Hagel’s Mideast blunder–not on Israel

Mickey Kaus Columnist
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I’m not anti-Hagel, I’m anti-anti-anti-Hagel! Slate‘s Fred Kaplan, defending Chuck Hagel, writes:

 More disturbing to some conservatives, he opposed President Bush’s 2007 troop surge in Iraq. The surge and its accompanying shift in strategy did help significantly tamp down the violence in Iraq and allowed, five years later, for a dignified U.S. exit. In that sense, it “worked.” But it only bought time for the Iraqi political factions to settle their differences. (That’s all that Gen. David Petraeus, the strategy’s architect, ever claimed it could do.) And now it’s clear that the factions didn’t want to settle their differences, and so the violence has come back, and the issues that divide the factions are no closer to settlement. Therefore, was Hagel so wrong? And, for what it’s worth, Obama, now-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and the entire Joint Chiefs of Staff at the time opposed the surge, too. Are Hagel’s critics denouncing any of them? Again, they’re really going after Obama. [E.A.]

Does Kaplan really think there is any case that the situation after Petraeus’ surge isn’t much better than the situation that would have existed if there had been no surge? I doubt it.  And remember, Hagel didn’t just oppose the surge. He declared that it was “the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam”– the sort of emotionalized MSM-pleasing misjudgment that seems to have endeared him to so many GOP colleagues (who, as Marc Ambinder notes, “think he’s a showboat and turncoat”).

Can’t Obama find a “anti-Israel” Likud-skeptical figure who didn’t flamboyantly and self-righteously get wrong the most important military decision since the original 2003 Iraq invasion (which Hagel, by the way, voted to authorize)? Sure, Hillary and Kerry opposed the surge too. But not everyone did–not even everyone who opposed the war. Gen. Anthony Zinni, for example, isn’t someone likely to please Bill Kristol and AIPAC–but after opposing Bush’s invasion he had the balls to say that a surge was worth trying.

Have Hagel–or John Kerry–shown that kind of ability to transcend their own media images and biases? The journalist Elizabeth Drew asked for a phrase to describe the troika of Hagel, Kerry and Biden, a phrase better than “the three amigos.” How about “Three guys who voted for the Iraq War when that was the safe thing to do, flipped when everyone around them flipped and then were wrong about the surge”?

Ambinder says Hagel is already an influential presidential adviser–Obama “has been picking Hagel’s brain on subjects as diverse as Afghanistan, China, special operations force posture, and intelligence for several years now.” If Hagel gave private advice that’s better than his public advice, now would be a good time to hear about it.

P.S.: I don’t share the pervasive yearning on the center-left for Obama to achieve some sort of triumphal macho moment.  But even if that were desirable, you’d think the president could find a better vehicle for delivering it. To paraphrase Obama in another context, I’m not opposed to all “This is bullshit” ultimatums. I’m opposed to dumb “this is bullshit” ultimatums.

Mickey Kaus