, and no one believes the trip will jump start meaningful peace negotiations with the Palestinian Authority — as there is no indication that Netanyahu has ever been willing to offer the Palestinians more than a bantustan state. So why bother? One reason would be to make the trip symbolically and historically important.
Obama could do that by meeting with some dissident Israelis — not simply the Labor Party opposition, which has more or less given up on the peace process, but Israelis who understand Israel’s long-term rightward drift is turning it into an apartheid state, or those who have struggled to document and combat Israel’s slow motion annexation of the West Bank and systematic efforts to squeeze the Palestinians out of their homeland.
Mondoweiss cites a piece in Haaretz by the Israeli novelist Yitzhak Laor, which argues that only international pressure can save Israel and supports a variant of BDS. Why not meet with him? Or with the leaders of B’Tselem, the stalwart Israeli human rights organization — whose director, last I was in Israel, was an impressive American-born woman. The mere fact of such meetings would convey to Israelis a more powerful message than whatever speech the president might come up with.
Really, it’s time. Republican subservience to Israel has already been satirized by the writers of “Saturday Night Live,” a sure sign that rejection of it has gone mainstream. Obama needn’t kowtow anymore. He should use his trip to communicate, in symbolic but unmistakable terms, that America’s deference to Israel’s landgrabbing, or its readiness to look the other way as Israel uses American weapons to pummel civilian targets, is over as far as he is concerned.
If there’s one encouraging development in the recent debates over sequestration and cabinet appointees, it’s that the hawks have conspicuously overextended themselves.
Senator Lindsey Graham, in addition to asking for unprecedented, privacy-violating disclosures and expressing an apparently greater concern for Iranian public opinion than American fiscal stability, threatened Sunday on “Face the Nation” to hold up Obama’s nominations for defense secretary and CIA director over lingering questions about Benghazi.
Meanwhile, just as the House GOP is warming up to sequestration, or at least the associated political leverage (former NH Senator Judd Gregg and Transom editor Ben Domenech both have op-eds in support of that strategy), the neoconservative Foreign Policy Initiative is asking that they give it up. As usual, the message is that sequestration will have dire consequences for national security. Bill Kristol’s other outlets are spreading the word. Daniel Halper has the FPI’s letter to congressional leadership pushing these talking points:
- The Navy has indefinitely delayed the deployment of a carrier strike group to the Persian Gulf—a decision that significantly weakens America’s ability to provide regional security and protection to allies at a time when the Iranian regime continues its work to acquire a nuclear weapons capability.
- The Air Force plans to cut the flying hours of its pilots by 18 percent, and more broadly will have to curtail the service’s ability to conduct air-to-air refueling, support Army logistical requirements and, by September of this year, train new pilots—reductions that cumulatively will erode America’s vitally important airpower capabilities.
- The Army will delay training for almost 80 percent of its Brigade Combat Teams, cancel critical maintenance, and stop training new aviators and military intelligence specialists—delays that, according to the service’s leaders, will result in the “rapid atrophy of unit combat skills with a failure to meet demands of the National Military strategy by the end of the year.”
These decisions probably have at least as much to do with uncertainty as to whether or not sequestration will actually happen, after being assured for so long that it would be avoided–two of the three complaints have to do with delays, not cuts. And we already have one carrier in the Persian Gulf. Sequestration will inevitably mean paring some things back, but many of its economic impacts, particularly on contractors, would not be felt for several years because of billions of dollars in backlog, as a new paper from the Center for International Policy points out (below).
Chris Preble, defense policy chief at the Cato Institute a former Naval officer, makes the case for why the only thing worse than sequestration is no cuts at all.
I’ve noticed a dubious new PR tactic that hawkish senators are employing to get their way on the leadership of, and funding for, the Defense Department.
During former Sen. Chuck Hagel’s confirmation hearing before the Armed Services Committee, Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe made hay of some Iranian propaganda about Hagel:
The question I’d like to ask you and you can answer for the record if you’d like is, why do you think that the Iranian foreign ministry so strongly supports your nomination for Secretary of Defense?
And yesterday, at a press conference with House Armed Services Committee Republicans, Sen. Lindsey Graham said, “I’m sure Iran is very supportive of sequestration.”
This is childish. With tail tucked between legs, Hagel meekly submitted to the Obama administration policy that starkly rejects the idea of merely “containing” Iran. The idea that Hagel, if confirmed, will somehow weaken Obama’s commitment in this regard strains credulity. The idea, meanwhile, that the sequester’s automatic spending cuts will emasculate U.S. force projection around the world, and specifically in the Persian Gulf, is less obviously ridiculous. Outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, well liked and trusted by both sides of the aisle, has vociferously insisted the cuts (totaling $55 billion in cuts to the military budget this year) would degrade our ability to respond to crises around the world (“around the world” typically taken to mean, in this context, North Korea, China, and Iran).
Still, it’s hard to imagine Iran’s mullahs breathing a sigh of relief because of the sequester. The defense authorization bill that President Obama quietly signed into law amid the chaos of the fiscal cliff last December tightened sanctions on Iranian shipping and included $211 million in funding for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense program. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee seemed pleased with the measure. “AIPAC thanks Congress for its actions to thwart Iran’s nuclear quest and help Israel defend against emerging threats,” it said in a statement.
And remember: Even if it succeeds in doubling its defense budget, as it has vowed to do, Iran would spend just $30 billion annually—compared to the $633 billion behemoth that Obama and Congress just approved.
None of this is to say that the sequester won’t affect national security needs as Leon Panetta and Lindsey Graham define them. Conversely, I don’t mean to imply that the sequester is a smart way to trim military spending.
But I think it’s fair to say that “Iran likes it” belongs in the same file as “The terrorists will win.”
After following Chuck Hagel’s Senate confirmation hearings and reading Daniel McCarthy’s thoughtful post asking “Can a Realist be a Republican?”, I want to remind TAC readers and others that they should not confuse a realist global strategy with a non-interventionist (or anti-interventionist) foreign policy.
In fact, for much of the Cold War and its aftermath, Republican foreign policy was synonymous with realism. It reflected an emphasis on protecting U.S. national interest measured in terms of military and economic power and dealing with the world as it is, as opposed to a preoccupation with transforming the existing international system based on American principles of liberal democracy.
It was never an either/or choice of course, but Republican administrations’ default foreign-policy position has historically been realism, which never precluded military intervention abroad or opposed the formation of alliances with foreign nations. The realists stressed that this extensive involvement in world affairs should be driven more by hard-core nationalism and less by the kind of vague universal principles that Oliver Stone (among others) argues should have guided U.S. diplomacy and national security (like sharing U.S. atomic secrets with the Soviets).
Indeed, as scholar Colin Dueck proposes in his Hard Line: The Republican Party and US Foreign Policy Since World War II Republican and conservative foreign policy post-World War II was very hawkish and nationalist in contrast with the earlier more anti-interventionist approach of Republican Robert Taft.
And I doubt very much that even President Dwight Eisenhower, who is now being romanticized as a prudent Republican foreign-policy president (one whose secretary of state bashed containment and called for rolling-back communism and employing tactical nuclear weapons), would have found it un-American to deploy drones around the world or to allow enhanced interrogation techniques.
Perhaps the saddest moment in the Hagel hearing was to see the nominee forced to recant perfectly reasonable and true views, as if he were in a communist re-education camp or show trial. He apparently had once said there is “no justification for Israel to keep the Palestinians caged up like animals.” Senator Mike Lee, a Tea Party Republican from Utah, challenged the language. Hagel immediately recanted—”I would like to go back and change the words and the meaning… I regret that I used those words.” The fact that Israel’s occupation is oppressive, and cages up Palestinians is something which Capitol Hill can’t handle.
Mondoweiss posts the video above of Israeli soldiers bragging, quite brazenly before the camera, that they keep Palestinians caged up like animals. “Animals. Like the Discovery Channel. All of Ramallah is a jungle. The problem is the animals are locked in, they can’t come out. They aren’t humans, we are.” The video shows some Israeli troops teasing an Arab man who begs them to be able to pass the checkpoint in order to spend Christmas with his family.
Of all of defense secretary nominee Chuck Hagel’s “inquisitors” at yesterday’s Senate confirmation hearing, John B. Judis observes that Sen. Kelly Ayotte, the New Hampshire Republican, was “tough and fair” and well-mannered. I suppose this is superficially true. And yet I was utterly gobsmacked by the exchange.
Here’s a YouTube clip:
The infraction in question here is that Hagel, in a 2007 speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said, “The core tenets of George Kennan’s ‘The Long Telegram’ and the strategy of containment remain relevant today. This is how we should have handled Saddam Hussein.” (I bolded the clause that Ayotte quoted, and presumably found damning.)
The speech in full (go ahead, read it!) should offend no one. It was a routine formulation of classical realist principles:
In the Middle East of the 21st Century, Iran will be a key center of gravity…and remain a significant regional power. The United States cannot change that reality. America’s strategic thinking and policies for the Middle East must acknowledge the role of Iran today and well into the future.
To acknowledge that reality in no way confuses Iran’s dangerous, destabilizing and threatening behavior in the region. Our differences with Iran are real. Iran is a state sponsor of terrorism and continues to provide material support to Hezbollah and Hamas. The President of Iran publicly threatens Israel’s existence and is attempting to develop the capacity to produce nuclear weapons. Iran has not helped stabilize the current chaos in Iraq and is responsible for weapons and explosives being used against U.S. military forces in Iraq.
Yet, America’s military might alone cannot successfully address these challenges or achieve any level of sustainable stability with Iran. The United States must employ a comprehensive strategy that uses all of its tools of influence within its foreign policy arsenal—political, diplomatic, economic, cultural, and military.
This is the way moderate Republicans and liberal internationalists talked about foreign policy challenges throughout the 1990s. It is the kind of rhetoric that President Clinton employed and, for the most part, the kind of rhetoric President Obama employs today. Now, it’s true, as was pointed out to Hagel ad infinitum yesterday, that the Obama administration does not profess a policy of containment toward Iran; it has vowed to prevent the regime from acquiring a nuclear weapon.
But Obama was not president in 2007. And Hagel, then still a senator, was free to ruminate on the “inventory,” as he put it yesterday, of options available to American diplomats and national security strategists.
“Was it that containment was one of the options?” Ayotte probed.
Hagel: “Yes, of course.”
This is damning?
Yes: Of course a strategy of containment is an option. So is an air attack or a land invasion tomorrow. Yet Ayotte strongly implied that the mere entertaining of the idea of containment was disqualifying. Containment ipso facto means appeasement, and to have said it’s worthy of consideration is a kind of thought crime. Consider: a member of the U.S. Senate, “the world’s most deliberative body,” thinks that it’s impermissible to actually deliberate foreign policy.
Add Ayotte’s exchange to Sen. John McCain’s confrontation with Hagel, in which McCain treated the arguable success of the Iraq surge as a priest would the historicity of the virgin birth, and we have the unmistakable voice of a school of foreign policy that operates more like an office of doctrinal enforcement.
These are dangerous people.
If money talks, military personnel have made their preferences on war clear. Ron Paul received the most in campaign contributions from military personnel until March 2012, when Obama began taking in more. By election time the president had received nearly twice as much as Mitt Romney. Given the military’s historical tendency to lean Republican, that’s a pretty striking number. It’s been widely reported that the officer corps has deep reservations about an attack on Iran, and former Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said one by either Israel or the United States would be “catastrophic.”
The remarkable shift away from Republicans could be due to many things. But given the similarities between both 2012 candidates on most things besides war, and the fact that the military is the subset of the population most affected by it, it stands to reason that that foreign policy is the main issue military personnel part ways with the GOP.
It’s news to nobody that Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, both of Cuban descent, hold some views that are out of the mainstream of the Hispanic community. Yet, as they transform from Tea Party small-government conservatives to full-blown imperialists–witness Ted Cruz’s bizarre fixation on Chas Freeman yesterday and Marco Rubio’s catechesis in fraudulent American Exceptionalism—it’s interesting that the military itself has become more skeptical of intervention. Moreover, if the military’s shift in opinion is also evident in the subset for which these senators are touted as the GOP’s ethnic ambassadors, that would be quite something, especially since Hispanics enlisted at higher rates than the general population in 2004 and 2005. It would hint that they’re out of touch with Latinos in a group that’s ordinarily more sympathetic to Republicans. It would also be another reminder that the GOP’s problem is deeper than immigration.
The trouble is it’s a bit difficult to get solid information on Hispanics and Latinos in the armed services because in 2008 the Office of Management and Budget directed the military to stop accounting for them as a separate racial category. Note the massive drop-off in minorities on active duty between 2008 and 2009.
Let me be clear. Those who instructed the OMB to change the military’s racial accounting probably had perfectly good reasons for doing so–Hispanics are an ethnicity, not a race, etc. That’s both an important conversation and one I’m completely uninterested in.
Hispanics are still counted, but as a subset of all the other racial categories. Maybe there are some good reasons for that, but it’s worth pointing out that omitting Hispanics makes the military look like it has much more of a “diversity problem” than it actually has.
Though Hispanics are not considered a race, in this country they generally are considered minorities. Yet this chart of minority officer-to-enlisted ratios doesn’t include them.
This goes beyond the point I’m trying to make here, but whether or not you believe diversity ought to be a criterion promotion boards select for, it is. Therefore the military’s understanding of diversity (or lack thereof) ought to be based on sound data. If the data is telling you that minorities are far more underrepresented than they actually are, that raises questions about just how aggressively the military is selecting for minority officers. There’s nothing in the military’s 2010 demographic report about the enlisted-to-officer ratio of Hispanics, for example. We simply don’t know.
So that’s a confounding variable, since officers tend to the right of the enlisted ranks. Nonetheless, it’s safe to assume that the views of Hispanic military personnel on intervention more or less track with the military on the whole. They certainly haven’t gotten more hawkish, as the key Republican senators have.