Charles Krauthammer: "The Meaning of Hagel"
“This is my last election. After my election, I have more flexibility.”
— Barack Obama to Dmitry Medvedev, March 26, 2012
Before he can become Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel will likely face sharp questioning in his upcoming confirmation hearings. Post columnist David Ignatius says the confirmation battle could serve as a preview of the most important foriegn policy debates of 2013.
The puzzle of the Chuck Hagel nomination for defense secretary is that you normally choose someone of the other party for your Cabinet to indicate a move to the center, but, as The Post’s editorial board pointed out, Hagel’s foreign policy views are to the left of Barack Obama’s, let alone the GOP’s. Indeed, they are at the fringe of the entire Senate.
The issue is not Hagel’s alleged hostility but his public pronouncements. His refusal to make moral distinctions, for example. At the height of the second intifada, a relentless campaign of indiscriminate massacre of Israelis, Hagel found innocence abounding: “Both Israelis and Palestinians are trapped in a war not of their making.”
This pass at evenhandedness is nothing but pernicious blindness. Just last month, Yasser Arafat’s widow admitted on Dubai TV what everyone has long known — that Arafat deliberately launched the intifada after the collapse of the Camp David peace talks in July 2000. He told his wife to stay in the safety of Paris. Why, she asked? Because I’m going to start an intifada.
In July 2002, with the terror still raging, Hagel offered further exquisite evenhandedness: “Israel must take steps to show its commitment to peace.” Good God. Exactly two years earlier Israel had proposed an astonishingly generous peace that offered Arafat a Palestinian state — and half of Jerusalem, a previously unimaginable Israeli concession. Arafat said no, made no counteroffer, walked away and started his terror war. Did no one tell Hagel?
Hagel doesn’t just oppose military action, a problematic option with serious arguments on both sides. He actually opposed any unilateral sanctions. You can’t get more out of the mainstream than that.
He believes in diplomacy instead, as if talk alone will deter the mullahs. He even voted against designating Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization at a time when they were supplying and supporting attacks on U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Most tellingly, he has indicated that he is prepared to contain a nuclear Iran, a position diametrically opposed to Obama’s first-term, ostensibly unalterable opposition to containment. What message do you think this sends the mullahs?
And that’s the point. Hagel himself doesn’t matter. He won’t make foreign policy. Obama will run it out of the White House even more tightly than he did in the first term. Hagel’s importance is the message his nomination sends about where Obama wants to go. The lessons are being duly drawn. Iran’s official media have already cheered the choice of what they call this “anti-Israel” nominee. And they fully understand what his nomination signals regarding administration resolve about stopping them from going nuclear.
The rest of the world can see coming the Pentagon downsizing — and the inevitable, commensurate decline of U.S. power. Pacific Rim countries will have to rethink reliance on the counterbalance of the U.S. Navy and consider acquiescence to Chinese regional hegemony. Arab countries will understand that the current rapid decline of post-Kissinger U.S. dominance in the region is not cyclical but intended to become permanent.
Hagel is a man of no independent stature. He’s no George Marshall or Henry Kissinger. A fringe senator who left no trace behind, Hagel matters only because of what his nomination says about Obama.
However the Senate votes on confirmation, the signal has already been sent. Before Election Day, Obama could only whisper it to his friend Dmitry. Now, with Hagel, he’s told the world.