I think his vision of foreign affairs and defense goes beyond naïve and actually is malign. . . . The man really does seem to be an isolationist.
This is remarkable in several ways. First, it shows that the hawks’ arsenal of epithets and insults is now so limited that they are reduced to the oldest, laziest, most baseless canards available: Hagel is an “isolationist,” Hagel is an anti-Semite, etc. It’s as if they’re not even really trying. Second, the hawkish reaction to Hagel is even more deranged than I thought it would be. Hagel is no more of an “isolationist” than Obama is, but then I suppose that’s the point. If one can’t stand someone as conventionally hawkish as Obama because he is not hawkish enough, Hagel would be even more infuriating. It’s impossible to portray Hagel as a would-be McGovernite, and the fact that he and Obama are frequently in agreement exposes how absurd most hawkish complaints against Obama are.
Hagel has not been a maximally hawkish supporter of Israel, but the smear against Hagel on this point is particularly loathsome and of course has absolutely no merit. If Hagel criticized Israel’s 2006 Lebanon war, that’s because the overkill and folly that war represented deserved to be criticized. If he believes that attacking Iran would have disastrous consequences and war ought to be avoided, that makes him unusually sane for a member of the political class. The fact that such a despicable smear is already being thrown around (albeit by an anonymous aide who won’t attach his name to the slur) reeks of desperation. The “isolationist” charge is much more amusing because Hagel has often warned against the dangers of so-called “isolationism” (and occasionally insulationism), and has been happy to fling that charge at others as all internationalists do from time to time. Being a thoroughly conventional and generally hawkish internationalist in his own right, Hagel has indulged in chasing away the non-existent bogeyman of “isolationism” almost as often as the people now attacking him. Hawks fling these charges so often at so many people that they have lost almost all of their power, and at the same time they serve to discredit the positions of the people lobbing the accusations.
We can hope that Hagel is now less inclined to support the use of force overseas than he was ten years ago, but that remains to be seen. I would like to think that Hagel truly has learned something from his previous mistakes, since it suggests that it is possible even for largely conventional Republican hawks to change. Even if that is the case, it won’t ever make him an “isolationist,” since there aren’t any real isolationists in America today. The label doesn’t even apply to advocates for a foreign policy of restraint and peace, but anyone so labeled by hawkish critics has to be getting something right.
P.S. Rubin went on to say:
Hagel’s non-interventionist views make him “like Ron Paul separated at birth.”
That would be welcome news for non-interventionists, but it’s completely absurd. Hagel has never been and will not be a non-interventionist. That’s simply the wrong way to describe Hagel’s views, as I suspect his enemies understand.