December 14th, 2012

Because There’s No Revenge Like Petty Revenge

My onetime international relations professor Stephen Walt has a well-earned reputation for disliking Israel in particular and possibly disliking Jewish people in general. Like Walt, I identify as a realist when it comes to foreign policy. Unlike Walt, I am a classical realist while he is a defensive structural realist (or defensive neorealist), and also, I don’t viscerally hate Israel or cause people to suspect that I viscerally hate my fellow Jews.

I should be used to Walt’s fixation on Israel and nothing he writes about the subject ought to shock me anymore. And yet, while endorsing the idea of making Chuck Hagel the next secretary of defense, Walt still caused me to find a way to be smacked with gob. Consider the following:

Having lost out on Susan Rice, Obama is unlikely to put forward a nominee he’s not willing to fight for or whom he thinks he might lose. So if Hagel is his pick to run the Pentagon, you can bet Obama will go to the mattresses for him. And what better way for Obama to pay back Benjamin Netanyahu for all the “cooperation” Obama received from him during the first term, as well as Bibi’s transparent attempt to tip the scale for Romney last fall?

(Emphasis mine.) So now, apparently we are picking a secretary of defense based on how much the Israeli prime minister might dislike said secretary of defense. How very interesting. Of course, this raises a couple of questions:

  • Obamaphiles are fond of telling us that far from being a hater of Israel (like, say, Stephen Walt), the president is a stalwart ally of the country. Are we saying that there is no better way for him to prove his bona fides as a supporter of Israel than to make the president’s animus for Benjamin Netanyahu a factor in choosing the next secretary of defense?
  • If personal animus does indeed become a factor in choosing the next secretary of defense, doesn’t that mean the president isn’t and never was all that much of a supporter of Israel?
  • Do self-styled “realists” like Walt who counsel the president to pick a secretary of defense based in no small measure on personal animus for the Israeli prime minister really qualify as realists? I know that Walt calls himself a realist but his alleged ability to engage in a cold-eyed analysis of the workings of the international system in general and American interests in particular tends to take a backseat to his absolute hatred of Israel. Do genuine realists allow their judgment to be so clouded? I know I try not to let that happen but then again, I don’t happen to believe that the realist explanation for the workings of the international system and the behavior of nation-states somehow is consistently eclipsed by the workings and machinations of the nasty hobbitses Israel lobby.
  • Back in 2004, when there was talk about how much other world leaders wanted George W. Bush to lose to John Kerry, did Stephen Walt lose his … er … stuff, given the “transparent attempt” of various world leaders to “tip the scale” for Kerry 8 years ago? Because I strongly doubt it.

Oh, incidentally, Walt tells us that if Hagel is nominated, the president “can again demonstrate a genuine commitment to bipartisanship.” Yeah, sure; because Chuck Hagel is such a rock-ribbed Republican:

On November 1, just five days before this fall’s election, Hagel flew to Omaha, Neb., where he endorsed Democrat Bob Kerrey over Republican Deb Fischer in their narrowing Senate race. “There are a number of Hagel loyalists for whom that was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” says Sam Fischer, a Nebraska Republican operative (Sam is Deb Fischer’s nephew).

“He doesn’t do much or have much connection with Nebraska anymore,” says another prominent Republican operativein the state. In fact, Hagel, now a Virginia resident and a professor at Georgetown University, is no longer registered to vote in his home state. Nebraska Republican party chairman Mark Fahleson says he considers Hagel’s endorsement “an attempt to curry favor with the Obama administration.” He points out that Hagel, on the morning he flew to Omaha to throw his weight behind Kerrey, had a phone conversation with Vice President Joe Biden. “We have no idea what they talked about,” Fahleson says suggestively.

And Fahleson is not alone. Republican Nebraska senator Mike Johanns has labeled the Kerrey endorsement part of a campaign for a cabinet position. “[Hagel’s] been clear he’d love to be in the administration,” Johannes said last month. And, though Johanns called Hagel “one of my closest friends in politics,” he told the Associated Press that the endorsement was “a step in [Hagel’s] path to try to build those bona fides that he is truly an Obama person and deserves a place in his cabinet.” Responding to this comment during a press conference on the day of the endorsement, Hagel said that Johanns “doesn’t know anything about who I am.”

In 2010, Hagel further rankled Republicans by endorsing Democrat Joe Sestak in his Senate race against Republican Pat Toomey. According to the Washington Post, which claimed Hagel was “auditioning for a cabinet position,” the move was as personal as it was ideological: “The more he can show a willingness to put party aside to do what he believes is the right thing, the more attractive he will be to President Obama and his inner circle.”

Whatever the motives, Hagel’s Fischer endorsement in particular marked his increasing coziness with the Obama administration, which can be traced to the 2008 campaign. After blasting the Iraq surge as “the most dangerous foreign-policy blunder in this country since Vietnam,” Hagel joined then-senator Obama on a trip to Iraq. Though he has said his relationship with Arizona senator John McCain is “pretty deep,” he refused to give an official endorsement. Throughout the campaign, he didn’t do the McCain campaign any favors. “I’m very upset with John and some of the things he’s been saying,” Hagel said in May 2008. The following month, he indicated he would consider accepting a vice-presidential offer from Senator Obama. “Why wouldn’t you?” he said.

Or, you know, not.


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