Graham’s on Hagel’s case (and he’s not alone)

As Washington media gather the soundbites on the Obama administration’s nomination of Republican Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense, one of the first gathered is Lindsey Graham’s:

“This is an in-your-face nomination by the president. And it looks like the second term of Barack Obama is going to be an in-your-face term.”

Of course, that quote is distinctly lacking in substance. Here’s what Graham said further on CNN’s “State of the Union”:

“Chuck Hagel, if confirmed to be the secretary of defense, would be the most antagonistic secretary of defense toward the state of Israel in our nation’s history,” Graham said. “Not only has he said you should directly negotiate with Iran, sanctions won’t work, that Israel should directly negotiate with the Hamas organization, a terrorist group that lobs thousands of rockets into Israel. He also was one of 12 senators who refused to sign a letter to the European Union that Hezbollah should be designated as a terrorist organization.”

Beyond Graham, those Republican senators vocalizing opposition to Hagel include Roger Wicker of Mississippi,  John Cornyn of Texas, Ted Cruz of Texas, David Vitter of Louisiana, and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma.Chuck_Hagel_official_photo

In the plus column are Democrats Carl Levin of Michigan, Jack Reed of Rhode Island, Dianne Feinstein of California, and Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia.

That’s all according to The Washington Post.

Much of the animus toward Hagel dates from his opposition to U.S. involvement in Iraq. Then there’s his opposition to Iran sanctions. Then there’s his “Jewish lobby” quote. And gay rights advocates are still mad about something he said in 1998.

Evidently, the Susan Rice experience didn’t diminish the president’s willingness to engage in a nomination fight as his second term begins…

31 thoughts on “Graham’s on Hagel’s case (and he’s not alone)

  1. Doug Ross

    And Graham will simply play the game of acting tough for the cameras before voting for Hagel in the end but feeling really, really, really sorry that he had to do it. He’ll play the game of saying he needs to hear answers to questions from Hagel before making up his mind. It’s all an act.

    It would be nice to have someone in the office who doesn’t feel the United States OWES Israel something.

  2. Brad Warthen Post author

    I don’t think we owe Israel anything. I do think it’s very much in our national interest to continue our close strategic relationship.

    Now if Israel takes out Iran’s nuclear capability, not only will we owe Israel, but so will a lot of countries in the Mideast who are that country’s readiest critics. And watch — Israel will get nothing for it but grief. That, and continued existence…

    1. die deutsche Flußgabelung

      Yes because Israel attacking one of the world’s largest oil producing nations, which happens to control access to one of the most vital shipping channels in the world (the Straight of Hormuz) sounds like a great idea. Brad you must think you aren’t paying enough for gas already.

      And yes Israel may knock out the facilities, but it would only delay Iran by 2 or 3 years. Iran can rebuild them deeper in the mountains. It would require some some sort of ground operations and regime change to really prevent Iran from requiring nuclear weapons. In the mean time imagine how Iran-back Hezbollah would react or the current Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt. It seems Israel and the US would lose more than they would gain by having the IDF bomb Iran.

      As a former secretary of state said “you break it, you buy it.” Israel bombing Iran would pulls us into a war with Iran and how many Americans really want another and even larger war.

      Containment and Israel going through with the two-state solution would be better policy options for the US than encouraging Israel to start WWIII in the Middle East.

  3. Brad Warthen Post author

    Nobody wants war with Iran. Including Israel. (On a previous post, Bud suggested that not wanting a war with Iran sort of set the Obama administration apart. But the same could be said about the Bush administration, and every other recent U.S. administration. It’s not an option that anyone wants.)

    But none of us wants a nuclear Iran, either. The difference for Israel is that it’s more of an existential question.

  4. Karen McLeod

    I am tired of all this political posturing. Supposedly the majority of us want some compromise and for our elected officials to work together. This sort of rhetoric from either side only makes things worse and convinces me the politician who speaks that way is not interested in performing his job duties.

  5. Juan Caruso

    Have to agree with Doug Ross about Lindsey’s posturing. His stances for conservative votes are very transparent.

    Hagel was a bit of an Israel-phobe for the same reasons as Graham tries to come off as the opposite, but unlike Graham, Hagel’s posturing would end if his appointment is approved. I share Hagel’s beliefs on Viet Nam and war in general as long as the U.S. maintains offensive capabilities commensurate with other the jealous desires of other powers to eat our lunch as soon as we give them the appearance of liberal passivity, feminine weakness, or major dimunition of military primacy.

  6. Steve Gordy

    Juan, I suggest you ask the Argentinian government what they think of Margaret Thatcher’s “feminine weakness” or perhaps ask the Egyptian and Syrian government if they thought Golda Meir was weak when she led Israel through the Yom Kippur War.

  7. bud

    This is a pretty good test of Lindsey Graham’s character. If he votes for Chuck Hagel after all this posturing then he really doesn’t have one iota’s worth of credibility left.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      I have to disagree on that. It’s perfectly legitimate, and responsible, to raise honest objections to a nominee whether you vote for him in the end or not.

      People in this country have forgotten what real debate and deliberation look like. On the editorial board every day, we raised every objection we could think of to a position, regardless of what position we took in the end. All honest debates should be like that.

  8. bud

    Nobody wants war with Iran. Including Israel.

    Really? Then why all this sabre rattling? Just don’t wage war on them. Iran is not about to attack anyone. Iran is the nation that keeps getting attacked with cyber attacks. Iran is the one that keeps getting threatened. Isreal is the nation with hundreds of nukes, not Iran. The mind of the warmonger is quite an enigma.

  9. bud

    “Chuck Hagel, if confirmed to be the secretary of defense, would be the most antagonistic secretary of defense toward the state of Israel in our nation’s history,”
    -Lindsey Graham

    Lindsey Graham is nothing but a chicken hawk who never saw a battlefield yet feels fully qualified to denigrate a decorated war veteran like Chuck Hagel. I suggest Lindsey use a bit more tact that to suggest Hagel is “antagonistic”. Frankly I think it’s time someone called Israel out for it’s diabolical scheme to build illegal settlements on stollen land on the West Bank. Graham really is pretty disgusting when it comes to foreign policy matters. Not sure why anyone has any respect for him.

  10. Brad Warthen Post author

    Actually — not that it matters — Lindsey Graham is just about the only member of Congress (in a quick search just now, I was unable to determine whether he is THE only) who regularly dons a uniform and goes into war zones as a serviceman.

    There was an interesting piece in The Wall Street Journal by Bret Stephens today noting how Democrats will tout Hagel’s courage and suitability to be secretary of state, arising from his service in Vietnam. By which logic, the column further notes, Lincoln’s secretary of war, Edwin Stanton would have been disqualified, as would have been FDR’s, Henry Stimson — probably the two most successful secretaries we’ve ever had. By contrast, Robert McNamara and Donald Rumsfeld would have passed the test.

    But the rest of the piece is more interesting, as it delves into the question of Mr. Hagel’s political courage. Time and again, in Stephens’ view, he has taken the less politically risky position.

    I’m sure Bud and some of my other friends will be unimpressed with how wrong Hagel was, for instance, on the Surge in Iraq. But they might find this interesting:

    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.

    And perhaps this:

    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.

  11. bud

    The gay thing was bad and Hagel has appologized for it. So that’s a strike against him.

    As for the surge, well it was hardly the success it’s promoters claim it to be if long-term stability and friendly relations with the US is considered. So no, the criticism of the surge is a plus, not a minus, in my way of thinking. We should have simply pulled out of Iraq rather than waste still more resourses on that tar baby of a disaster.

    Was Hagel’s service in Vietnam a plus? I would say so but not nessasarily a deciding factor. Brad has cited examples of non-military war secretaries that were not veterans. But we should not forget the disaster of Dick Cheney, the ultimate chicken hawk. I do believe his cowardice should have disqualified him for secretary of war. Bush Sr. felt otherwise and he turned out to be a disaster.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      What? Cheney was a “disaster” as secretary of defense? In what sense? Most people consider the Gulf War of 1991 as a textbook success, as the moment when our defense establishment redeemed itself after all those years of wallowing in the morass of Vietnam. Not quite up to the achievements of Stanton and Stimson, perhaps, but still far from “disastrous.”

  12. bud

    The abortion thing is also bad so I won’t try to defend him on that. It would be better if he was on the right side of that issue but that particular policy issue is not for him to decide.

    On balance Hagel’s pluses outweigh some admittedly troubling negatives. But I’ll keep an open mind.

  13. Juan Caruso

    “Juan, I suggest you ask the Argentinian government what they think of Margaret Thatcher’s “feminine weakness” or perhaps ask the Egyptian and Syrian government if they thought Golda Meir was weak when she led Israel through the Yom Kippur War.” Steve Gordy

    Irrelevant to what has been happening to our military, our service academies, and the liberal quest for women in combat. One photo, however, exemplifies projection of feminine weakness by the U.S. Defense Department:

    The female captain shown (USNA graduate) was subsequently fired by the Navy for her hostility toward males in her command (sound a bit like the real Hillary Clinton?)

  14. Brad Warthen Post author

    On the plus side, Mike Fitts brings my attention to this piece, “Why Hagel? Let Us Count The Reasons:”

    First, Hagel is Obama’s kind of Republican… In his remarks Monday afternoon, the president noted that he prized Hagel’s independence of mind and willingness to take politically unpopular positions. That’s just what you would expect to hear from a president who has made Abraham Lincoln’s “team of rivals” approach to choosing a Cabinet his White House touchstone.
    Second, Obama also clearly is very comfortable personally with Hagel, whom the president bonded with during his short U.S. Senate career. As Obama reminded his audience, he and the Nebraskan traveled together as senators to the Middle East…
    Third, picking Hagel gives Obama the chance to assert his presidential prerogative to choose whom he wants for his Cabinet…
    Fourth, Obama is obviously not worried about charges that Hagel is anti-gay or anti-Israel…
    Fifth, Hagel’s two terms in the Senate, his success as a businessman, his roles as a VA official and as the head of the USO, uniquely position him to oversee a Pentagon facing spending cuts as the federal government grapples with reducing its debt and deficits….

    Mike thought I’d particularly like the “Team of Rivals” reference…

  15. Phillip

    Ah Lindsay, he does have a flair for the dramatic phrase, doesn’t he? So he can perhaps be forgiven for using the phrase “most antagonistic towards Israel in our nation’s history,” —sounds so momentous!—-even though Israel of course has only existed for the past 64 years out of our 236-year history.

    But even setting that aside, I’d suggest that Lindsay is just plain factually wrong on purely historical grounds. Surely being opposed to the very idea of the creation of the Israeli state would have to rank higher on the “antagonism” scale than Hagel’s mere occasional disagreements with some aspects of Israeli policy (unforgivable as that is to the neocons) and Sen. Graham should know that not only Truman’s Secretary of Defense (James Forrestal) but also Secretary of State George Marshall both vehemently opposed the partition of Palestine and opposed recognition of the state of Israel from the start.

    In fact, in a spooky precursor to the (supposedly) controversial statement Hagel made about the “Jewish lobby,” Forrestal appealed to Truman not to bow to political pressure in making his decision about the partition plan, and of lobbying efforts to achieve that end, said “No group in this country should be permitted to influence our policy to the point it could endanger our national security.”

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Very good points, Phillip. Graham certainly got carried away in his rhetoric. What he said was wrong.

      But on your last point — are you sure Forrestal was talking about Jews? I believe recognizing Israel was a politically popular move because so many Gentiles were for it. Otherwise, you don’t have the numbers to constitute political popularity…

  16. bud

    You can always count on Phillip to provide some great historical perspective. I learned something new today. I had no idea anyone in the US of importance actually oppossed Israeli statehood.

    1. Phillip

      Bud, I didn’t remember the specifics but vaguely remembered when I heard Graham’s comment that some in Truman’s Cabinet were against the whole partition plan and against the US recognizing the state of Israel, so I looked it up (for example, I’m not gonna claim I remembered the name of Truman’s Defense Secretary!). But what was interesting, Bud, was that George Marshall was so adamant about the point that he told Truman that if he recognized Israel, he (Marshall) would not vote for him in November! And that seems to have been their main objection, that they thought Truman was doing this for political purposes in an election year and that it was an unwise decision that “would guarantee that the Palestine problem would be permanent and still more complicated in the future…” to quote a memo from Loy Henderson (director of the State Department’s Office of Near Eastern and African Affairs) to Sec’y Marshall in September 1947.

  17. Doug Ross

    From Thursday’s Wall Street Journal:

    “”It all comes down to the fact that we were asked to vote on a resolution based on half truths, untruths, and wishful thinking,” Mr. Hagel wrote in his 2008 book, “America: Our Next Chapter.” He said his vote was intended to authorize military force as a last resort, but Mr. Bush had failed to “exhaust all diplomatic efforts.” As years passed Mr. Hagel came to see the conflict as unwinnable—not unlike the Vietnam War—and he began openly criticizing the Bush administration. In a 2006 newspaper opinion piece, he called for a troop withdrawal in Iraq, a major break with the GOP’s leadership.”

    Hagel, a Senator with access to national security information at the time, used both the terms “untruths” and “half-truths” to describe the push to go to war with Iraq. Can you, Brad, support him for Secretary of State when he was obviously “wrong”?


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