The Smearing of Chuck Hagel

Former Sen. Chuck Hagel and his possible nomination to be Secretary of Defense are under fierce attack from Washington’s neocons and the Israel Lobby. But the tawdriness of the smears creates a chance for President Obama to stand up to this public intimidation, says ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar.

By Paul R. Pillar

The effort to slander Chuck Hagel and to torpedo his potential nomination to be Secretary of Defense has reached such intensity that there is now much more at stake in this nomination than just who will be running the Pentagon over the next four years.

Robert Merry, writing at The National Interest, has portrayed well the sordidness of the calumny-flingers who make little effort to hide their main reason for going after Hagel, which is that he does not believe in subordinating U.S. interests to the wishes of the right-wing Israeli government and its American backers.

Former Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Nebraska.

Those in the anti-Hagel campaign who try to make it look as if there are non-Israeli reasons to shoot him down make arguments that move from the sordid to the ridiculous. The Washington Post‘s editorial on the subject is a good example.

It tries to portray the former Republican senator from Nebraska as some kind of leftist peacenik, because he suggests there is some trimming that could usefully be done to U.S. defense spending (which is greater than the next 14 biggest military spenders, friends and foes, put together, and is the highest in inflation-adjusted dollars that it has been since World War II) and expresses skepticism about going to war against Iran (which the Post‘s editorialists acknowledge they have also expressed skepticism about, but that doesn’t stop them from portraying the skepticism as somehow a point against Hagel). For a more thorough dismantling of this absurd editorial, see Andrew Sullivan’s exegesis of it.

To the extent the placing of Hagel’s name in the kind of unofficial nomination it is in right now was the result of deliberate balloon-floating by the White House, it is hard to see exactly what the White House thought it was doing.

Making the nomination official and letting Hagel speak for himself would do a lot to puncture the falsehoods and smears about him. Maybe letting his name get out as the leading potential nominee was less a calculated act than plain old sloppy leaking.

If one wants to give the White House more credit than that, one might postulate that it floated the name so the opponents would have a chance to discredit themselves so much through the sheer outrageousness of their arguments that they would not only lose this political battle but also be weaker in later ones. That way the President might get not only the Secretary of Defense he wants but also some more running room on issues such as the Iranian nuclear program and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

There is some valid logic to that. But such bold political jiu-jitsu does not seem to be this President’s usual style. He is more likely to be thinking in the customary way, as discussed by Peter Baker in the New York Times, about conserving political capital, picking one’s fights carefully, and keeping in mind all the other issues he may have to fight about (and he just got another one: gun control).

If the President applies to the nomination of a Defense secretary a cautious approach grounded in such thinking, he would be making a mistake. He would be acting without sufficient appreciation for how intimidation works. Intimidation feeds on itself, with successful intimidation encouraging more of the same and failures discouraging further attempts.

Neither Chuck Hagel nor anyone else has a right to any Cabinet post, but given how this matter has already evolved, if the President now does not nominate him for the defense job it will be universally seen as a caving in to the neocons and Netanyahuites. Mr. Obama will be politically weaker as a result. He will have lost political capital rather than having conserved it. And he will have encouraged more such intimidation in the future.

Conversely, standing up to the intimidators and pushing a Hagel nomination through to confirmation would improve his ability to battle against the same forces on other issues. Even if the White House did not plan it that way, it would be a political plus for the President. More importantly, it would be a blow for decency and reason and a setback for one of the more damaging and tawdry features of American politics.

It is hard to imagine any future issues offering a conspicuously better place to draw a line in the sand and to start pushing back than this one. Based on what has already been said, there is reason to hope that the tawdriness, as James Fallows puts it in an insightful piece on this subject, “has finally gone so far that it will impeach itself.”

It impeaches itself with arguments such as that a United States senator or cabinet member putting U.S. interests ahead of the interests of a foreign country or the wishes of a foreign government is somehow a bad thing.

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is now a visiting professor at Georgetown University for security studies. (This article first appeared as a blog post  at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.)

8 comments for “The Smearing of Chuck Hagel

  1. AmericaFirstforaChange
    December 25, 2012 at 01:20

    U.S. must get Israel’s approval before getting Senate confirmation

    The Paranoid Style of the Israel Lobby vs Chuck Hagel

    U.S. Middle East policy motivated by pro-Israel lobby

    The Israel Lobby (Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson mentioned ‘Jewish Lobby’ in following youtube as well):

  2. jean
    December 21, 2012 at 16:26

    Not all middle aged White Anglo Saxon Protestant men are bigots.

    But Chuck Hagel is a bigot despite his 12th hour apology.

    — a finalist for the post of secretary of defense in Obama’s second term — once opposed a nominee to be U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg because he was “openly aggressively gay.”

    “Ambassadorial posts are sensitive,” Hagel told to the Omaha World-Herald in 1998, opposing the nomination of philanthropist James Hormel. “They are representing America,” he said. “They are representing our lifestyle, our values, our standards. And I think it is an inhibiting factor to be gay — openly aggressively gay like Mr. Hormel — to do an effective job.”
    Some LGBT rights groups are already criticizing the potential selection of Hagel to replace Leon Panetta.
    Hagel was a longtime supporter of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” which banned gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military. In 1999, he told The New York Times, ”The U.S. armed forces aren’t some social experiment.”
    And between 2001 and 2006, Hagel received a score of zero from the Human Rights Council, with no votes on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, a job discrimination bill, and the Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which eventually was passed into law as part of the National Defense Authorization Act in 2009.

    Aipac created a letter urging the Soviet Union to ease up on it’s persecution of Soviet Jews.

    That letter was signed by every Senator except Chuck Hagel.

    Chuck Hagel believes that these letters are stupid.

    Why would anyone agree that exerting pressure to save Soviet Jewry was stupid?

    Criticizing the NAACP or LA RAZA as a Black lobby or a Latino lobby sending out stupid letters to Senators would be seen as bigoted by most people.

    Speaking of the NAACP he has a 17 out of 100 rating from them.

    That is because his bigotry extends to issues dealing with African-Americans.

  3. alllie
    December 21, 2012 at 16:21

    I can’t understand this love for Chuck Hagel. First, he’s a Republican. Second he’s a crook.

    Senator Hagel Admits Owning Voting Machine Company

    On October, 10, 2002 Bev Harris, author of the upcoming “Black Box Voting: Ballot-Tampering” in the 21st Century, revealed that Republican Senator Chuck Hagel has ties to the largest voting machine company, Election Systems & Software (ES&S). She reported that he was an owner, Chairman and CEO of Election Systems & Software (called American Information Systems until name change filed in 1997). ES&S was the ONLY company whose machines counted Hagel’s votes when he ran for election in 1996 and 2002. The Hill, a Washington D.C. newspaper that covers the U.S. national political scene, confirmed her findings today and uncovered more details.

    Hagel covered up his part ownership in ES&S. When he ran for office as an unknown he was the first Republican in twenty-four years to win a Senate seat in Nebraska. He won in black precincts that had NEVER voted for a Republican. And the votes were counted on ES&S machines programed while he was still its CEO.

    In 1992, as President of investment group McCarthy & Co., Hagel assumed ownership and became Chairman of American Information Services (AIS), later known as Election Systems & Software (ES&S), a manufacturer of computerized voting machines. On March 15, 1995, Hagel resigned from the board of AIS as he intended to run for office.[8] Michael McCarthy, the parent company’s founder, was Hagel’s campaign treasurer.

    I really don’t see this Hagel love. Certainly I don’t want Kerry to resign and let the Republicans get another senate seat, but surely there are other choices than Kerry and Hagel.

  4. Sulphurdunn
    December 21, 2012 at 10:43

    Chuck Hagel was a mere buck sergeant infantry grunt in Vietnam. Those are probably the best qualifications anyone could have for the job of Secretary of Defense because people with that background don’t much like war as a general rule. Being common and uneducated by the Ivy League for the most part, they are also prone to take the oath of allegiance they swore to support and defend the Constitution seriously. They are also unlikely to knuckle under to neocon chickenhawk rat bastards, their political stooges and careerist generals and could much give a shit about being called anti-Semitic because of it. Actually, Hagel is a neocon’s worst nightmare.

  5. Paul G.
    December 21, 2012 at 05:58

    “keeping in mind all the other issues he may have to fight about”… Very good article, but a more accurate sentence would read “Keeping in mind all the other issues he may wish to cave in on”. As we see he is presently throwing Social Security cost of living adjustments under the bus. Every time I see him getting buddy buddy with Boehner; I envision that pathetic picture of Neville Chamberlain returning to England holding up a piece of paper and saying,”Peace is at hand.”

  6. anderson williams
    December 20, 2012 at 21:30

    Part of the Netanyahu’s intransigence in dealing with Palestininan issues is his assumption that no American President would have the guts to buck his agenda. We need to send a message that Israel cannot expect unconditional US support for its actions. A more balanced approach that links US support to good faith efforts to reach a fair settlement of Israeli-Palestinian disputes is in our national interest. Nominating someone who will stand up to the right wing Israeli lobby would be a step in this direction

  7. Morton Kurzweil
    December 20, 2012 at 18:15

    The President has negotiated from a position of weakness from the beginning if his first term. He seems to believe in the equal rights of his enemies whenever questions of security and civil rights concerned.
    What does he stand for? What is he willing to fight for? What is he willing to fail for?
    Obama was elected to deny the Republican neocoms and their lobbyists the religious moral high ground in a secular state.. The rights of all the people, each and every different citizen together is the basis for our secular majority.
    There is no middle class. There is no class or minority self interest that takes precedence over the inalienable rights of a classless citizenry.
    The intent of the constitution and the sacrifices of all have gained in removing all religious and class bigotry from our law. Those who would coerce citizens to accept as rights the very reasons we rebelled against the divine right of king or the establishment of any belief must be held as the traitors are.
    What is wrong with universal health, education and security for all. What is wrong with equality of opportunity?
    What is wrong with asking our government to take responsibility for fulling their obligations
    clearly expressed in the Preamble to the Constitution of the United States.?

  8. F. G. Sanford
    December 20, 2012 at 12:52

    Once upon a time, there were were names for the people who would subvert the political processes of their own nation on behalf of a foreign government. They were called “fifth columnists”, “agents provocateurs”, “anarchists”, “subversives”, “conspirators”, “informants”, “quislings”, “spies”, “turncoats”, and last but not least, traitors. Please note excerpts from Robert Parry’s revealing article:

    “Frederick and Kimberly Kagan, was explored Wednesday in a Washington Post Article by war correspondent Rajiv Chandrasekaran who described how Petraeus installed the husband-and-wife team in U.S. offices in Kabul, granted them top-secret clearances and let them berate military officers about war strategy.”


    “The Post article noted that “For Kim Kagan, spending so many months away from research and advocacy work in Washington could have annoyed many donors to the Institute for the Study of War. But her major backers appear to have been pleased that she cultivated such close ties with Petraeus, who went from Kabul to head the CIA before resigning this fall over his affair with [biographer Paula] Broadwell. …”

    These people received no direct funding from the Petraeus command structure, but instead were funded by various “backers”. Of coarse, some of those backers were defense industry donors, but I wouldn’t doubt for a moment that the Israel lobby figured prominently. As notable Neocons, I wonder to what extent the Kagans insured that their “top secret clearances” provided a goldmine to Israeli intelligence.

    In summary, two private, ostensibly political organizations, the American Enterprise Institute and the Institute for the Study of War get private funding, are staffed by operatives with a specific ideological agenda, and they receive “top-secret clearances”? On the face of it, this should trigger a Senate Intelligence Committee investigation. It should be a national scandal on the front pages of every major newspaper. Compared to this, the school shooting should be back page news.

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