February 26, 2013

Another day and another previously undisclosed Chuck Hagel speech replete with dumb and controversial remarks. (In his Cameron University speech in 2011 he accused India of fomenting terrorism in Pakistan and attacked NATO. This in turn caused a flap with India, which decried the remarks.) Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan joins the government of Iran, the National Jewish Democratic Committee and, as far as we know, every Democratic U.S. senator in giving Hagel a thumbs’ up to head the Pentagon.

Chuck Hagel (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)
Chuck Hagel (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

Conservatives and principled pro-Israel liberals may be discouraged, even apoplectic, as we are poised to see Chuck Hagel sail through the Senate. I’ll get to the gloom and doom, but on the bright side, there are a number of positive takeaways:

The Republican Party is rock solid in its support of Israel and determination to prevent Iran from getting a bomb. In order to be confirmed Hagel had to pretend he was, too. That is called winning the policy war, if not the confirmation battle. For those rare Republicans who mysteriously decided to support Hagel, there was a home-state backlash. (“The Steering Committee of the Alabama Republican Party has taken the rare step of officially demanding that one of the state’s two GOP U.S. Senators change a publicly announced position in a high-profile Washington battle. Specifically, the state party leaders have passed a resolution demanding that Sen. Richard Shelby reconsider and reverse his decision to support Senator Hagel to be Secretary of Defense.”)

Hagel has been stripped of the patina of competence and will go into his job with zero credibility even on his own side. His value as a prop to gussy up the devastating defense cuts is practically nonexistent. And because he is both dim and undisciplined it is unlikely he’ll get many delicate assignments with foreign leaders. Hagel may get the title, but only a foolish White House would let him actually do the job of defense secretary.

The public got a good look at President Obama’s judgment and that of the second-term team of lackeys. They can now more accurately evaluate how much the president pays attention to and supports our national security apparatus.

Senate Democrats are learning about the toll fidelity to the president can take. Will they learn next time not to blindly follow a lame-duck president, especially on issues that leave them vulnerable to home-state constituents?

The grotesquely unprincipled National Jewish Democratic Committee, which nodded in approval on the Hagel nomination, has been exposed as a group solely dedicated to defending whatever the president does.

The mainstream media were entirely uninterested, as they were on Benghazi, in rooting out information harmful to the White House. Nearly all the meaningful reporting on Hagel was done by conservatives.

In other words, the Hagel confirmation process has been both unifying and clarifying for Republicans. At a time when there are significant policy differences, the party was able to rally to defend defense and call out Hagel’s egregious rhetoric and views.

But all is not sweetness and light, of course. We will, if the confirmation vote goes as expected, have an entirely incompetent secretary of defense. His confirmation will  send a signal to Iran that it has room to maneuver with the administration. The entire Democratic Senate has voted for a high government official whose language and views are antithetical to what they say are their deeply held values. Even Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) suffers a loss in credibility. We will have less influence with Israel as the Jewish state perceives the Defense Department as hostile and untrustworthy. Friends and foes will perceive this administration as deeply unserious and take opportunities to freelance.

Once again the liberal, pro-Israel organizations with an overwhelmingly Democratic membership were useless and by their relative passivity signaled assent. They fear a loss of influence with the administration and shredding of bipartisan support? Maybe they should close up shop then, ceding ground to those groups that put principle above partisanship and integrity above access. Once again the most stalwart pro-Israel organizations were conservative (e.g. Republican Jewish Coalition) and/or Christian (Christians United for Israel.)

And finally, Republicans have bought into a standard for confirmations that will certainly not be extended when they have the White House. “Well, the nominee isn’t as bad as Chuck Hagel” will be the refrain, I fear in years to come. In the end, some Republicans were all too willing to fold their tents and join the Hagel confirmation machine. Those who became enablers for failing to practice what they preached (staunch opposition on the grounds of Hagel’s unfitness) should be ashamed. But if Hagel proved anything it is that politicians have no shame, even when it comes to national security.

 

Jennifer Rubin writes the Right Turn blog for The Post, offering reported opinion from a conservative perspective.