Defending the Indefensible

Part of the grieving process—for our country, this time—is acceptance. We’ve tried anger, bargaining, and all the other steps, but you haven’t completed the journey until you’ve reached acceptance.

I was agnostic on the nomination of Chuck Hagel for Defense Secretary, feeling that Obama, having won reelection fair and square, deserved the cabinet of his choosing. (I’m positively rooting for John Kerry, the Buffoon with a Bouffant, for State!) Hagel may be pro-Iran and anti-Israel—but so is the president he seeks to serve, and we returned him to office.

Accept it, BTL, don’t fight it. It’s been an arduous journey, and you need your rest.

Then I read Bret Stephens in the WSJ, and I’m ready to make the return trip. Next stop, anger!

Perhaps the better test for Mr. Hagel is political courage, something he’s supposed to possess in spades.

OK, let’s see about that.

In 1998, when it was politically opportune for Mr. Hagel to do so, he bashed Clinton nominee James Hormel for being “openly, aggressively gay,” a fact he said was disqualifying for becoming ambassador to Luxembourg. Late last year, when it was again politically opportune, Mr. Hagel apologized for his gay-bashing. Mr. Hormel accepted the apology, while noting that “the timing appears to be self-serving.” Yes it did.

In 1999, when the military’s “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy was broadly popular, Mr. Hagel scoffed at the idea of repealing it: “The U.S. Armed Forces aren’t some social experiment.” Since then, Mr. Hagel has offered his opinions on many subjects in scores of published articles. In not one of them did he recant or amend his views on gay issues. His public about-face only occurred when his name made Mr. Obama’s shortlist for secretary of defense.

In 2002, also when it was overwhelmingly popular, Mr. Hagel voted for the resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq. The lack of political courage is especially noteworthy here, because Mr. Hagel was, in fact, prescient in warning his Senate colleagues that “imposing democracy through force in Iraq is a roll of the dice.”

Yet as the inimitable David Corn notes, “Bottom line: Hagel feared the resolution would lead to a war that would go badly but didn’t have the guts to say no to the leader of his party.”

In 2006, when the war in Iraq had become overwhelmingly unpopular, Mr. Hagel was on the right side of conventional wisdom. “The United States must begin planning for a phased troop withdrawal from Iraq,” he wrote in the Washington Post that November. Still swimming with the tide the following year, he called the surge “the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam.”

The surge turned out to be George W. Bush’s finest hour—a genuine instance of political courage as opposed to Mr. Hagel’s phony ones. It rescued the U.S. from humiliating defeat. It gave Iraq a decent opportunity to stand on its feet. It allowed the U.S. to conduct an orderly withdrawal of its forces. And it might have led to a long-term security relationship with Baghdad had the Obama administration not fumbled the endgame. Again there is no public record of Mr. Hagel acknowledging any of this.

Moving forward, in 2008 Mr. Hagel endorsed engagement with Syria’s Bashar Assad and North Korea’s Kim Jong Il, and he was especially keen on engagement with Iran, enthusing at one point that “Iran had rights for women long before many countries in the world. Women could vote, I actually think before they could vote in America.” (He’s wrong: Iranian women were enfranchised only in 1963, thanks to the Shah.)

In each case, Mr. Hagel was articulating a view that was exactly in keeping with received Beltway wisdom. In each case, he was subsequently disproved by events. In no case was Mr. Hagel ever held to any kind of account for being wrong. In no case did he hold himself to account for being wrong.

Oh, by the way, in 1995 Mr. Hagel told the Omaha World Herald that his opposition to abortion was total and made no exception for cases of rape or incest—a view that helped get him elected to the Senate the following year. He later voted repeatedly against allowing servicewomen to pay for abortions out of their own pocket, according to the left-wing magazine Mother Jones. Now that Congress has authorized the Defense Department to pay for abortions in cases of rape, it would be worth asking Mr. Hagel if he has evolved on this one, too.

But give Mr. Hagel this: When it comes to expressing himself about Israel, its enemies, and the influence of the so-called Jewish lobby, he has been nothing if not consistent and outspoken. Maybe that’s political courage. Or maybe it’s a mental twitch, the kind you can’t quite help. The confirmation process should be illuminating.

I give credit to President Obama’s gay supporters if they are cool with Hagel’s reflexive homophobia, just as I credit his women supporters for forgiving Hagel’s misogyny. I haven’t heard a peep from either group. I’m envious of their peace of mind, even if I think the only way it can be achieved is by lobotomy.

Hagel is a decorated war hero, and a former Senator who kept is word and retired after two terms. He deserves our thanks and our admiration.

But he is also a kook and a man dangerously out of step with the majority opinion of the country, not least that of Obama and the majority of the electorate who voted for him. If they’re cool with Hagel, that’s on them.

Acceptance is overrated.

1 Comment »

  1. Bloodthirsty Liberal said,

    January 8, 2013 @ 7:04 am

    The reason that women and gays can support him is that they are die-hard Yankees fans. All that matters is winning.

    – Aggie

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