Home/Daniel Larison/The Petty, Spiteful Critics of Hagel

The Petty, Spiteful Critics of Hagel

Jonah Goldberg’s reaction to the Hagel pick is predictably not very insightful:

For some, the thinking seems to be that if the Hagel nomination is a thumb in the eye of the neocon crowd, it must be worth it. David Greenberg writes in the New Republic that many “liberals are bending over backward to praise Hagel, in effect saying they would prefer an archconservative male mediocrity to a liberal female rising star.” Why? Because punishing Hagel’s enemies is worth a potentially lousy Defense secretary.

Liberal supporters of Hagel can speak for themselves, but I haven’t seen any pro-Hagel arguments that concede that he is a mediocrity or that he would be a “potentially lousy” Secretary of Defense. Hagel appears to be well-qualified for the job, which is what matters most. It is also the one thing that his attackers have consistently avoiding discussing at any length. Hagel’s competence isn’t the issue, and most of his critics have never even bothered making a case against his competence. The bulk of the campaign against him has been ideological enforcement and character assassination.

That the selection offends and annoys people whose foreign policy recommendations have been so disastrous for the country is an additional piece of confirmation that Hagel was the better choice. He was also reportedly the preferred choice all along, which suggests that there was something other than spite driving the selection. Hagel’s supporters aren’t making a trade-off. They aren’t accepting the possibility of a “lousy” Secretary of Defense just to annoy Republican hawks. They are supporting someone who will probably be a competent Secretary of Defense, and in the process the hawks are helping to discredit themselves with their disgraceful smear campaign.

Consider how limited Goldberg’s interpretation is: the Hagel pick is “petty” because it is motivated by “spite,” for which he has no proof, because the selection has been poorly-received by Hagel’s opponents. Meanwhile, the immediate reaction of those opponents to his possible nomination was to launch a vicious smear campaign aimed at demonizing him before he was even chosen. There are petty and spiteful people involved in the debate over Hagel, but they aren’t in the White House.

P.S. There isn’t any need to “punish” Republican hawks with individual Cabinet nominations. That’s silly. Their party has lost the last three of four elections, which is why they aren’t in a position to install one of their own at the Pentagon. Throwing a fit over Hagel’s nomination is one of the most obvious cases of sour grapes in recent years.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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