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Ron Radosh

There is a real, not-so-covert war going on in our nation’s capital: not the Obama administration’s attempt to select a secretary of Defense with a questionable record, but Chuck Hagel’s supporters’ attempt to end all opposition to him by raising the cry of “McCarthyism.”

That old standard bugaboo of the Left is being used again, this time as a mechanism to try to discredit all who have brought forth valid reasons as to why Senator Hagel should not get appointed to the position despite his nomination. For those who have not been paying attention, here is a brief summary of the various reasons presented by those who oppose Hagel’s nomination:

  1. He has publicly spoken about how the “Jewish lobby” intimidates members of Congress. Of course, there is a pro-Israel lobby that has the support of most of the public in our country — and it is made up not only of Jews, but of many evangelical Christians and other Americans.
  2. He not only opposed the Iraq war after first supporting it, but later voted against declaring Hamas and Hezbollah terrorist groups. He also argued on behalf of negotiations with them.
  3. He seems to favor relying entirely on diplomatic measures to pressure Iran to stop its work on a nuclear bomb, despite the obvious failure to date of reliance on diplomacy alone.
  4. Hagel opposed the successful surge in Iraq bravely instituted by George W. Bush.
  5. Hagel’s nomination serves as a message to the mullahs that the Obama administration will not be tough against Iran if it proceeds with its development of a nuclear weapon. Iran has already noted its pleasure with the nomination.
  6. Hagel’s position — as Democrats who supported the president such as Alan Dershowitz and Ed Koch have stated — undermines the position the administration purportedly supports, thus putting into a critical office a man opposed to the president’s announced policies.
  7. Hagel voted as Senator against any sanctions to be applied against Iran

In 2008, the prescient Tom Gross made the following points about Hagel, when Obama was considering him for a post. What Gross wrote four years ago could be written now, without any changes:

However, of particular concern to supporters of Israel is that Obama, the Democratic Party candidate, is being accompanied by Republican Senator Chuck Hagel on his trip to Israel, one of only two senators Obama is traveling with (the other being Jack Reed, a Democrat from Rhode Island).
One pro-Israel observer said: “If Obama is getting advice from Hagel about Israel, then the American Jewish community has a lot to worry about. Of all the senators with whom Obama could have traveled with, Hagel’s record on Israel is one of the worst.
“The message is heard loud and clear. While Obama has chosen to visit Israel with one of the most anti-Israel senators, by contrast, on John McCain’s most recent trip to Israel, he chose to visit with Joseph Lieberman.”
The Democratic Party has itself previously (in March 2007) released to the press examples of Sen. Hagel’s abysmal record on Israel:
* In August 2006, Hagel was one of only 12 senators who refused to call Hizbullah a terrorist organization. * In December 2005, Hagel was one of only 27 who refused to sign a letter asking the Palestinian Authority to ban terrorist groups. * In June 2004, Hagel refused to sign a letter urging President Bush to highlight Iran’s nuclear program at the G-8 summit. * In November 2001, Hagel was one of only 11 senators who refused to sign a letter urging President Bush not to meet with the late Yasser Arafat until he ended violence against Israel. * In October 2000, Hagel was one of only four senators who refused to sign a Senate letter in support of Israel.
* And here’s what the anti-Israel group, CAIR, wrote in praise of Hagel: “Potential presidential candidates for 2008, like Hillary Clinton, John McCain, Joe Biden and Newt Gingrich, were falling all over themselves to express their support for Israel. The only exception to that rule was Senator Chuck Hagel” (Council on American-Islamic Relations, 8/28/06).
I mentioned in a previous dispatch:
When asked by Newsweek “Would you have Republicans in your cabinet?” Obama replied, “No decisions, but Dick Lugar embodies the best tradition in foreign policy. Chuck Hagel is a smart guy who has shows some courage, even though we disagree on domestic policy.”

 

Rather than deal with the vital questions raised by Hagel’s opponents — composed of both Republicans and Democrats — Hagel’s supporters have tried two tactics to undermine the ability of those who question the president’s choice to make their case known.

The first, as I said at the start, is to cry McCarthyism. That term was used by Eric Alterman in his weekly column in The Nation. Alterman praises Hagel as “well qualified,” as having learned the anti-war lessons of Vietnam as a volunteer GI in that conflict, and as a man who is “enormously respected by what remains of the old bipartisan foreign policy establishment.”

Of course, Alterman does not notice the irony of someone with his leftist views citing that establishment favorably. Nor does he stop and pause to note Hagel’s social conservative views on issues like abortion, gay rights, guns, and the like — the kind of weathervane issues that the Left would usually bring forth to try to kill the appointment of an individual with such positions.

Hagel, evidently, is being given a blank check simply because on foreign policy issues he takes positions akin to those of their comrades on the way-out, anti-interventionist left.

Hagel is praised for “personal courage” in deciding to turn against the Iraq war. Alterman then argues:

Hagel has been especially vocal in his support for negotiations rather than saber-rattling when it comes to Iran. No less conspicuously, he has refused to march in lockstep with the demands that Israel’s right-wing government has consistently made of Washington to support its program of illegal settlement expansion on the West Bank, and he has criticized its failure to offer the Palestinians a compelling reason to return to the bargaining table.

In other words, the very reasons for which the Left likes his positions should give us all alarm that he might be secretary of Defense. Note also the faulty belief that the Palestinians are not negotiating because of Israeli policy, when we all know that the reason they have turned down every Israeli proposal is because they will not recognize the legitimacy of the Jewish state and will not give up the spurious “right of return.”

Finally, Alterman charges Hagel’s opponents with McCarthyism. He writes:

Hagel’s critics have been quick to unsheathe the McCarthyite tactics employed whenever opposition to any position of Israel’s right-wing government is at issue. The accusation is almost always “anti-Semitism,” but rarely has that charge proven as empty as in Hagel’s case. Leading the assault have been Pavlovian attack dogs like William Kristol and The Weekly Standard, Jennifer Rubin at The Washington Post, ex–AIPAC flack Josh Block, the ADL’s Abe Foxman, Bret Stephens at The Wall Street Journal, and convicted criminal and former Reagan and Bush II official Elliott Abrams, now respectably ensconced at the Council on Foreign Relations.

No need on his part to deal with their arguments. Instead Alterman simply smears them, tying together people of diverse views.

Josh Block, a centrist Democrat, is equated with the Republican and conservative Elliott Abrams, whom he falsely calls a “convicted criminal.” How is that for smearing an opponent? Then Alterman attacks both “neocons and conservative professional Jews.”

What is the term “professional Jews”? What could it be, except an example of something that itself borders on anti-Semitism? I guess that Mr. Alterman, being a leftist and “peacenik,” is exempt from being a “professional Jew.” He himself is Jewish, and he always makes that quite clear when arguing that AIPAC and those who disagree with him do not represent real Jews like himself.

The Nation is a leftist magazine of opinion. But its arguments also turn up in the New York Times — whose editors claim their paper and its point of view as mainstream, although it is largely indistinguishable in its analysis from The Nation, and in its regular dedication of its op-ed pages to one anti-Israel polemic after another. In today’s NYT, Jim Rutenberg pens a major piece titled “Hawks on Iraq Prepare for War Again, Against Hagel.”

Like Alterman, Rutenberg uses his pen to scald those dreaded neocons, who hold a “worldview” that “remains a powerful undercurrent in the Republican Party and in the national debate about the United States’ relationship with Israel and the Middle East.” By singling out neo-conservatives, it is the purpose of the article to undermine the arguments against Hagel by making it appear they are those only of one extreme and unpopular political current. That is why writers like Alterman and Rutenberg never let their readers know that a Democrat as mainstream as Chuck Schumer has carefully refrained from giving Hagel’s nomination support, and that other major Democrats who are not neocons question the nomination as well.

Notice also his extreme characterization of the neocons as a group that wants “pre-emptive strikes against potential threats,” when in fact all that has been argued is that the military option remain very strongly on the table. He also adds the canard that they want to impose democracy everywhere “by military means if necessary.”

Then, note the attribution of the campaign to William Kristol as its linchpin, as if others who are not in Kristol’s camp have not made many of the same arguments. Kristol is correct when he replies that these people suffer from “neoconservative derangement syndrome.”

In his article, Mr. Rutenberg inadvertently confirms Kristol’s assessment, since he projects overwhelming power to the neocons, giving them almost as much as Hagel and his supporters attribute to AIPAC.

Then there is a great conspiracy: Rutenberg writes that Sheldon Adelson sits on the board of the Republican Jewish Coalition, which was “among the first to criticize the Hagel nomination.” The sad truth is that most people are not even aware that the RJC exists, and its influence, as far as I can see, is nowhere near as important as the mainstream bi-partisan AIPAC, which is always misrepresented by those on the Left, like Mr. Alterman, as a monster of the far Right.

If you think Rutenberg is an objective reporter or writer, look at his technique, exemplified in what follows. He brings up Richard Perle, branded for years by his enemies as “the prince of darkness,” who, he lets readers know, “never served in the military.” He contrasts that with his stress on the fact that Senator Hagel fought valiantly in Vietnam, had “two Purple Hearts from his service” there, and has “shrapnel embedded in his chest.” That, he says, gives Hagel “a unique perspective on war.”

Perhaps. But we know that there are many who served, who have been seriously wounded, and who have reached conclusions quite different than those reached by Mr. Hagel.

Does his service to our country mean that his position on foreign policy questions is correct, and that those who differ are wrong? John McCain takes a different position. He too suffered greatly as a result of his service in Vietnam. Would Mr. Rutenberg or Mr. Alterman use this to make the argument that John McCain is correct in his desire to stand tough against Iran?

At least Rutenberg quotes Richard Perle, who makes the case well: “He said his opposition to the nomination stemmed from his fear that Mr. Hagel was among those who ‘so abhor the use of force that they actually weaken the diplomacy that enables you to achieve results without using force.’” Hagel, Rutenberg notes, voted to give George W. Bush the authority to go to war, but now regrets his vote. He turned against his vote after he voted for it, we might say.

So the fight to stop Hagel’s opponents is on. It is turning ugly, because — despite their supposed confidence that Hagel will be confirmed — they fear the valid reasons against his nomination might be taken seriously by those now on the sidelines. Like New York’s Senator Chuck Schumer.

And that is why they are resorting to the old canard of calling their enemies “McCarthyites.” That term is a last resort of the Left. When they use it, we know they are desperate.

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