The wriggle and struggle for high political office can get rowdy on Capitol Hill but Obama’s pick for Secretary of Defense is already proving to be extra contentious. Why all the controversy surrounding Chuck Hagel’s appointment? Why would a senior Republican aide, use near slanderous language to defame Hagel, saying “Send us Hagel and we will make sure every American knows he is an anti-Semite.” I say near slanderous language because this aide and his confreres in the pro-Israel camp aren’t sincere in their censure. All of Hagels soon-to-be critics are deliberately and desperately leveling this charge because Hagel at the Pentagon’s helm means their jobs are at stake. To anyone making their living weaving reasons for why the U.S. must stay comfortably nestled in Middle East affairs the comparatively non-interventionist Hagel appears as the kiss of death for their policy-making prominence.
The droves of Hagel detractors care more about their own continued relevance than in the former senator’s supposedly nefarious character and, if pressed, they might grudgingly admit they value Hagel’s voice and could even wind up supporting him. How can I know this? Because that’s exactly what ended up happening to Hagel’s ideological equivalent and colleague, Senator Richard Lugar. Lobelog’s Marsha Cohen tells of the trajectory Lugar’s reputation took from the pro-Israel camp’s whipping boy at the time of John Kerry’s presidential run to their darling during the latest campaign:
“Ironically, during the 2012 election cycle, Lugar—who the New York Sun dubbed “Ayatollah Lugar” for his skepticism about the wisdom of Iran sanctions—received $20,000 from NORPAC, a leading pro-Israel political action committee in New Jersey, more than any other candidate in the 2012 election cycle. The Jewish Week explains why pro-Israel groups lamented Lugar’s defeat in the Indiana GOP primary and his absence from the Senate: “… Israel advocates and GOP insiders explained that Lugar represented a breed of lawmaker who pro-Israel groups see as valuable to their cause and disappearing: One who reaches across the aisle. “Lugar wasn’t actively pro-Israel, but he wasn’t anti either,” said Mike Kraft, a staffer on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in the 1970s and 1980s who now is a consultant on counterterrorism and writes for a number of pro-Israel websites and think tanks. “But generally losing a good, balanced, thoughtful guy on foreign policy is a real tragedy. It weakens the American political system.”
Neither pro nor anti-Israel—a neutral position like that is what all of congress ought to adopt. If pro-Israel advocates are able to appreciate Lugar as a “balanced, thoughtful guy on foreign policy” then maybe the U.S. can consider terminating its ‘special relationship’ with Israel and putting some daylight between the two countries to the mutual benefit of both. Israel would love not having to be under a superpower’s thumb and the U.S. normalizing relations with Israel to the point where we no longer unconditionally back its government’s every move would go a long way towards restoring our stature in the Arab and Muslim world. A more even-handed U.S. as arbiter would finally be able to negotiate in good faith, settle the festering Israel-Palestinian conflict (unless the two parties prove capable of doing so), dismantle our military presence in the Middle East, and leave.
The U.S. should not just leave the Middle East but everywhere else our troops are garrisoned and reset to a republican foreign policy of non-interventionism. Scrapping the empire would save substantial sums and get our economic house in order. But there will be resistance to this retrenchment from the imperially inclined in Washington for whom empire is very profitable. That’s another reason why Hagel will have to face ferocious opponents—his accession to Secretary of Defense would hit them hard in the money bag if the imperium was shrunk in any appreciable way. Hagel is a wary realist who doesn’t subscribe to the neocon Ledeen Doctrine which urges that “Every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business.” Hagel realizes that the American people are war-weary and as a veteran himself who is cognizant of the rigors of armed conflict he would never attack other countries for such crass reasons as keeping those puny nuisances in line.
Hagel may be a realist but this doesn’t make him an unqualified non-interventionist. Dana Milbank, defending Hagel’s credential’s, reminds us that he “isn’t opposed to war (he voted for the conflicts in the Balkans, Afghanistan and Iraq) but knows the grim costs of going to war without a plan.” Further, he “unlike some of his neocon critics, knows that military action doesn’t solve everything.” Hagel may not be a Ron Paul, but having his influence in the Cabinet is infinitely preferable to an environment where hawks who want to wage war for war’s sake are allowed to proliferate. Hopefully, his entry into the Obama administration will open the door for non-interventionists to have a greater say in public opinion since foreign policy realism will gain a new found prominence. Perhaps they could also one day persuade Hagel to agree that a true realist would recognize that maintaining a ruinous empire is not in our national interests.