February 2nd, 2013

Charles Pierce: A Chuck Hagel Defender Who Is Even More Incoherent than Chuck Hagel

As far as Charles Pierce is concerned, flinging playground insults is an acceptable substitute for wit and intelligence. Let’s catalog the name-calling in his column on the Hagel hearings and see where it leads.

  • John McCain is a “grumpy old RINO” who will “have to wait until Sunday morning to get the kind of fluffing that’s the only reason he’s still in public life any more. Well, that, and a war with Iran.” Additionally, McCain only has “alleged gravitas.”
  • James Inhofe “was reduced to citing Jennifer (Wrong) Rubin’s account of the tiny Hagels that have replaced the tiny Romneys in her tiny brain.(This is the equivalent of a clown taking singing lessons from a goat.)”
  • Hagel’s fellow Nebraskan, Deb Fischer, who less than a year ago was a noisy state legislator and the third candidate in a three-candidate primary field, pretended to be well-briefed on nuclear policy.”
  • Ted Cruz, the Tea Party gossoon from Texas, took almost his entire opportunity to fit Hagel for a kaffiyeh.”
  • Lindsey Graham was conspicuously beset by the vapors.”

There. You got the gist of it. Now, consider that despite despite Pierce’s insults and his low opinion of the Republican senators on the Armed Services Committee, the best he can do to explain why Hagel floundered so badly is to tell us that “Hagel seemed thrown off-balance” by the questions from Republican senators, and to ask “[h]ow could anyone be properly prepared for Jim Inhofe and Ted Cruz in the same day? Those kind of mushrooms are still illegal.” These, of course, are not answers. They are mindless snark from a hack writer who is about as bad at ratiocination as the Republicans he thinks he is scorning effectively. You’d think that someone as allegedly smart as Hagel could easily outwit  and out-debate the group of alleged mediocrities to whom Pierce pretends to be superior. But Hagel didn’t and Pierce can only try to laugh the whole thing off.

Pierce doesn’t try to explain why Hagel was unaware of administration policy regarding Iran’s nuclear weapons. He doesn’t try to explain why Hagel had to be corrected twice on the issue—with one correction being issued by Carl Levin, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, who wants Hagel to be confirmed. He doesn’t tell us why Hagel should not have been embarrassed by the lack of knowledge regarding weapons systems and policy that he displayed at his confirmation hearings. He doesn’t tell us why Hagel was so singularly unprepared to explain his past statements and positions, despite knowing that he would be questioned on them. Rather, Pierce whines throughout his column and then expects us to take his whining seriously.

No thanks. Having written this blog post, I plan on never paying attention to Charles Pierce again. He is not worth my time, and his fans are welcome to have him. He and they deserve one another.

February 2nd, 2013

Once Upon a Time, Stephen Walt Was a Rigorous Scholar

I know this because I took college and graduate school courses with him—and with John Mearsheimer—before Walt decamped for Harvard. Of course, this was back before both Walt and Mearsheimer decided to go crazy, so a lot has changed since then, but back in the day, I admired their scholarship and their intellectual seriousness regarding foreign policy, national security and international relations issues.

I don’t know what has happened in the interim, but Walt’s and Mearsheimer’s reasoning skills have become remarkably slipshod. The latest example can be found here; Walt believes that because there were a lot of mentions of both Israel and the threat Iran may pose to Israel during the Hagel confirmation hearings, his and Mearsheimer’s theories regarding the Israel lobby have been borne out.

It may be that the references to Israel during the Hagel hearings were due to the Israel lobby’s alleged “almost unchallenged hold on Congress,” its supposed ability to stifle “[o]pen debate about U.S. policy toward Israel,” or the possibility that “[i]f public discourse about Israel can be shaped so that most American have generally positive impressions of the Jewish state, then politicians will have even more reason to follow the lobby’s lead.” Or, it may be that the references were due to the fact that Chuck Hagel said some pretty controversial things about Israel, and that got the attention of the senators on the Armed Services Committee. If Hagel hadn’t said controversial things about Israel, there may well not have been all that many references to Israel during the hearings. Likewise, if Hagel hadn’t said some controversial things regarding Iran, there may not have been all that many references to Iran during the confirmation hearings. In short, I am putting forth the fairly unremarkable contention that controversy regarding a particular subject matter serves to drive discussion regarding that particular subject matter. There is nothing magical about Israel that causes any kind of monomaniacal focus on the country or on our relationship with it.

To be sure, there is no way to determine how the confirmation hearings would have gone in some alternative universe in which Hagel did not make controversial comments regarding Israel or Iran. But I would not be surprised in the least that if he didn’t make such comments, there would have been few references to Israel or to Iran’s relationship with Israel. John Kerry, who is now our secretary of state, did not make Hagelian comments regarding Israel or Iran. I have searched in vain for a transcript of his confirmation hearings before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, but I would be shocked if Israel or Iran’s relationship with Israel came up all that much during those hearings. I would be similarly shocked if they would have come up all that much if Kerry were nominated to be the secretary of defense and all else remained equal when he went before the Senate Armed Services Committee for confirmation hearings. As we know, Susan Rice is infamous not for any comments that she has made regarding Israel or Iran’s relationship with Israel, but rather for her comments regarding the attack on our consulate in Benghazi. I am willing to bet dollars to doughnuts that if she were nominated to be secretary of state, there would have been at least 166 references to the attacks during her confirmation hearings in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Similarly, if either Hagel, Kerry or Rice said something controversial about Afghanistan, China, or Venezuela, and then got nominated for some major cabinet post, there likely would have been well over a hundred references to Afghanistan, China or Venezuela during their confirmation hearings. 

My theories may be wrong, but I think that they are plausible and defensible, and they are certainly worth considering as alternatives to Walt’s flat declaration that the tone and tenor of the Hagel hearings prove that Walt and Mearsheimer were right all along about the Israel lobby. Just as I am willing to concede that Walt may have been right in what he wrote before putting out an alternative theory (even though I don’t believe he is right), Walt should have conceded that factors other than the ones that he and Mearsheimer identified might have helped shape the Hagel hearings into what they became. The old Stephen Walt would have considered alternative theories and ideas, even if they undercut the ones that he believed. Too bad the new Stephen Walt is too busy being a hater to show the kind of open-mindedness he used to be known and respected for.

Oh, and of course, Walt makes no reference to the fact that Hagel was terrible during his confirmation hearings. You’d expect a serious scholar—especially one who supports Hagel’s nomination as Walt does—to at least grapple with the fact that Hagel bombed before the committee, but again, Walt appears to have long ago given up the role of being a serious scholar. Speaking of scholarship, it is worth noting that the paper authored by Walt and Mearsheimer on the Israel lobby—which their now-infamous book is based on—is the product of incredibly bad social science. See also Benny Morris, who makes clear that Walt and Mearsheimer are as bad at history as they are at social science. Walt and Mearsheimer "relied heavily" on Morris’s historical scholarship in putting together their paper on the Israel lobby; thus, Morris’s evisceration of their work is especially devastating.

I should point out that the lack of rigor regarding Walt’s and Mearsheimer’s work regarding Israel and the Israel lobby does not denote a lack of rigor regarding realism as an explainer of past and present nation-state behavior, and/or as a predictor of future nation-state behavior. I classify myself as a classical realist irrespective of what Walt and Mearsheimer—who still claim to be realists themselves—say or do, and there is no reason why realism as a theory ought to be indicted along with Walt’s and Mearsheimer’s poor scholarship regarding Israel and the Israel lobby. Indeed, as I have argued before, the degree of attention that Walt and Mearsheimer pay to the Israel lobby and its alleged ability to shape foreign policy indicates a significant departure on their parts from the tenets of realism; while realists do pay attention to the nature of the political systems of nation-states, and while they concede that domestic factors can influence nation-state behavior somewhat, they believe that nation-state interests are largely independent of domestic factors and considerations, and it is those interests that drive nation-state behavior. Walt and Mearsheimer clearly believe that when it comes to Israel and the Middle East in general, the Israel lobby is the main driver behind the formulation and implementation of American policy. Regarding this issue, at least, it is impossible to call them realists anymore. Maybe if they stuck to realism, their theories and arguments regarding American policy towards Israel and the Middle East would make more sense and would be more defensible.

February 1st, 2013

First, There Is the Thesis. Then, There Is the Antithesis. Finally, There Is the Trainwreck of a Senate Armed Services Hearing.

Let’s get a couple of things out of the way regarding my opinions of Chuck Hagel:

  • He served honorably in Vietnam. I applaud him for it.
  • He is not an anti-Semite. Yes, I know that he said “Jewish” lobby. Yes, it was a stupid statement. But I have no firm evidence for the proposition that he hates Jewish people, and as a Jewish person, let me make clear my utter disdain and contempt for those who hate Jewish people.
  • He once called James Hormel, the Clinton administration’s nominee for ambassador to Luxembourg (he got confirmed) “aggressively gay.” It was a very stupid statement, deeply insulting, and possibly an actual indicator of bigotry on Hagel’s part. It was far more serious than “Jewish” lobby. And yet, I would like to believe that Hagel’s apology for the statement was not some mere confirmation conversion, and since Hormel himself has accepted the apology and supports Hagel’s nomination, I will assume for the purposes of this post that the apology was and is sincere. Maybe it isn’t, but I do like to think the best of people, so I will try to do so here.

I trust that the above bullet points make clear that I will not base my opinion regarding Hagel’s nomination for secretary of defense on the reasons given by many of his opponents. And for the record, I am trying my level best to keep an open mind on Hagel’s nomination. If asked about his chances for confirmation, I would state that they are relatively good at the time of the writing of this blog post.

Of course, if asked the same question before his appearance at the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday, I would have said that his chances for confirmation were excellent. But that was before Hagel decided to cause his own supporters to wonder whether he (a) lacks the intellectual ability necessary to know the things he needs to know to be a good secretary of defense, or (b) did not care enough to have done his homework in advance of the hearings.

The hearings, it is safe to say, were terrible for Hagel. Democrats inclined to support him were astonished by how badly he floundered in answering questions he should have anticipated and prepared for well before the hearings. He was utterly no match for skeptical senators who made mincemeat of his past statements regarding the Israel lobby and its supposed power to intimidate senators and make the U.S. do “dumb” things; Hagel could not name a single person who was intimidated by the lobby and could not name a single “dumb” thing the lobby forced down the throats of American foreign/national security policymakers. And lest you think that only conservative critics of Hagel thought that he crashed and burned, I give you Dave Weigel:

There’s no reason to judge televised hearings as theater, but several times, Hagel was faced with questions that had been litigated in the press, and meandered through them awkwardly. He explained votes on Iran as prudent decisions from a different time, and place, then called the regime an “elected, legitimate government, whether we agree or not.” It was in line with his philosophy, but it was a finger-in-the-eye way to put it. When Sen. Roger Wicker (a decided “no” vote) asked Hagel about his “Jewish lobby” quote, which everybody was expecting, Hagel gave a slow, uhhh-soaked three-part answer about how he should have said “Israeli” instead of “Jewish,” said “influence” not “intimidate,” and never called anybody “stupid.”

That went worse than the buzziest story of the morning—the confrontaiton with John McCain. The Arizona senator, who started to break with Hagel during the 2006-2007 buildup to the Iraq surge, simply refused to let that issue go.

"I want to know if you were right or wrong," said McCain.

"I would like to…" started Hagel.

"Are you going to answer the question?" asked McCain.

"It’s going to be the judgment of history," said Hagel.

"History has made its judgment," said McCain, "and you are on wrong side of it."

Hagel had given countless interviews and speeches about the surge, some of them after it ended, answering the question of whether the extra troops were responsible for a 2007 drop-off in violence, or whether other factors were responsible. Instead, he referred to “1,200 dead Americans’ lives” as the factor in his opposition.

There is no reason to think for a single moment, of course, that the government in Iran is either elected or legitimate. That Hagel either does not know this, or pretends not to know it is nothing short of astonishing.

Michael Hirsh details another jaw-dropping fumble on Hagel’s part:

Perhaps one of the worst moments in a fairly bad day for Hagel came when even one of his apparent supporters, committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., was forced to restate his position for him after Hagel twice misspoke about a critical issue: whether the Obama administration would accept mere “containment” of Iran’s nuclear program, rather than prevention of it. Hagel, handed a piece of paper, said, “I misspoke and said I supported the president’s position on containment. If I said that, I meant to say we don’t have a position on containment,” Hagel said. That’s when Levin interjected: “We do have a position on containment, and that is we do not favor containment.” 

In his typically obtuse way, Andrew Sullivan screeches and hollers over the fact that containment “was once good enough for Mao and Stalin, but not for Iran today.” Comme d’habitude, Sullivan misses the point, and let it be known that in the event that you remain interested in reading him after he moves from the Daily Beast to his own eponymous site, you can pay $19.99 per year for access to all of Sullivan’s blog posts (assuming that you don’t just decide to read them via RSS and forgo having to pay any fee whatsoever), so that you can continue to have the pleasure of watching as he misses point, after point, after point. Whether containment is or is not the right policy to apply regarding Iran’s attempts to gain nuclear power (and potentially, a nuclear arsenal) was not the issue in the hearings. We can have that debate and we should have that debate, but the issue was ensuring that Hagel was (a) aware of administration policy regarding Iran; and (b) willing to support that policy. Hagel demonstrated that he was either completely unaware of the administration’s stance on the issue—the administration does not favor containment; rather, it favors prevention—or he was trying to upset the administration’s stance by going rogue in his comments. Either Hagel hasn’t mastered his brief on the issue or he was trying to supersede the administration’s policy with his own pronouncements, which is tantamount to insubordination for any would-be secretary of defense in his/her relationship with the president. And for the love of Heaven, the guy who was forced to call Hagel out on the issue was Carl Levin, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, who presumably wants to help the Democratic president of the United States get Hagel confirmed (though one can forgive him for reconsidering after the hearings). If that wasn’t a clusterscrewup for Hagel and for Team Obama, I don’t know what is.

None of this is difficult to understand. But Sullivan apparently doesn’t understand it. He also doesn’t appear to understand that Hagel—oh, how shall I phrase this?—meep-meeped himself royally before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Quite a trick, that.

I would like to think that Hagel just had a bad day. We all have bad days from time to time. But if this is the best that Hagel can do, then we ought to worry that after weeks of briefings, orientation, murder boards, and God-knows-how-much-coaching, Hagel still might not have what it takes to be a good secretary of defense. And if I end up opposing Hagel’s nomination, I will do it on those grounds, not on the grounds of what his service in Vietnam might mean, or what he said once about a “Jewish” lobby or what he might have said about James Hormel, who has decided to forget any concerns or anger he might have had and has stated that he will support the Hagel nomination.

Incidentally, while I have your attention on this issue, gentle readers, dare I hope that some senator will ask Chuck Hagel something about this?

Asking the question under oath would be especially useful. For those blessedly unfamiliar with M.J. Rosenberg, click here.

January 1st, 2013

Summing Up the Obama Administration’s Cuba Policy

It sells out American interests and values, and for all of the appeasement, achieves nothing.

Is this the supposedly adept foreign policy administration we heard so much about during the 2012 presidential election?

Incidentally, here are two questions to which I expect the answers will be “no”:

  1. Will John Kerry be asked about his relationship with Fulton Armstrong, and what he thinks of Armstrong’s views on Cuban-American relations when Kerry undergoes Senate confirmation hearings?
  2. Will Stephen Walt be motivated to write even one blog post denouncing the pernicious influence of the Cuban-American lobby on American foreign policy?
December 20th, 2012

Is Chuck Hagel Smart Enough to Run the Pentagon?

As I see it, the next secretary of defense will be faced with—among other things—the following big-think policy challenges:

  • Figuring out the long term size and scope of the defense budget in light of the fiscal situation at home and the nature of American military commitments abroad—especially in Afghanistan and Iraq.
  • Figuring out the configuration of American force structure.
  • Figuring out the configuration of American force doctrine. Are we going to go small? Are we going to go small but continue to augment our counterinsurgency capabilities in the process? Are we going to go bigger?
  • Figuring out how the military will play with intelligence agencies like the CIA, the DIA and the NSA, as well as what the size and scope of the Pentagon’s intelligence structure is going to be.
  • Figuring out what steps it wants to take when it comes to the issue of defense transformation.
  • Figuring out what its long term doctrine is going to be regarding the use of drones in warfare.
  • Figuring out how best to run military tribunals, how best to administer indefinite detention, and what to finally do about the detention facility in Guantanamo Bay.
  • Trying to convince regional powers that are allies of the United States to take a greater role in their own defense.

I am sure that I am missing various other agenda items, but I figure that ticking off eight big ones will suffice for the moment. To state the incredibly obvious, most—if not all—of these agenda items cannot be kicked down the road by the next defense secretary. They are going to have to be addressed quickly and comprehensively. And all of this means that the next defense secretary has to be very smart, and very intellectually steeped in defense/national security policy. We need a deep thinker with excellent management skills to run the Pentagon.

I write the above as a prelude to linking to this column, in which David Ignatius rightly wonders whether Chuck Hagel really is all that and a bag of chips:

The harder puzzle for the White House is whether Hagel would be the best manager during an important inflection point in Pentagon history. The U.S. combat role in Afghanistan will be ending, and the services will be fighting over how to divide a shrinking budget.

Hagel brings some obvious pluses on both counts: As a Republican and a genuine military hero when he served as an enlisted man in Vietnam, he can give President Obama cover as he executes the withdrawal from Afghanistan. Hagel is angry about what he sees as the misconceived wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as perhaps only a combat veteran can be. If he had his way, the troops probably would have come home yesterday. But this impatience is also slightly worrying. The withdrawal will succeed only if our military leaves an Afghanistan that can hold together.

Hagel’s military record is surely one big reason why the president wants him. He’s a guy who, as Reed says, knows how to talk to the troops and has walked in their boots. He’s blunt, direct and impatient with pettifogging. In these traits, he’s similar to the current secretary, Leon Panetta, and his predecessor, Bob Gates. And like both of them, Hagel has a temper.

Gates was the most successful defense secretary in modern times, for reasons worth considering now. He understood how to manage the Pentagon and did it not by getting down in the weeds but by staying above them. He delegated the busywork to Pentagon bureaucrats and made the big decisions himself. He was effective partly because people were scared of him. They knew that if they crossed the secretary, they would get fired. This brought a rare accountability.

Hagel could do the tough, no-nonsense-boss part of the job. But Gates had another essential talent that will be harder to match. He was a genuine national-security intellectual, who had studied how to manage and motivate huge institutions when he was director of the CIA and at the National Security Council. He knew the big strategic things about defense policy, but he also knew the little technical things. Gates was such a sawed-off shotgun of a guy that it was easy to miss that he was also a subtle thinker.

Nobody who knows Hagel would describe him as a defense intellectual. He’s more blunt than nuanced. How would he steer Pentagon procurement decisions in this age of new technologies and strategic matrices? I’m not sure. How would he manage the chiefs in their knife fights over the budget? Again, I’m not sure.

Well, we need to be sure. And needless to say, demanding serious and detailed answers of Hagel regarding these issues is not some neocon/Greater Israel/Jewish lobby/AIPAC machination designed to serve the interests of people Andrew Sullivan and Stephen Walt hate with a Gollumesque passion. If Hagel can give serious and detailed answers regarding these and other issues, I will be favorably impressed and I will write as much. If not, he has no business whatsoever being the next secretary of defense.

December 19th, 2012

Night Is Dark, Water Is Wet, Fire Is Hot, Ice Is Cold, and Andrew Sullivan Obsesses About the Greater Israel/Jewish Lobby

I guess that no one should be surprised that Andrew Sullivan—in response to people opposing the idea of Chuck Hagel serving as secretary of defense—takes his now-traditional tack of blaming the “Greater Israel” and/or “Jewish” lobby for having the temerity to voice their objections. But if Sullivan were to calm down for a moment and think the situation through—I know that this asks a lot—he might find himself skeptical about the idea of nominating Hagel as well. Consider:

  • Sullivan celebrates sanctions on Iran as working, favorably linking to a post during the campaign that states that sanctions compelled Iran to change its behavior and “demolish[ed]” a Romney talking point contending that the Obama administration’s engaged in “foreign policy missteps.” Sullivan has also praised sanctions on Iran by claiming that “[b]y tightening sanctions while keeping an open hand, Obama avoids the appearance of America being the bully, and prevents cooptation of national pride by the regime.” Sanctions on Iran were further hailed by Sullivan as evidence of a “pragmatic, realist government. And it’s a relief to see it at work again in America’s corridors of power.” All of which makes one wonder why it is that Sullivan might favor the appointment of Chuck Hagel, who blocked sanctions on Iran in 2008 while in the Senate, who denounced sanctions on both Iran and Libya back in 2001 and who voted against renewing them that year. Why would Sullivan favor the appointment of a secretary of defense who might cause the regime in Iran to think that if they just hold out for a while longer, said secretary of defense might have the time to successfully lobby for the unilateral removal of the sanctions? Why would Sullivan want to have a secretary of defense who undercuts the president Sullivan so ardently idolizes?
  • Speaking of undercutting Barack Obama, at all times when dealing with Iran, the Obama administration has made clear that the use of force would remain an option on the table. But on that issue, Hagel has been, at best, “ambiguous”. And at other times, he really hasn’t been so ambiguous:

… I think talking about going to war with Iran in fairly specific terms should be carefully reviewed.  And that’s pretty dangerous talk.  It’s easy to get a nation into war; not so easy to get a nation out of war, as we are finding out.  I’m not sure that the American people are ready to go into a third war. 

Second, if you subscribe to what Barbara has laid out – at least, what our taskforce has found – in particular, the internal dynamics that are occurring in Iran, then why in the world would you, as Barbara has noted, want to get in the way of that? 

We do have some rather significant evidence that sanctions are working.  And they’re working because we – our government, our policies; imperfect, flawed problems; every policy has those.  But nonetheless, it has accomplished something even bigger than sanctions.  And that is they have brought a consensus together of most countries – the European Union, the Chinese are involved, Russians are involved.  We have a rather significant consensus on this issue up to a point.  And I think all you need to do is reflect on the United Nations’ vote on this as a pretty good indicator. 

Now, that alone won’t change the dynamics.  But as Barbara – (audio break) – if you subscribe to what our taskforce has come up with, then aren’t we wiser to let this play out?  Aren’t we – (audio break) – wiser, rather to get ourselves into another very difficult predicament because – (audio break) – we do also know that wars have – (audio break) – most of the time and especially – (audio break) – where we live in a day they have unintended consequences.  They have uncontrollable consequences.  We live in an interconnected global – (audio break) – and I think, again, we should factor that in. 

Last point I would make: as to the question of, well, but aren’t we just allowing the Iranians to buy time?  Maybe.  We have to recognize that the real world is about risks.  You calibrate your decisions and your policymaking based on that risk analysis. 

Is it riskier to go to war right now or is it riskier to pursue the policies that we are pursuing?  Policymakers have to decide that.  They have to sort their way through that and then they come to a decision.  It’s my analysis – and answering your question, Shuja – that it is far riskier to talk of war and to go to war.


Well, I would add this:  I’m not so sure it is necessary to continue to say all options are on the table.  I believe that the leadership in Iran, regardless of the five power centers that you’re referring to – whether it’s the ayatollah or the president or the Republican Guard, the commissions – have some pretty clear understanding of the reality of this issue and where we are. 

I think the point that your question really brings out – which is a very good one.  If you were going to threaten on any kind of consistent basis, whether it’s from leadership or the Congress or the administration or anyone who generally speaks for this country in anyway, than you better be prepared to follow through with that. 

Now, Stuart noted putting 100,000 troops in Iran – I mean, just as a number as far as if to play this thing out.  The fact is, I would guess that we would all – I would be the one to start the questioning – would ask where you’re going to get 100,000 troops.  (Laughter.)  So your point is a very good one, I think. 

I don’t think there’s anybody in Iran that does not question the seriousness of America, our allies or Israel on this for all the reasons we made very clear.  And I do think there does become a time when you start to minimize the legitimacy of a threat.  When you threaten people or you threaten sovereign nations, you better be very careful and you better understand, again, consequences because you may be required to employ that threat and activate that threat in some way. 

So I don’t mind people always, as we have laid out, and I think every president and every administration, anybody of any consequence who’s talked about this can say – does say.  But I think it’s implied that the military threat is always there.  Stu made an important point about, there are a lot of ways to come at this. 

But once you begin a military operation – I mean, you ask any sergeant – and it’s the sergeants and the guys at the bottom, not the policymakers that have to fight the war – (audio break) – there the ones who have to do all the dying and all the fighting – (audio break) – sacrifices, not the policymakers. 

But my point is, once you start that, you’d better be prepared to find 100,000 troops because it may take that or, eventually, where you’re going – my earlier point:  You don’t know.  And you can’t just – (audio break) – concept of, well, we’re going to do this but it’ll be marginalized, it’ll be a limited warfare.  I don’t think any nation can ever go into that way.  So that would be what I would just add to the rest of the other conversations. 

So, on two key issues—issues which will heavily occupy the time of the next secretary of defense—Hagel differs starkly from the president. Now, when it comes to the question of war with Iran, I am against the idea at this time: I think that we have more diplomatic options in our quiver and that we are not at the point where we are left with no option but armed conflict. And when it comes to Hagel’s possible nomination, I am willing to keep an open mind, but it seems to me that given Hagel’s many deviations from Obama administration policy, fans of the president—including Sullivan, who praises to the skies just about everything Barack Obama says, does, thinks, emotes, or casually contemplates—ought to be dead-set against having Hagel at the Pentagon.

But no. Sullivan supports both the president and the potential secretary of defense who has spoken out against many of the president’s policies when it comes to the important issue of what to do about Iran. And instead of casting a wary eye on Hagel, he lunges into attack mode against the “Greater Israel” and/or “Jewish” lobby.

Leon Wieseltier had an explanation for this behavior. And while it may cause Andrew Sullivan fits of apoplectic rage to read this, Wieseltier’s explanation looks better and better with the passage of time.

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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