The Meaning of Pat Buchanan's Surpising Endorsement of Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense

When Left and Right come together, it usually is quite revealing. The issue that binds them this time is the campaign to have the president continue the fight for Chuck Hagel to get the nomination as secretary of Defense.


First, a group of self-proclaimed foreign policy “realists,” including the usual suspects, have endorsed Hagel’s nomination. The group is best summarized by one of Hagel’s major supporters among the pundit class — Robert Wright of The Atlantic:

Hagel has now drawn support from liberals all across the foreign policy spectrum, from well left to center if not right of center: John Judis of The New Republic, Josh Marshall of TPM, Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times, Joe Klein of Time, Tom Friedman of the New York Times, Jim Fallows of The Atlantic, Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic (who, like Friedman, makes a pro-Israel argument for Hagel), etc. Hagel has also been embraced by many on the non-neocon right, as evinced not only by the politicos mentioned above, but by pundits ranging from paleocons to a bunch of libertarians. A few progressives are skeptical of Hagel because of his past conservative positions on issues with little bearing on foreign policy, but by and large this fight is between some neocons (plus a few reliable supporters) and everybody else.

Most importantly, the Washington Post ran a letter endorsing Hagel by the deans of the “realist” school: James L. Jones, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Brent Scowcroft, and Frank Carlucci. Hagel, they wrote:

 … is a rare example of a public servant willing to rise above partisan politics to advance the interests of the United States and its friends and allies.


You get the thrust: Hagel has widespread popular support among the foreign policy and media establishment. Therefore, the only ones contesting him are from the “Israel lobby,” led by the hated neocons, who are fighting a last-ditch battle to show their power against those who truly represent America’s national interest.

On the Left, the Daily Beast’s Andrew Sullivan — in his usual hysterical tone — leads the charge against the neocon menace:

Because [William Kristol] operates on the premise that policy toward Greater Israel is not something that a president should have any serious control over. Policy in that respect is set in Congress aided and abetted by AIPAC and batshit crazy Christianist Zionists. Like the NRA, this lethal lobby will destroy any politician it can who stands in its way. It will also try to destroy the careers and reputations of any who criticize it. Nothing exemplifies this more clearly than the chilling, and repulsive headline in Kristol’s own magazine when launching this character assassination

One has come to expect this kind of talk; it avoids substance, and its authors engage in the very smear they accuse their opponents of carrying out.

The latest endorsement of Hagel should give the aforementioned some pause. It comes from none other than the paleo-conservative, isolationist, and anti-Israel zealot whose anti-Semitism is second to none, Pat Buchanan. In his column, Buchanan echoes all of the now familiar “realist” themes, but unlike the others — who try to distance Hagel from being crudely anti-Israel (indeed, they back him by making the argument his appointment would be better for Israel) — Buchanan wants Hagel precisely because he sees him as one who would stand firm against the Jewish nation.


Buchanan, like Walt and Mearsheimer, believes in the undue power of the insidious Israeli lobby, of which he says: “Its existence is the subject of books and countless articles,” and it always gets bills it supports passed — they are “whistled through” Congress whenever one comes up.

Hagel is opposed, Buchanan writes, because he does not “treat these [AIPAC] sacred texts with sufficient reverence,” and because Hagel “puts U.S. national interests first,” especially when “those interests clash with the policies of the Israeli government.”

One must understand, when reading these words, that Buchanan always believes that whatever Israel supports should be opposed by the United States.

He singles out, just as the Left does, the new settlement construction, which he describes inaccurately as “bisecting the West Bank,” and a move that will “kill any chance for a Palestinian state.” Evidently, Mr. Buchanan does not see any of the self-defeating rejectionist policies of both Fatah and Hamas as having anything to do with the failure of the Palestinians to get a state of their own.

Next, Buchanan argues in favor of talking with Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iran, as if such talks have ever led anywhere or would in the future. He uses the analogy of Harry Truman talking to Stalin. What he leaves out, circa Stone and Kuznick, is that Truman learned from recalcitrant Soviet behavior of the futility of such talks, and he proceeded to take a hard line in opposition to the growth of the Soviet empire.


In this case, what Buchanan and company favor is bending to Iran’s will and essentially allowing a nuclear Iran to develop. (After all, as others have argued, the mullahs need a bomb to protect themselves from Israeli aggression!)

Next, Buchanan uses the rather foolish argument — quoting Robert Gates — that our country would be foolish “to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East.” True enough.

Who, however, is arguing for that?

The case for being tough against Iran is not based on any consideration of an armed invasion of that country, only on taking tough measures — including the possibility of a strike against its nuclear facilities — should that become necessary.

Buchanan then asks how Hagel could be an anti-Semite, since “so many Jewish columnists and writers” are supporting his candidacy. I happen to think that those who are throwing out the canard that Hagel is anti-Semitic are wrong. But I believe the policies he favors would indeed be harmful to our country’s national interest.

I would reverse Buchanan’s question, however: why is a known anti-Semite like Buchanan endorsing Hagel?

Does that tell us anything? What views which Buchanan thinks Hagel holds make Buchanan see him in such a favorable light? Is not this something we should be concerned about?


Buchanan concludes with the following analysis:

Neocon hostility to Hagel is rooted in a fear that in Obama’s inner councils his voice would be raised in favor of negotiating with Iran and against a preventive war or pre-emptive strike. But if Obama permits these assaults to persuade him not to nominate Hagel, he will only be postponing a defining battle of his presidency, not avoiding it.

President Obama, however, has told supporters like Alan Dershowitz and Ed Koch that he means what he says: he will do whatever is necessary to prevent Iran from gaining a nuclear weapon, and nothing is off the table for stopping them. And that is why they support the president. And Bibi Netanyahu has said as well that he believes Obama when he says that his policy is meant to prevent Iran from getting a bomb.

If that is the president’s policy, then what Hagel and Buchanan stand for is in fact against Obama’s own policy as Obama has explained it.

Buchanan wants a Hagel appointment because he believes it will put a monkey-wrench in any tough policy option should it become necessary. As he puts it, the “war party” of the neocons favors a “U.S. war on Iran in 2013.” To Buchanan and the isolationists — and evidently some of the “realists” as well — that is the issue, and not Iran’s bellicose policy and the mullahs’ war on their own people.


So when he argues that the president should not “appease these [neocon] wolves,” he is really saying Iran should not be stopped. That is not surprising, since in his eyes, Israel is the only Middle Eastern nation that the U.S. should oppose.


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