It seems certain that Chuck Hagel will be confirmed by the U.S. Senate as the next secretary of defense. But it shouldn’t be. For the Hagel issue is the perfect symbol of the dilemmas faced by America today.
The first problem is the willingness of all too much of the mass media and the Democratic Party to be a doormat for President Barack Obama even though this stance is against their own interests. Many Democratic senators resent the fact that they are so pressured to vote for Hagel even though it makes them look foolish and might endanger their reelection chances.
Their willingness to vote for Hagel, however, shows the triumph of partisanship and ideology over national interest. Obviously, there are times when those factors will prevail, especially if the question is more marginal. But when a clearly unqualified man who has made a fool of himself in public hearings is going to take a post that involves the very lives of so many, that’s where you should draw the line.
In other words, even if one argues that the president should be given whoever he wants in high posts unless there is a really good reason to deny consent to such a nomination, here is the case where that exception applies.
Second, there is the way the issue is defined. A New York senator and a New York newspaper, for example, want to narrow the problem into the idea that Hagel may have used one word — “Jewish” as in “Jewish lobby” — in an offensive way. That’s supposedly why Hagel isn’t fit for the job.
If that’s true then anyone who opposed Hagel might be considered to represent a selfish, narrow interest group. Indeed, some of Hagel’s defenders have turned the issue of his being criticized for saying nasty things about Jews having too much power into proof that Jews have too much power. In defending Hagel’s gaffe, both that senator and that editorial have also committed what might be called ideological antisemitism.
If Hagel is innocent then those who oppose him are merely too (right-wing) Jewish or pro-Israel or “neoconservative” (a code word for “Jewish,” especially in the Middle East).
What makes this view objectively absurd is that there are dozens of reasons to oppose Hagel’s nomination, most of them having nothing to do with Israel.
First and foremost among these is that he has expressed objectively anti-American views, as was shown, for example, in his agreeing with an al-Jazeera caller who described the United States as an aggressive bully. Anti-Americanism may be fashionable among the U.S. elite today but it is not a good characteristic for a secretary of defense. Aside from everything else, if the United States has always been bad for pursing its interests in the past, why should this secretary of defense compound the sin by championing U.S. interests today?
Second, it is painfully clear — even to his supporters who would never admit it in public — that Hagel doesn’t understand the issues and is incapable of running a huge bureaucracy. Hagel even admitted his incapability in his own defense, boasting that this didn’t matter since he wouldn’t be making any decisions anyway!