Political Animal


January 06, 2013 2:02 PM Republican Senators take time out from their Sunday to attack Chuck Hagel

By Samuel Knight

Senate Republicans lashed out at their former comrade Chuck Hagel today, blasting the man presumed to be President Obama’s choice to replace Leon Panetta as Defense Secretary.

Lindsey Graham called the the likely move “an in-your-face nomination by the president to all of us who are supportive of Israel.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was less vocal, saying that “his views with regard to Israel, for example, and Iran and all the other positions that he’s taken over the years will be very much a matter of discussion in the confirmation process.”

But if McConnell’s second banana John Cornyn is any indication, Senate Republican leaders will whip the rank-and-file to oppose Hagel.

“I will not support Chuck Hagel’s nomination to the Department of Defense,” Cornyn said in a statement this afternoon. “His record and past statements, particularly with respect to rogue nations like Iran, are extremely concerning to me.”

And what, exactly, is wrong with Hagel’s views on “rogue nations like Iran”? In Cornyn’s own words:

“His opposition to Iranian sanctions and support for direct, unconditional talks with its leaders is both at odds with current U.S. policy and a threat to global security. To make matters worse, he has called for direct negotiations with Hamas. As Iran becomes increasingly hostile and gains influence in the region, the worst possible message we could send to our friend Israel and the rest of our allies in the Middle East is Chuck Hagel.”

Ah, yes. Hagel, who has firsthand experience fighting in a war and isn’t an anti-war hero by any stretch of the imagination, wants to negotiate as a means of averting armed conflict. How treacherous! Chickenhawks like Cornyn — who cut his teeth in the jungles of law school — always seem to be the shrillest of the squawkers.

As for his controversial comments — which, Cornyn’s junior counterpart Ted Cruz also said “concerned” him?

“I support Israel, but my first interest is I take an oath of office to the Constitution of the United States, not to a president, not to a party, not to Israel. If I go run for Senate in Israel, I’ll do that.”

How Salafist of him.

Perhaps this is only contentious for Republicans because Hagel recognizes that giving Israel a carte blanche makes it more likely that we’ll be mired in unnecessary wars — catastrophes that Republican legislators tend to enjoy declaring but loathe fighting in, when given the chance.

Hagel has, however, made at least one unambiguously regrettable Archie Bunker like comment about Israel, when he referred to the existence of a “Jewish lobby.” It’s not just that it’s evocative of conspiracy theories about Jews. The comment displays an ignorance about identity politics. It’s already inaccurate to refer to AIPAC and groups like it as the “pro-Israel lobby” — not all Israelis revel support their country’s deplorable treatment of Palestinians. But it’s wholly inappropriate to characterize the right wing lobby that supports Israeli hawkishness as “Jewish” — as if the Prime Minister of Israel is some sort of revered religious figure; as if there aren’t Jews fiercely critical of Israel; as if the “pro-Israel lobby” isn’t fervently supported by rapture-obsessed evangelical Christians.

However, a statement that might matter more in the political scheme of things: Hagel called a Clinton Ambassadorial nominee “aggressively gay.” He has since apologized for it and promised to support LGBT military families. But the remark could be problematic, considering that Hagel, as a U.S. Senator, opposed gay marriage and the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. Can Democratic senators trust he will do right by their same sex military couple constituents? We shall see if President Obama isn’t swayed by GOP Senators’ Hagel huffing.

Samuel Knight is a freelance journalist living in DC and a former intern at the Washington Monthly.


  • JR on January 06, 2013 4:08 PM:

    If the HRC can accept Hagel's apology, why should statements made 14 years be held against him? http://www.hrc.org/press-releases/entry/hrc-statement-on-sen.-hagels-apology

    Personally, despite being a lifelong liberal, I've great faith in Chuck Hagel, especially after I read this NY Times' profile nearly 7 years ago. http://www.nytimes.com/2006/02/12/magazine/12hagel.html?pagewanted=all

  • Josef K on January 06, 2013 4:35 PM:

    Okay, fine. He's a veteran and doesn't want to get our troops killed in unnecessary (whatever constitutes "unnecessary" at the moment) wars.

    What kind of experience does he have in actual administration of ultra-large bureaucracies, managing well-heeled lobbists, and actual implimentation of policy-directives?

    In other words: what experience does he have being a Cabinet Secretary?

  • Kathryn on January 06, 2013 4:44 PM:

    Oh for goodness sakes, Mr.Knight, you can't be serious. Of course, Democratic senators can trust Chuck Hagel to do right for their same sex military constituents. Btw, TPM has article from Max Cleland supporting Hagel today.

    I swear Lindsey Graham is getting more arrogant by the day, he seems to think the President of the United States is his b-- ch.

  • bluestatedon on January 06, 2013 4:55 PM:

    If wingnuts and chickenhawks like Ted Cruz, Lindsay Graham, and John Cornyn oppose Hagel, that's all I need to know to support Hagel.

  • exlibra on January 06, 2013 5:05 PM:

    The article that Kathryn is talking about:

    Which, for me, counts for more than the Cruz, Cornyn, and Graham (also, too McCain) opposition.

  • name on January 06, 2013 5:13 PM:

    i dont forgive him for saying that diplomat was too gay to be ambassador to luxemborg.

    but that is not necessary and completely unrelated, all i care about is whether he will keep us out of wars. he can be as bigoted as he wants as long as he does his job. why even ask for forgiveness? its not the best friends' club, its the department of defense.

  • zandru on January 06, 2013 5:26 PM:

    Oh, fer G-d's sake. Splitting hairs over whether Hagel said "Israeli" or "Jewish" and didn't also include a mention of southern evangelican Americans with a zionist complex, and griping that being pro-Israeli government policies wasn't necessarily what YOU call "pro-Israel" because supposedly there's some kind of invisible, undercover "liberal" movement in Zion - er, "Israel" - that nobody's seen in decades... THIS is why you oppose Hagel? That and "teh gay"?

    As Secretary of War, Hagel doesn't have to function as Secretary of State. That he's wary of Israeli engagements and doesn't think it makes sense for the United States to fight THEIR war against Iran for them are all pluses for me. Moreover, if he will simply obey the law regarding discrimination against GLBT service-persons, there's no requirement that he, ya know, L U U U U V them.

    And I think we're overdue to have a few US federal officials who put their loyalty to the US and its Constitution above Israel. I realize this is highly controversial, for some reason.

  • martin on January 06, 2013 5:47 PM:

    makes it more likely that we’ll be mired in unnecessary wars — catastrophes that Republican legislators tend to enjoy declaring but loathe fighting in, when given the chance.

    And let's not forget, loathe to PAY for them.

    As for Hagel, I'm sure he will continue maintain the American Empire by all means necessary, just as every other Sec Def has, and all potential nominess would.

  • mb on January 06, 2013 5:47 PM:

    So the lobby for a country that keeps us all poised on the brink of apocalypse at least partly because they are determined to remain a majority Jewish state, can't be accurately described as a "Jewish lobby" because there are some Jews that disagree? And maybe it's not even fair to call them an "Israeli lobby?" Seems more than a little absurd.

  • jjm on January 06, 2013 5:56 PM:

    The GOP thinks Obama 'backed down' on Susan Rice and so they're going to bully him on Hagel, too.

    Well, I doubt that Obama was ever really going to nominate Rice. But the more important point is that he has grown a remarkably very thick skin, and certain Tea Party GOPers are now openly complaining that he's ignoring their bullying and their bellicosity. And they (e.g. Ted Cruz) are expressing how mad they are at being ignored.

    He's not going to let anything they say change his mind on this, mark my words.

  • Steve on January 06, 2013 10:13 PM:

    @jjm: Of course Obama won't back down on Hagel. Hagel is male.

  • MaddieMax on January 07, 2013 2:22 AM:

    I really don't know why I even read the news. These men that are so arrogant and vitriolic drive me mad.

    I think the news sites should get together and find a way to not write about Republicans that are so pugnacious. Just say "and another Senator said...." without using the names. Or....just write about the candidate, Hagel, and forget about the Republican feedback. It's always the same nonsense with a name change. It is sooooooooooo tiresome and so archaic.

  • Bob h on January 07, 2013 7:02 AM:

    Republicans have to do what they can to keep Sheldon Adelson's money flowing.

  • LAC on January 07, 2013 9:10 AM:

    @steve: WTF are you talking about?

  • Gwen Mataisz on January 07, 2013 9:20 AM:

    It is not Hagel, it is Obama and anything he tries to do.

  • Peter C on January 07, 2013 10:13 AM:

    When my daughter was two years old, I remember a time when she was so upset, she reached what I call 'mental incontinence'. When I asked her what she wanted as she screamed and thrashed on the floor, all she would answer was "NO!". So, I cleared the area of anything she might hurt herself on, and told her we'd discuss the situation later and waited.

    It is sad to see the Republican party in a similarly mentally incontinent state.