It is a measure of how cynical senators, media and activists have become that there is no hue and cry when Chuck Hagel, after years of preaching his out-of the-mainstream views on Israel and Iran — reflected in dozens of votes, speeches, interviews and leadership of the Atlantic Council, known for its neo-isolationist views (and home to a vice chairman who calls Jews a “fifth column“) — does an about-face and collects the support of senior liberal Democrats like Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.)
Really, did these senators just fall off the turnip truck? Would they have bought it if Judge Robert Bork discovered the right of privacy to save his Supreme Court confirmation? Would they have patted John Bolton on the back and rubber-stamped his confirmation as U.N. ambassador if, on the eve of his Senate hearing, he had waxed lyrical about the U.N Human Rights Commission? No, they would have laughed and/or feigned insult that such duplicity was being used to con the senators into confirming him. You would have to suspend disbelief, as then-Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) put it in a different context, to believe these confirmation conversions were sincere.
But Boxer and Schumer aren’t fools. They are willing to be fooled so they can, with a clear conscience, roll over for the White House and look pro-Israel constituents in the eye. They know full well what Hagel’s views are; they are as well-established as were Antonin Scalia’s, Bork’s and Samuel Alito’s on originalism. Hagel didn’t simply say a few goofy things during his career. He made his brand of antipathy toward Israel, hostility toward Jewish Americans’ lobbying for Israel, reluctance to isolate or sanction Iran and desire to slash the defense budget hallmarks of his Senate and post-Senate career. It would be as if Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.) suddenly professed devotion to the military option on Iran.
Well, not everyone is willing to play the dupe. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), the incoming ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, is a friend of Hagel’s and was long thought to be a “yes” vote. Yet he has come out against Hagel. In a statement released late Tuesday, he explained:
Chuck Hagel is a good person, and it was a pleasure to serve with him in the United States Senate. I am so very appreciative of the sacrifices he and his brother made to serve this country during the Vietnam War. We had a very cordial meeting today in which we discussed his nomination.
Unfortunately, as I told him during our meeting today, we are simply too philosophically opposed on the issues for me to support his nomination.
One of my biggest concerns is avoiding [President] Obama’s sequestration that, as [Defense] Secretary [Leon] Panetta has said, would be devastating to our military. However, Senator Hagel’s comments have not demonstrated that same level of concern about the pending defense cuts.
Senator Hagel has also been an outspoken supporter of nuclear disarmament and the Global Zero Movement. At a time when North Korea is threatening our allies with their nuclear capabilities and Iran continues to pursue a nuclear weapon and the means to deliver it, the security of our own nation and that of our allies requires us to be vigilant with our own nuclear weapons and defense systems. This administration has already put us in a more vulnerable position by drastically cutting our nuclear defense budget and eliminating our Third Site missile defenses in Poland and the Czech Republic
Inhofe took the same stance with respect to Hagel’s Iran and Israel record, refusing to buy Hagel’s transformation from J Street favorite to devoted friend of the Jewish state. (“In 2000, he was one of just four senators who refused to sign a letter affirming U.S. solidarity with Israel. In 2001 he was one of just two Senators who voted against extending the sanctions against Iran. A year later, he urged the Bush administration to support Iranian membership in the World Trade Organization.”)
Either Hagel’s entire career previously has been a ruse or his current conversion is a ruse. Perhaps he has no views other than those convenient for the moment. Well, at least not all senators are as willing as Schumer and Boxer to be lulled into propping up a phony confirmation conversion.
Inhofe’s objections highlight another concern about Hagel and another example of hypocrisy from Democrats. When conservative Republicans are appointed to lead offices such as the Environmental Protection Agency or the Department of Health and Human Services, liberals holler that they don’t embrace the mission of their role. They wanted to cut spending! They believe in federalism! Yet Hagel, who has not defended defense but cheered the evisceration of the Pentagon budget, is dubbed by Democrats to be an appropriate figure to head the Defense Department. I mean, who exactly is supposed to advocate for our troops, for giving them the best equipment and for matching the budget with the threats we face?
Obama supposedly wants Hagel because he has such great judgment. (Opposing the Iraq surge and unilateral Iran sanctions? Well, that’s another story.) So which is it: Hagel has principled views that the president is going to consider seriously, or he’s just a dutiful bureaucrat parroting whatever the president and his political hacks say is required? You can’t be both principled and willing to shed those principles for job promotion. You can’t be selected for being a wise counselor and then forced to recount all previous counsel. And senators can’t go along with this farce unless they are willing to be actors in a deceitful drama intended to convince us that Hagel is someone he’s not.