Chuck Hagel: revenge of the paleocons?

Talk of former Republican Nebraska senator Chuck Hagel's imminent nomination as Obama's new Secreaty of Defense has sparked all the predictable reactions—but they don't neatly break down along lines of right and left. MondoWeiss says the pick is "setting up a battle between the left and right flanks of the Israel lobby and between realist supporters of Hagel and his neoconservative detractors." We have, of course, pointed out that "realist" or "pragmatist" is  a euphemism for what is more properly termed "paleocon." While the neocons harbor hubristic dreams of re-making the Middle East (and the rest of the world) along lines favorable to the US and Israel, the paleocons favor stability under authoritarian regimes. Neither position is even remotely progressive, and it is frustrating to see ostensible leftists get caught up in a Beltway intrigue between rival currents within the political right.

MondoWeiss favorably quotes an e-mail circulated by Jewish Voice for Peace:

America's Israel Lobby has unleashed a vicious smear campaign against former U.S. Senator Chuck Hagel, an independent thinker who President Obama wants for Secretary of Defense.

Unless we act now to counter thousands of emails that Israel lobby groups have already sent to the White House, President Obama may yield to pressure, sending the message that the Israel Lobby has veto power over all key positions in the Administration.

Sign the petition now and send to everyone you know.

Chuck Hagel is an old-school conservative Republican, unlikely to make major changes in foreign policy. But he is being targeted because he is reluctant to go to war with Iran, believes we should keep the door open to dialogue with groups like Hamas and Hezbollah, and doesn't kowtow to AIPAC.

So, lefties rallying to the support of "an old-school conservative Republican." This is another case study in why MondoWeiss is problematic. Of course Glenn Greenwald (who is also problematic) is echoing this same line on Hagel. J Street, which presumably represents the "left flank of the Israel lobby," is also supporting Hagel. Connie Bruck in the New Yorker provides some background to the brouhaha:

In his 2008 book, "The Much Too Promised Land," Aaron Miller interviewed Hagel, whom he described as "a strong supporter of Israel and a believer in shared values." Miller also wrote, "Of all my conversations, the one with Hagel stands apart for its honesty and clarity." He quoted Hagel saying that Congress "is an institution that does not inherently bring out a great deal of courage." The American Israel Public Affairs Committee comes knocking with a pro-Israel letter, Hagel continued, and "then you’ll get eighty or ninety senators on it. I don't think I’ve ever signed one of the letters"—because, he added, they were "stupid." Hagel also said, "The Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here," but "I'm a United States senator. I'm not an Israeli senator."

Hagel has now said he misspoke, and should have said "Israel lobby," as he did in other parts of the interview with Miller. But no matter—it has made great kindling for his antagonists. The Neocon Bill Kristol's Weekly Standard ran a story with the headline, "SENATE AIDE: 'SEND US HAGEL AND WE WILL MAKE SURE EVERY AMERICAN KNOWS HE IS AN ANTI-SEMITE.'" The aide was unnamed, and the article pointed to Hagel’s statement about the "Jewish lobby" as evidence of his anti-Semitism. Jennifer Rubin, the far-right-wing columnist at the Washington Post, quoted Abraham Foxman, the head of the Anti-Defamation League, saying that Hagel's "record relating to Israel and the U.S.-Israel relationship is, at best, disturbing, and at worst, very troubling. The sentiments he’s expressed about the Jewish lobby border on anti-Semitism…" The Wall Street Journal's Bret Stephens wrote that the odor of prejudice was especially "ripe" in Hagel's reference to the "Jewish lobby."

On the other side of coin, Foreign Policy notes:

A bipartisan group of former senators and national security officials wrote to Obama last week to express support for Hagel's nomination. That letter was signed by former Defense Secretary Frank Carlucci, former National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft, former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, and others.

Sounds to us like one rogues' gallery versus another. Do we—meaning those on the left, broadly defined—really have a horse in this race?

Hagel is a leading light of the Atlantic Council, an elite foreign policy think-tank with an emphasis on charting Washington's posture vis-a-vis its NATO allies. He is also a close friend of Big Oil, it appears. Political Guide informs us that in 2003, he voted against an amendment that would have prevented "fast-tracking" of oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). In 2005 he voted against a bill to decrease oil dependence through such measures as increased Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards. In 2006, he voted for the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act, which would have opedned up more areas of the Gulf to offshore drilling. On The Issues informs us that he also voted no on a measure that would have mandated unilateral US action on carbon emissions without waiting for similar action from India and China; voted no on removing oil and gas exploration subsidies; and voted no on a proposal to amend the Sherman Anti-Trust Act to make oil-producing and exporting cartels illegal. 

Get the picture? As we have long argued, the "pragmatists" or paleocons are that wing of the political elite most ensconced in the oil industry—who have the most invested in a stable Middle East where they can do business. They are thoroughly comfortable with thoroughly oppressive regimes such as Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf mini-states. The pro-Israel neocons are more rooted  in the policy think-tanks, and finance capital. Neither are friends of freedom—however much the neocons may appeal to pro-democracy sentiment, and however much the paleocons may appeal to those concerned with justice for Palestine.

It is interesting that Obama's apparent pick of Hagel comes just as David Petraeus has been dethroned at the CIA amid a shake-up at the Pentagon to which the US commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John R. Allen, has also fallen victim. The shake-up, ostensibly related to the Benghazi Affair, comes amid rumors of an actual military coup against Obama—rumors that originate from far-right circles that are obviously rooting for such a putsch. We think they are almost certainly pure fantasy, but the Hagel pick would represent a tilt back to the paleocons—who were an element of Obama's de facto electoral coalition in '08. We called them neo-Mugwumps—Republicans who crossed party lines after eight years of Mad Cowboy Disease had overstretched the empire. And we warned then that this was an ominous accommodation with the old-guard sector of the right establishment. 

This warning remains.


  1. Chuck Hagel: Yes, war for oil!
    A refreshingly honest quote, from Foreign Policy in Focus back on Oct. 19, 2007:

    “People say we’re not fighting for oil. Of course we are,” said the Republican Senator from Nebraska Chuck Hagel to law students of Catholic University last September. “They talk about America’s national interest. What the hell do you think they’re talking about? We’re not there for figs.”

    This was just about when Hagel, after voting up the Iraq War Resolution in 2002, was starting to turn against the war. Uncertain if he meant his comment as criticism or not.

    Meanwhile, Andrew Sullivan on the Daily Beast (favorably cited by MondoWeiss, of course) sees a “classic underhanded smear campaign” in the recollection that Hagel responded to the appointment of James Hormel as ambassador to Luxembourg in 1997 by decrying that someone who is  “openly, aggressively gay” should represent the US. Sullivan and MondoWeiss point out that Hagel voted in 2006 to oppose a ban on same-sex marriage. The clear implication is that those who are making an issue of this, most notably Barney Frank and Rachel Maddow, are not doing so because they are gay, but because they are Jewish.

    MondoWeiss also adds: “Remember after they sank Chas Freeman they claimed it was all about China and Saudi Arabia. They need a smokescreen to say it wasn’t all about Israel.” Well, the “they” is presumably the Israel Lobby. Does this entity also include Barney Frank and Rachel Maddow? And does MondoWeiss think it is OK that Freeman shills for the tyrannical rulers of China and Saudi Arabia?

    Just asking.

    1. Hardly a “paleo” or “neo” or anybody’s fool.
      I am rather amazed that the left doesn’t see Hagel as a significantly “different” potential appointment, one who commands broad respect and interest, not this silly grasping as stale conspiracy theories.  In his 2008 campaign book, Hagel had this to say about what his bitter (if honorable) service in Vietnam taught him:  (hardly your conventional paleo fare):

      “After being wounded I made myself a promise that if I ever got out of that place and was ever in a position to do something about war—so horrible, so filled with suffering—I would do whatever I could to stop it. I’ve never forgotten that promise. I made it to myself but also to everyone who answers their call to serve the country. I think of it every day, because once you set war in motion, its consequences are often the ones least intended and they are always uncontrollable. Misery begets misery. Death begets more death and the violent vicious circle becomes a spiral which, in our time, presents the very real possibility of the Molotov cocktail being replaced by the nuke.”

      1. “Guess who?” confused on Hagel
        Excuse you? Last time we checked, the “left” was rallying around Hagel in kneejerk manner. I’m not quite sure which “conspiracy theory” you are refering to—the only one we see is that being proffered by Hagel’s supporters (all the opposition is a Jewish, oops I mean Zionist plot). Hagel is obviously not a “neo,” that’s just stating the obvious. And that fact that he is a “paleo” (although hardly the most odious exponent of this tendency) doesn’t mean he is anybody’s “fool.” People can be wrong on their own without being anyone else’s dupe. It is the conspiracy-obsessed that can’t seem to grasp this.

        1. Not a Paleo
          Hagel is not a paleoconsevative, but he is a liberal globalist. I do commend his anti-war stances and unwillingness to become a tool for Israel, but he still supports free trade, chain migration, big government and is not concerned about US monetary policy. Obama has likely nominated him out of spite, to stick it to Bibi and the Israel-Firsters in congress.