Here is Santorum at the start of his anti-Hagel campaign:

His anti-Israel, pro-Iran mindset makes him uniquely unqualified to serve as our Defense secretary.

Consider how many layers of dishonesty and delusion are packed into that sentence. Unless someone subscribes to Santorum’s hard-line version of what constitutes support for Israel and opposition to the Iranian government, Santorum believes that this person has an “anti-Israel, pro-Iran mindset.” Santorum may be one of the more fanatical critics of Hagel, but he shares the assumptions of other opponents of the nomination, so it’s worth reflecting on these charges a little more.

The first thing to note about these charges is that they are automatically self-discrediting. No remotely fair reading of the evidence supports this description of Hagel, and in a saner foreign policy debate it would be dismissed out of hand. Unfortunately, it won’t be, and that tells us a great deal about what is wrong with the state of foreign policy debate in this country. On one side, there are people attempting to make reasonably good-faith arguments about the pros and cons of the nomination, and on the other there are people inventing things out of thin air and hurling the most despicable accusations. Somehow we’re still supposed to believe that the latter are engaged in serious, substantive debate.

Why would anyone trust the judgment of someone who makes such an obviously dishonest argument? Of course, describing Hagel as being either “anti-Israel” or “pro-Iran” is wildly and intentionally inaccurate. Labeling others in this way is an old tactic that hawks have used for a long time to marginalize even the mildest dissenters. It is supposed to imply that the person is sympathetic to an antagonistic government and declares that disagreement over the best policy for the U.S. is tantamount to disloyalty.

Something else that continues to impress me is how self-destructive it is for “pro-Israel” hawks to fling these charges at people with such modest policy disagreements. Not only are the people being targeted with these attacks never going to follow the hawks’ line on policy, but they are making their definition of “pro-Israel” so narrow and exclusive that fewer and fewer people can possibly qualify. These hawks are putting themselves on a fast track to irrelevance. Considering how much damage they have done to U.S. and Israeli interests over the years, that is a very welcome and overdue development.