Joe Conason
NationofChange / Op-Ed
Published: Thursday 27 December 2012
Still, there may be valid reasons to oppose his candidacy, based on his temperament, experience or record.

Veterans Denounce Neoconservative ‘Swiftboating’ of Chuck Hagel

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If Chuck Hagel is nominated by President Obama to serve as Secretary of Defense, there will be at least three compelling arguments in his favor. He served with distinction in the military and would — like Secretary of State nominee John Kerry — bring a veteran's perspective to his post. He has adopted and articulated a sane perspective on the grave foreign policy blunders whose consequences still haunt the nation, including the Iraq and Vietnam wars. And as we have learned ever since his nomination was first floated, he has made all the right (and right-wing) enemies.

Hagel is a former Republican senator from Nebraska, which means that his voting record was mostly conservative and that he has probably said many things that might offend liberal Democrats. (Already he has felt obliged to apologize for a nasty remark he once made in reaction to President Clinton's nomination of James Hormel as the first openly gay U.S. ambassador.) He is a devout Catholic and an opponent of abortion rights, and he has received poor ratings in the past from the NAACP, the ACLU and other liberal organizations.

But as a potential nominee for Secretary of Defense, Hagel is coming under far heavier fire so far from the right — where he is being widely smeared as anti-Israel and anti-Semitic — than from the left. The neoconservatives and their allies on the religious right cannot forgive Hagel for turning against the Iraq war and the Bush administration — a stance that reflected his opposition to reckless warfare and his adoption of a realistic internationalism. They dislike Hagel as well for his refusal to endorse Israel's expansion of West Bank settlements and other actions that undermine the Mideast peace process; for his reluctance to promote war with Iran; and for his critical eye on Pentagon misspending and waste.

In reality, those are all valid reasons to support him. It is hard to believe that the opinions of the same people who assured us that Iraq would be a free and easy "cakewalk" are today accorded any attention whatsoever, thousands of lives and trillions of dollars later.

Yet it is equally important to emphasize that the charge of anti-Semitism against Hagel is groundless and shames those who have uttered this canard. Among those who have forthrightly denounced it are Jon Soltz, a Jewish army veteran who served two tours in Iraq and now heads Vote Vets and Jeffrey Goldberg, the "Atlantic" magazine blogger on Mideast affairs who once served in the Israel Defense Forces.

(They are unlike many of Hagel's critics, who might fairly be characterized as "chickenhawks.")

In a letter to the 200,000-plus members of Vote Vets, many of whom are, like him, Democratic-leaning Iraq and Afghan war veterans, Soltz writes: Chuck Hagel, as a Vietnam Veteran, would put troops first. He has a record of challenging neocon dreams of preemptive use of force — and winning that debate. He has a record of challenging wasteful Pentagon spending, taking on the military-industrial complex, to ensure our defense dollars are responsibly spent on equipment we actually need ... So please, take a stand against this swiftboating of a man who has only served America with honor.

Goldberg favors Hagel's appointment precisely because he believes the Nebraskan, who now teaches at the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service, would push back against Israeli policies that endanger the future of the Jewish state: I think Israel is heading down a dangerous path, toward its own eventual dissolution, because it refuses to contemplate even unilateral half-measures that could lay the groundwork for a Palestinian state ... I've spoken to Chuck Hagel in the past. He is not a hater of Israel. On the other hand, he, like Bob Gates, the former secretary of defense, might be able to look (Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu) in the eye and demand an explanation for the Israeli government's actions on the West Bank.

The "swiftboating" of Hagel is being mobilized by the likes of William Kristol, the "Weekly Standard" editor, who managed to avoid service in Vietnam but still believes that bloody tragedy was a great idea. Kristol and his ilk have been so wrong about every policy issue over the past four decades that their angry opposition to Hagel is a sterling endorsement of him.

Still, there may be valid reasons to oppose his candidacy, based on his temperament, experience or record. Before confirmation he should be questioned closely on his commitment to fair treatment of LGBT personnel and on any substantive issues, such as reproductive rights, where administration policy may conflict with his personal beliefs. He may run into problems among his former Republican Senate colleagues, not all of whom admire him, but their opinions should carry little weight. Indeed, their opposition too should serve to strengthen the case for Hagel's confirmation. He has served his country with courage and principle over many years in public service — which is far more than can be said for most of his adversaries.

Copyright Creators.com


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ABOUT Joe Conason

Joe Conason has written his popular political column for The New York Observer since 1992. He served as the Manhattan Weekly’s executive editor from 1992 to 1997. Since 1998, he has also written a column that is among the most widely read features on Salon.com. Conason is also a senior fellow at The Nation Institute.

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5 comments on "Veterans Denounce Neoconservative ‘Swiftboating’ of Chuck Hagel"

FullBlad

December 28, 2012 7:00pm

Any of these old hands are the servants of the corporatocracy and it's empire. They serve and are awarded based on their usefulness to the plutocracy.

What can the average American do? Well one response should be not to join the military; and if your in get out as soon as legally possible. Otherwise you're siding with Wall Street against the American people and the corporatocracy against other peoples and the planet, especially as it is a volunteer military. Shame on the civilian who willingly chooses to serve in the forces of the imperial elites.

greghilbert

December 27, 2012 2:12pm

I'm weary of articles that track the jockeying machinations and propaganda of duplicitous politicians. I don't really know WHY Obama floated Hagel, but suspect he thought appointing a Viet Nam vet and former Repub Senator would contribute to his credentials as a compromising "centrist" big on Defense, and that Hagel would support his plan to only restrain growth in spending while shifting military activity from Afghanistan to the next location on the chessboard where access to oil is the goal and Jihad is the obstacle and the CIA wants to move a pawn or rook or castle.

Speaking of which, I'd rather read articles asking why Obama continued the unwinnable war in Afghanistan for the four years of his first term, and plans to continue it another two years. Speaking of which, I'd rather read articles that address the connections between (a) USA dependence on oil, most of which is in the Muslim Middle East, at a time when China wants and can pay for a rising share and global supplies are known to be headed for decline and exhaustion, and (b) our schizophrenic, militaristic, and double-talking Middle East foreign policy, which needs terrorists and a WMD-seeking Iran to defend against or attack, and an Israel and "freedom-seeking" Muslims and Saudi (et al) royals to defend, all for purpose of assuring access to the oil, and (c) the evident spread of Muslim fundamentalism and provocation of Jihad, and (d) the readiness of elites to impale the 99% on the sword of our oil gluttony, which gluttony they orchestrated and perpetuated.

Every Pres since Nixon has said we must act to reduce our dependence on oil, with emphasis on foreign oil when that served other purpose. But none, Obama included, has seriously championed action or explained the need of it.
Had the USA diverted since Nixon just 10% of all it has spent on war, defense, "intelligence" and "security" (ie some trillions), and invested those trillions in sustainable energy and energy efficiency, we would today, some 40 years later:
(1) Be enjoying affordable energy as opposed to deadly-costly energy;
(2) Be enjoying a more sustainable economy;
(3) Be enjoying less severe income and wealth disparity, because the aggregate cost of energy for food production, transportation, home heat and electricity
takes a far greater share of income from "the 99%" than "the 1%";
(3) Be enjoying far less conflict with Muslim nations;
(4) Be less subject to elite manipulation to spend so much on defense and security;
(5) Have made a significant step in reducing fossil fuel emissions, ie addressing the threat of catastrophic climate change.

The elite inclusive of Obama and Repub/Dem Congress are not speaking to inconvenient truths OF ANY KIND, because doing so does not serve their purposes as self-serving elites to tell their constituents what they don't want to hear.

I hope N of C will ditch the tracking of political elite machinations that distract from the tsunami of inconvenient truths the elite of both parties are not telling.

BozoAdult

December 27, 2012 12:17pm

The media will still not acknowledge the fantasies of the neo-cons. We live in a nation led by chickenhawks and the military industrial complex.

danh

December 27, 2012 12:16pm

Hagel is probably the best we can expect from the mainstream.

It's not that we need a conservative, it is that the policies which led to the Iraq war are beyond imperialistic, they are suicidal. So we need to do whatever we can to keep the neocons from derailing a small bit of sanity.

And, if President Obama actually supports him, then maybe it's a sign that he too sees doom in our current course of war against everybody.

We'll see.

anono

December 27, 2012 7:45am

A Republican? with substance, honor and intregrity? If possible, Hagel may be one. In which case there may be hope for this nation. But will he cave to the reign of the priviledged elitist few and his own selfish ego like hObama and all the others before him?