The rightosphere has come out swinging against retired Senator Chuck Hagel’s potential nomination for secretary of defense. If you didn’t know better, you’d think Hagel was a Democrat. (He represented Nebraska as a Republican from 1997 to 2009.) But the leftosphere is in the game too – and if you didn’t know better, you’d think opposing Hagel for the post was a “Jewish” thing.
Hagel’s record on US policy towards Israel is indeed a poor one. Hagel publicly urged President Bush in 2006 to get Israel to simply cease her counterattack on Hezbollah – unilaterally, and with no assurances or even security goals obtained – when the terrorist group had attacked Israeli civilians and abducted two of her soldiers. Hagel also declined that year to endorse designating Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. He later opposed designating the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization, in spite of its Qods Force’s involvement in terrorist attacks in the Middle East, and its support of and close relationship with Hezbollah and Hamas.
It’s one thing to recognize the truth about the terrorists and yet disagree with a particular administration’s policy. It’s another thing, however, to pretend that the terrorists aren’t terrorists. This latter thing is a disqualifier for the post of secretary of defense.
Chuck Hagel writes his own narrative, in which threats aren’t really threats and policies that actually work are just horrible, and that is the basic reason why he would make a very bad secretary of defense. He doesn’t just disagree with sensible people on what our policy should be; he disagrees on what’s going on. He characterizes the situation unrealistically.
His unrealism is captured well in an interview he did for the Financial Times in August 2011. Hagel is comically vague in the first part of the interview, never answering the interviewer’s question (about Assad and Syria in the wake of the Arab Spring). His comments are a masterpiece of bromide-filled evasion.
As the exchange unfolds, Hagel praises the assassination of Osama bin Ladin:
…a masterful job, a spectacular job, and a job that all Americans can be proud of, on how it was carried out, and the process and every aspect, step along the way. Professionalism.
He has very different words for the invasion of Iraq in 2003, characterizing it as follows:
It was a terrible mistake that’s cost us in terrible ways. The consequences are going to flow out of that mistake for many years.
Considered together, these are really idiotic comments from a potential secretary of defense. Regrettably, there is no other way to put it. Hagel’s evaluations are emotional, and bear no relation to the actual value of the national-security operations in the two cases.
The US military did a fantastic job, and bin Ladin is finally dead. But Al Qaeda isn’t – nor, more importantly, is Salafism, or radical Islamism in any form. Except for the sense of justice for Americans, the death of bin Ladin was meaningless. It had no national-security import at all. Al Qaeda is operating robustly today in Syria and Libya. When we drive it out of the Horn of Africa and Yemen, it goes elsewhere, as it did when we drove it out of central Iraq in the surge in 2007.
Far from a defeated entity, Al Qaeda is gaining purpose and momentum with the Arab Spring, especially in Syria and Libya. Its purpose has shifted somewhat, away from attacking the US and toward guerrilla operations in the Middle East. This is part of a larger, more fundamental trend unleashed by the Arab Spring: a pitched battle for the character of the Arab world. And, in fact, state-Islamism is a far more important emerging trend than Salafi terrorism, because leaders of nations have all the resources of a nation at their disposal, including armed forces.
Iran has been the chief example of state-Islamism for thirty years, and the pattern is alarming. Arab nations will do things somewhat differently because of their different culture, but Mohammed Morsi has already made his radicalism clear in Egypt, and we can be sure that state-Islamism in Arab nations will be no more pacific than it is in Iran. The outcomes in Syria and Libya are still uncertain, but in Syria, at least, the prospects for the future are increasingly grim.