Washington is going through one of its regular melodramas with President Obama’s nomination of former senator Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense. (In light of America’s foreign policy, this is a title worthy of George Orwell; the position should be renamed the “secretary of war.”)
To Hagel’s credit, he has the proper enemies on the right. Neoconservative advocates of perpetual war and global empire couldn’t tolerate Hagel running the Pentagon. To hear them tell it, he’s a left-wing appeaser. The opposition isn’t only from Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol and Sen. Lindsey Graham. The Washington Post has the same concerns: “Mr. Hagel’s stated positions on critical issues, ranging from defense spending to Iran, fall well to the left of those pursued by Mr. Obama during his first term — and place him near the fringe of the Senate that would be asked to confirm him.”
The anti-Hagel hysteria, however, carries a message different from the one getting all the attention: If Hagel is “out of the mainstream” of foreign-policy thinking, the range of permissible thinking is more narrow than many have suspected. True, Hagel has been critical of some of the overseas military policies pursued by Presidents George W. Bush and Obama, but to suggest he is a radical critic of U.S. militarism and hegemony is absurd.
What about Hagel brings forth this vicious campaign? He has “irresponsibly” suggested that the Pentagon is bloated and in need of a budget trim; had doubts about unilateral sanctions against Iran and about the futility of diplomacy; expressed concerns about a military attack on Iran; criticized the Bush troop surge in Iraq; opposed Obama’s Afghanistan surge; intimated that the United States and Israel may not have identical interests; and spoke favorably of negotiations with Hamas and Hezbollah. (The last two things, although routinely voiced in Israel, can get someone in America accused of anti-Semitism, and this ugly label has shamefully been thrown at Hagel.)
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Sheldon Richman (photo)