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The Petty, Spiteful Critics of Hagel

Jonah Goldberg’s reaction [1] 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.

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34 Comments To "The Petty, Spiteful Critics of Hagel"

#1 Comment By icarusr On January 8, 2013 @ 11:19 am

Greenberg piece in TNR was stupid; to rely on it as some sort of authority, especially in respect of what “liberals” think, is just braindead.

“the hawks are helping to discredit themselves with their disgraceful smear campaign.”

But this has been their modus operandi against Obama, at any rate, since at least 2008.

#2 Comment By Jim Dooley On January 8, 2013 @ 11:20 am

Any perceived rebuke, however mild, to 12 years of demonstrably failed policy choices appears to be more than the perpetrators can stand. My regret is that it has taken the President so long to begin the process of restoration, even if it is not the process of finding strict accountability.

#3 Comment By collin On January 8, 2013 @ 11:27 am

The main liberal complaint on Hagel is that another R is nominated for the position. Can’t a Democrat run the Defense well? Otherwise, the Dems thought the choice was a very competent individual who has lots of combat and foreign policy experience. His choice fits exactly who Obama has consistently chosen for his National Security team. Picking a R that was misgivings on invading Iran seems more like a chess move on downsizing the military’s Middle East involvement.

I think liberal have come to Hagel’s defense because the neocons have jumped the shark on this one.

#4 Comment By Daniel Larison On January 8, 2013 @ 11:35 am

“Can’t a Democrat run the Defense well?” I agree that it is odd that so many Republicans have been selected for the job in the last two Democratic administrations. My answer is that there are plenty of people on “the Democratic bench” qualified to do the job, and re-nominating Gates and nominating Hagel don’t prove otherwise. Republicans used to be selected for this job because Dem presidents were still in “defensive crouch” on national security. This time a Dem administration is just poaching Republican talent that the GOP self-destructively rejects.

#5 Comment By Sean Scallon On January 8, 2013 @ 11:47 am

“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.”

If person are interested in eye-gouging the neocons it’s their own fault. They’re the ones spoiling for a fight on Hagel and now they’ll get one. Do they not realize how many people they’ve angered who wish to get back at them and see Hagel as a useful weapon to do so even if they don’t particularly care for Hagel themselves?

Maybe they’re not used to people attacking them.

#6 Comment By Charlie On January 8, 2013 @ 11:57 am

Admittedly I wasn’t paying very close attention to the politics of it, but my sense at the time was that Gates was kept on as Defense Secretary because he was competent and basically in agreement with the rest of Obama’s foreign policy team, and because there were so many significant and complicated things going (winding down Iraq, ramping up Afghanistan, general counter-terrorism operations) where some continuity between administrations would be helpful. Hagel’s a bolder choice; at the time I felt like keeping Gates was a good decision, but not really surprising.

#7 Comment By Patrick On January 8, 2013 @ 12:04 pm

I dislike how Goldberg slips this line in: “Even if Hagel’s gaffe about the perfidious influence of the domestic ‘Jewish lobby’ was accidental…”

What I dislike about it is that it leaves room for accusing someone of anti-Semitism without having the guts to accuse him.

On the other hand, it’s difficult to disagree that support for a fellow who got the Iraq War wrong is partly motivated by animus toward Hagel’s detractors.

By the way: by what measure is Hagel “qualified”? Is there a list of usual tasks for the Sec. Def. floating around? It appears to me that there hasn’t been much discussion – and I’m not sure there could be – on whether or not Hagel could manage a department better than the average fellow. If it is about philosophy rather than technical skill, again; he was wrong about Iraq. Nevertheless, I haven’t seen any standards to say whether or not he was qualified.

#8 Comment By Clint On January 8, 2013 @ 12:16 pm

Ambassadors and diplomats are lining up behind Chuck Hagel’s nomination.

[2]

#9 Comment By Daniel Larison On January 8, 2013 @ 12:17 pm

Hagel has significant foreign policy and managerial experience. Outside the hard-liners’ echo chamber, he is respected for his understanding of the relevant issues. One might ask what better qualifications Cohen had for the same job, but no one even blinked when his name was put forward by Clinton. Even though I have been a long-time skeptic of Hagel’s post-2006 views, I thought Hagel would be a good fit at the Pentagon before the campaign against him started. Hagel’s military service by itself doesn’t make him qualified for the job, but it’s an important part of his record that distinguishes him from the other possible nominees as a better choice. It’s more accurate to say that a lot of people are inclined to support Hagel because he learned something from being wrong about Iraq. Many people in the current administration and all of the people in the previous administration were wrong about Iraq. Not all of them seem to have learned as much from that experience as Hagel.

#10 Comment By Kieselguhr Kid On January 8, 2013 @ 12:17 pm

Fairly, I think Tom Ricks has (wrongly) made the “pro-Hagel argument that concede[s] that he is a mediocrity or that he would be a ‘potentially lousy’ Secretary of Defense.” I think Ricks is wrong — I don’t know that Hagel _can’t_ run DoD, and while it’s true that Hagel isn’t particularly known as a defense rethinker, well, nor was Panetta: if the administration doesn’t want to rejig defense it isn’t going to, regardless of who is SecDef. But the argument has been made, and Ricks seems to think that basically it’s Hagel because the President gets who he wants (which I _also_ think is weak: ideally a smarter Senate would be doing _something_ like “advise and consent).

#11 Comment By IanH On January 8, 2013 @ 12:24 pm

“Maybe they’re not used to people attacking them.”

I’m sure that’s very true. However, Obama isn’t really attacking them. He’s merely choosing to openly defy their wishes and nominate someone they find unacceptable. They can’t believe someone would do that, because they’ve gotten used to having their way in just about every foreign policy question for over a decade. It’s a pathetic yet fascinating thing to watch.

I still believe Hagel will be confirmed, though it may be a party-line vote.

#12 Comment By SDS On January 8, 2013 @ 12:33 pm

” a lot of people are inclined to support Hagel because he learned something from being wrong about Iraq.”

EXACTLY-

And which appears to be a very rare ability in today’s Republican party….or generally; for that matter….

#13 Comment By SDS On January 8, 2013 @ 12:37 pm

After all; some may remember that “compelling argument”-

“If you know what WE know; you’d understand why we HAVE to “….etc…etc…

–Lots on all sides were accepting of that doozy of a fib…..

#14 Comment By cameyer On January 8, 2013 @ 12:47 pm

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.”

This may be one of the stupidest, most air-headed and insulting things anyone’s said about Hagel’s nomination.

#15 Comment By Patrick On January 8, 2013 @ 1:00 pm

Thanks for the response; I guess I was wondering more along the lines of job description, and I’m not sure that type of thing can be known by regular people. Does the Sec. Def. do a lot of policy making, or is he a behind-the-scenes bureaucrat who just talks to generals and implements Obama’s ideas? If the former, then his personal policy views matter; if the latter, then his foreign policy views matter a lot less. There are lots of factors that probably go into day-to-day cabinet post running – a foreign policy genius might not be able to run a large bureaucracy, for instance – and I’m not sure I would know enough to say beyond a minimal competence whether someone is “qualified” for the job. (Though that leads to *more* deference to the President’s choices, doesn’t it?)

At any rate, I haven’t seen a thorough discussion of what it is that a Sec. Def. does, so it appears that Goldberg has a point about support for Hagel being a function of his having the right enemies – which obviously is attractive as a proxy, but leaves discussion of the perfect candidate off the table. (I’d also point out that the neo-cons haven’t said what they think “qualifies” someone to run a cabinet position, either.)

I agree that Hagel’s learning from Iraq is helpful; I just wonder if there isn’t a big pool of qualified candidates who were correct on Iraq to begin with. If that is the case, this magazine ought to be supporting those people; untethered by political constraints and in the realm of speculation, one can always “let the perfect be the enemy of the good”. Even if Obama would never appoint them, even if the Senate would never confirm them, this magazine has no reason to “compromise” on anything.

Those are my two cents, and they’re worth even less than that in this debate. Hagel will no doubt be confirmed and anti-war conservatives will cheer a man who got the biggest foreign policy decision of our lives wrong, as if they had a dog in this fight. Oh well.

#16 Comment By Patrick On January 8, 2013 @ 1:18 pm

I forgot to add: Hagel cites Eisenhower and Taft for his foreign policy ideas, as if there were no difference. Ike: U.N., NATO, big international role for United States. Taft: America first, no U.N., no NATO, smaller role for the U.S. in the world.

The difference between them is huge, and I guess that’s my problem: I could get behind a Taft man; an Eisenhower man, while better than a neocon, is still someone who imagines sending Marines to places we’ve no business sending Marines to (and has voted for it in Iraq *and* using force in Kosovo!)

#17 Comment By WorkingClass On January 8, 2013 @ 1:21 pm

Petty and spiteful are much to kind for the murderous and cowardly and perpetually wrong about everything neo-cons. Whether Hagel (or Obama for that matter) is D or R means nothing to me. Hagel was a grunt in Vietnam so war is not an abstraction for him and his appointment is a departure from the childish belligerence of the Bush doctrine. Maybe there is at least a slim hope that Obama will not lead us into world war three.

#18 Comment By Ron Beasley On January 8, 2013 @ 1:43 pm

One of Hagel’s qualifications is he has all the right enemies!

#19 Comment By Uncle Vanya On January 8, 2013 @ 1:59 pm

And Goldberg’s reaction is completely as expected and almost completely the same as Kristol’s and Kagan’s.

Diversity of thought in the US today? Don’t kid yourself.

#20 Comment By Derek Leaberry On January 8, 2013 @ 3:56 pm

Senator Hagel will be used as cover by Barrack Obama to codify the social left agenda for a formerly conservative institution, the American military. This is the Gramsci in Obama. But elections have consequences. Bush’s military fiascoes led directly to Obama’s election and his policies. Hagel almost doesn’t matter.

As for Obama, Hagel and an austerity budget for defense, if you can call it that with a straight face, anyone with any sense of fiscal sanity must support the drawback that must come twenty years after the death of the USSR(Americans less than 45 years of age must ask what those four letters mean) and sixty-five years after the fall of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. When it comes to prospective defense cuts, Obama stumbles into the truth.

#21 Comment By easy two On January 8, 2013 @ 4:00 pm

“Maybe they’re not used to people attacking them.”

They’re used to it. What they aren’t used to is a significant conservative backlash against neoconservatism. They’re used to clearing the room of conservative critics by flinging around accusations of anti-Semitism. Didn’t work this time.

#22 Comment By dSquib On January 8, 2013 @ 7:43 pm

“liberals are bending over backward to praise Hagel, in effect saying they would prefer an archconservative male mediocrity to a liberal female rising star”

I can’t speak for liberals either, though I more or less am one, but for me I would like someone less likely to support war and aggression, and more likely to favor peace and dialogue. Really that’s it. Whether they are a Democrat or Republican, it’s beyond me why anyone cares.

Democrats now have greater favorability on foreign policy, if that’s what one cares about, so who cares about the Defense pick?

#23 Comment By kamwick On January 8, 2013 @ 10:24 pm

Sheesh, Jonah Goldberg….what can you expect?

Amazing that he gets to keep spewing his “analyses”.

#24 Comment By Fran Macadam On January 8, 2013 @ 11:21 pm

For better or worse – worse explains his compromise with neocon policy – Obama’s paradigm really has been in reaching some sort of accommodation with the status quo, whatever it might be.

#25 Comment By IanH On January 9, 2013 @ 1:51 am

Well, it would appear I spoke too soon. Apparently Ben Cardin has decided to play Joe Lieberman in this fight.

#26 Comment By Rob in CT On January 9, 2013 @ 8:14 am

I can’t speak for liberals either, though I more or less am one, but for me I would like someone less likely to support war and aggression, and more likely to favor peace and dialogue. Really that’s it. Whether they are a Democrat or Republican, it’s beyond me why anyone cares.

This.

Hagel (and what nominating Hagel represents) is not perfect. Instead, we’re looking at what we hope is an incremental improvement. Which is sort of what Obama’s thing.

Would I prefer a stronger shift away from interventionist FP? Sure would. Would my preferred FP do well in a national election? Yeah, no. My views are not held by a majority, and that matters. So I’ll take movement in my direction.

#27 Comment By Jon S. On January 9, 2013 @ 8:56 am

Mr. Larison, perhaps you should be reading collegue Dreher’s blogs about “the other” and demonizing your opponents. I think you have met your “other” and it is neocons. I oppose the Hagel nomination and I don’t feel the least bit petty and spiteful about it. I disagree with neocons about maintaining a bloated defense budget and the “democracy agenda”, but largely agree with them regarding Israel. I think President Obama’s consistent efforts to isolate Israel are bad policy and I think the Hagel nomination is, as Lindsey Graham put it, an “in your face” about being the most unfriendly president regarding Israel since the creation of the modern state of Israel. I think that Israel is a key ally and it is wrong to treat an ally so poorly. I think America should support democracies when those democracies are under constant threat of attack, especially when those making those threats resort so easily to murder (my opinion is that the Palestinians, if they are serious, should declare independence and form a legitimate army rather than sponsoring terror). I also think Hagel is an unremarkable Washington climber who is being rewarded above his talents. Hagel is precisely the kind of Republican who is portrayed as “sober” and “serious” because he so easily dumps on Republicans and conservatives. But the latter points are the lesser of my concerns. I am a strong supporter of Israel. You are not. But I don’t think that makes me and those who share my views “petty” and “spiteful.”

#28 Comment By Daniel Larison On January 9, 2013 @ 9:42 am

Thanks for your comment. I had read Rod’s post. I took his point to be that there is a need for greater understanding of how another group looks at things. I don’t think I fail to comprehend how Republican hawks and neoconservatives look at the things. I don’t have any sympathy for their worldview, and I don’t agree with their arguments, but what Rod and Bob Wright were talking about doesn’t require either of those things. And, yes, many of these critics are being extremely petty and spiteful in their efforts to demonize Hagel. Character assassination is spiteful.

Of course, not everyone opposed to Hagel’s nomination is being petty and spiteful about it. Obviously, it’s possible to think that Hagel is a bad choice without trying to vilify him, but I would hope that it is obvious that I’m not speaking of every single Hagel opponent in this post. I’m speaking of the people leading the charge against him, accusing him of holding views he doesn’t have, and generally distorting his positions for their own purposes.

You don’t like Obama’s handling of U.S.-Israel relations. All right. But it stretches things quite a bit to call him “the most unfriendly president regarding Israel since the creation of the modern state of Israel.” It might depend on what you mean by “unfriendly,” but even from the perspective of Republican hawks and neoconservatives there have been several other presidents less “friendly” to Israel than Obama. My impression is that some of Hagel’s opponents are misjudging his record on Israel, which isn’t nearly as “unfriendly” as you may think it is, and they are doing so because they have already misjudged Obama’s record.

#29 Comment By MBunge On January 9, 2013 @ 10:28 am

“I think President Obama’s consistent efforts to isolate Israel are bad policy”

What “consistent efforts” are you talking about? About the worst you can accuse Obama of is that he occasionally expresses something less than 100% unqualified support for the policies of the current Israeli government, and that usually happens when Obama simply re-states long standing U.S. policy on the Middle East.

Mike

#30 Comment By Sharculese On January 9, 2013 @ 11:15 am

. I also think Hagel is an unremarkable Washington climber who is being rewarded above his talents.

“I disagree with him and also, too his motivations are crass and shameful” is treading pretty close to the petty and spiteful line, especially without anything backing up your claim.

#31 Comment By Seth Owen On January 9, 2013 @ 11:29 am


“I think President Obama’s consistent efforts to isolate Israel are bad policy”

What “consistent efforts” are you talking about? About the worst you can accuse Obama of is that he occasionally expresses something less than 100% unqualified support for the policies of the current Israeli government, and that usually happens when Obama simply re-states long standing U.S. policy on the Middle East.

Mike”

Well, that’s IT, of course, If you don’t support Israel’s current government 110% then you’re an anti-Semite, a supporter of terrorism and Jihad and secretly want a second Holocaust.

#32 Comment By Frogger On January 9, 2013 @ 12:06 pm

“I think President Obama’s consistent efforts to isolate Israel are bad policy “

What nonsense. There is no such policy and never has been. In fact the shoe is on the other foot: Israel’s isolation is self-inflicted, with the US itself increasingly isolated as a result of standing by Israel. When the UN vote recognizing Palestine came up, the US found itself isolated with, one or two European countries and a few Pacific Island nations that are de facto US dependencies – like Israel, come to think of it.

“and I think the Hagel nomination is, as Lindsey Graham put it, an “in your face” about being the most unfriendly president regarding Israel since the creation of the modern state of Israel. ”

Israel has never had to deal with an unfriendly US President. It doesn’t even know what one might look like.

#33 Comment By Toad Hall On January 9, 2013 @ 9:32 pm

@Frogger – “Israel has never had to deal with an unfriendly US President.”

True, but it’s getting harder and harder to be friendly, especially when the working definition of “unfriendly” has become “unwilling to cater to Bibi’s every wish”.

#34 Comment By dSquib On January 9, 2013 @ 10:29 pm

Bush Sr. was easily more “unfriendly” than Obama regarding Israel, for one.