A vociferous flock of Republicans in Congress, along with some of America’s most zealous right-wingers, have been hammering former GOP Senator Chuck Hagel, who President Obama nominated on Monday for secretary of defense.
They claim Hagel is a radical, outside the mainstream of U.S. foreign policy thinking. Some even claim he’s anti-Semitic.
“Quite frankly, Chuck Hagel is out of the mainstream of thinking, I believe, on most issues regarding foreign policy,” the irrepressibly belligerent Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said on CNN, adding that this is a “controversial pick” by Obama.
Bill Kristol of the neo-conservative Weekly Standard disparaged Hagel’s “dangerous views on Iran and his unpleasant distaste for Israel and Jews,” insisting “the case for Hagel is extraordinarily weak.”
But the Republican temper tantrum over Hagel is an overblown hysteria that is pitifully divorced from reality.
The fact is that Hagel is well within the mainstream. Critics warn ominously, for example, that Hagel’s disapproval of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are indicative of a reckless, anti-interventionist streak.
Hagel supported the wars at their outset, but turned sour once the Bush and Obama administrations refused to delineate specific, achievable missions that would precipitate a near-term withdrawal. That’s not a radical position. Indeed, it follows the trajectory of the bulk of the American public, who became weary of endless war and the waste in blood and treasure.
Hagel is also critical of meddling in the Asia-Pacific, something the Obama administration has embraced with its “Asia-Pivot” strategy. This is a policy of bolstering China’s regional enemies to counter Chinese influence and maintain U.S. dominance in the region.
According to Foreign Policy magazine, Hagel is “wary of any strategy that smacks of ‘economic, political, and military containment’ of China: ‘this kind of belligerence would be a disaster for our two nations and for the world,’” Hagel has written.
But again, this doesn’t put him out of the mainstream. Take a recent piece by MIT professor Barry Posen in the latest issue of Foreign Affairs, hardly a radical rag harboring peaceniks and appeasers.
Posen argues the U.S. shouldn’t be subsidizing the defense of various Asian states. “Not only do these disputes make it harder for Washington to cooperate with Beijing on issues of global importance; they also risk roping the United States into conflicts over strategically marginal territory,” he writes.