What Response to Chuck Hagel Says About Us

I’ve been grumbling to peace activists that they should stop presenting Chuck Hagel as a force for peace and an “Iraq war critic” or an “Iraq war skeptic.”  It makes it sound as if he opposed a war that he voted for, voted repeatedly to fund, and never took any radical action to end.  “Iraq war opponents” in the U.S. Senate routinely voted to fund what they opposed.  Funding war is not what comes to mind when one first hears “war opponent.”

I’ve been objecting to depictions of Hagel as a man of great integrity.  It disturbs me that Hagel won stunning upset surprise election victories when most of the votes were counted on machines owned, installed, programmed, and run by a company owned and run by Hagel.  That seems to me indecent even if the votes were accurately counted.  But, of course, the way these machines work there is absolutely no way to tell — even if you own them — whether the votes were accurately counted.  And that seems to me even more indecent.

But let’s give Hagel some credit.  When he became a loyal critic of the Iraq War, he admitted he’d been wrong to support it, he admitted it was disastrous.  He spoke only of U.S. deaths, not Iraqis.  He assured everyone he still wanted to keep lots of U.S. troops in the Middle East.  He swore that President Bush and every member of his administration and every senator meant well.  But he spoke a greater measure of truth than possibly any other senator, including of course the Democrats.

Justin Raimondo has a summary of Hagel’s positive points.  They include opposing escalation in Afghanistan, opposing sanctions on Iran, speaking against Israeli wars, and advocating for diplomacy with Iran.  The Washington Post has declared Hagel unacceptable because too reluctant to launch new wars:

“Mr. Obama may be forced to contemplate military action if Iran refuses to negotiate or halt its uranium-enrichment program. He will need a defense secretary ready to support and effectively implement such a decision.”

Who will do the forcing? How will it be legal or moral?  The Post can’t be bothered.  Nor can the right-wing Israeli lobby that is out to block a Hagel nomination.

This showdown, which — knowing Obama — was probably over the moment it began, tells us more about our society and our government than it does about Hagel.  We’re long past the days when cabinet secretaries exercised independence.  A servant of the president can nudge things, not pick them up and move them.  But a cabinet secretary who does not answer to the Israeli government or is reluctant to drag the nation into more wars is beyond the realm of the acceptable now. 

Not so many years ago, the odd thing about Hagel would have been that he is a Republican being considered as a possible nominee by a Democrat.  There are Democratic former senators like Russ Feingold who might be even more reluctant to launch new wars than Hagel, actually voted the right way on Iraq, and who could only be accused of the “self-hating” variety of “antisemitism.”  But the unusual thing about anyone as good or better than Hagel would still be their insufficient enthusiasm for more wars.

So, I support the campaign that Robert Naiman is pushing to build public support for Hagel’s nomination.  We don’t have to imagine him or the office he would hold to be anything they aren’t.  We don’t have to identify with his positions.  We don’t have to start believing in a “reasonable” or “moderate” Pentagon.  Yet we can recognize the problem with allowing the Washington Post and gang to reject a candidate for the reasons they have chosen.


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