Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Why Is GOP Defending Neoconservatism?

The headline at top is cribbed from RealClearPolitics' link to Paul Mulshine, at The New Jersey Star Ledger, "On Hagel, the Republicans protest a return to realism." And from the piece:
Did you hear what that liberal, left-wing commie Barack Obama is up to? Why, that pinko’s gone and picked a former Republican senator who’s a war hero as secretary of defense! Can you imagine anything more un-American than that?

Sorry if I sounded like a Fox News commentator for a second there. But that’s the tone the Fox News crowd has adopted in light of the nomination of Chuck Hagel for defense secretary. An online poll showed that Fox fans were spewing this nonsense back at the talking heads by a 10-1 margin.

If this sort of thing were confined to the cartoon show that is Fox News, that would be okay. But the leaders of the Republican Party are mouthing the same sort of stuff. All the usual suspects are denouncing Hagel for being insufficiently enthusiastic about continuing the mindless meddling in the Mideast that began with George W. Bush and continued through Obama’s first term.

With his nomination of Hagel, Obama seems determined to make a long-overdue break with that past and return to realism in foreign policy. Republicans used to boast of being realists. But the term became a dirty word in the years when Bush was employing the U.S. military as a sort of armed wing of the League of Women Voters in his haste to spread democracy.

Bush’s father saw things differently, as did Republican presidents before him. Richard Nixon embraced the realism of Henry Kissinger. Gerald Ford and Bush 41 both appointed as national security adviser a Kissinger disciple by the name of Brent Scowcroft.

In the run-up to the Iraq War in 2002, Scowcroft penned a piece for the Wall Street Journal headlined "Don’t attack Saddam." In it, he noted that an invasion "would have to be followed by a large-scale, long-term military occupation." For good measure, he added that an invasion "could well destabilize Arab regimes in the region" and "could even swell the ranks of the terrorists."

Hagel was saying the same sort of thing around the same time while a senator. "I think it would be unwise and dangerous if the United States would move unilaterally against Iraq," he said. "My fundamental question is, ‘What happens next? So if you take Saddam Hussein out, who governs? Do you let Iraq be fractured into many components?’ "

All of those dreadful results occurred right on schedule. Yet the realists get no respect from their fellow Republicans to this day. Sen. Lindsay Graham of South Carolina called the Hagel pick "an in-your-face nomination" by Obama. And on a Sunday talk show, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell wondered aloud whether Hagel would stand up to questioning concerning "the importance of having a robust military."

McConnell said that right after he blasted "the president and the Democratic majority in the Senate’s unwillingness to cut spending." But it’s the Republicans who oppose cutting the biggest discretionary outlay. That’s military spending, and reducing it would not be difficult once we returned to realism.
There's still more at the link, especially the part where Mulshine labels Hagel a "paleo-conservative" (a meaningless term with regard to Israel, as the so-called "paleos" by default just make common cause with the Israel-hating left).

Okay. Where to begin? For one thing, Mulshine might have mentioned the fact that Hagel voted for the Iraq deployment before he turned against it. I can't speak for other despised "neoconservatives," but more than anything else I hate rank opportunists like the craven former Senator Hagel. That (renounced) vote alone makes him no different from the avoid-force-at-all-costs Democrats who first voted for war then pushed to cut-and-run from Iraq from 2003 onward. This is the left's "great betrayal," a stab-in-the-back to America's troops that's unforgivable.

Second, today's realists aren't of the cold, calculating Nixon-Kissinger mold of the 1970s, or of the advisers to President Bush 41. In 1973 the Nixon administration went to DefCon III on the news of possible Soviet intervention on the side of the Arab states against Israel in the Yom Kippur War. That's the last thing that today's Democrat realists would do. Indeed, it's not the "GOP defending neoconservatism." It's the GOP defending Israel as an independent state after this administration has demonstrated its readiness to cast Jerusalem to the wolves.

I've written about today's "realists" many times, most tellingly Harvard political scientist Stephen Walt. Here's his post yesterday on the Hagel nomination, with all his classic odiousness regarding U.S. support for Israel, "What the Hagel fight does and doesn't mean":
...the real question with the fight over Hagel is whether it is the beginning of a thaw in foreign policy discourse inside the American establishment. Until the Hagel case, ambitious foreign policy wannabes understood that one either had to be completely silent about the "special relationship" with Israel or one had to be an open and vocal supporter. The merest hint that you had independent thoughts on this matter would make you slightly suspect at best or provoke overt accusations that you were an anti-semite, effectively derailing any political ambitions you might have had. The result was an absurdly truncated debate in Washington, where one couldn't even talk about the role of the Israel lobby without getting smeared. Indeed, one couldn't even ask if unconditional U.S. support for Israel was in Israel's best interest, let alone America's, despite the growing evidence that its settlement policy was threatening its long-term future.

By making such ludicrous charges about Hagel, however, neoconservatives and other extremists made it clear just how nasty, factually ignorant, and narrow-minded they are, and how much they believed that the commitment to Israel ought to trump other foreign policy priorities. And it wasn't just the absurd claim that Hagel was anti-semitic; it was the bizarre suggestion that a key job requirement for the U.S. Secretary of Defense was a deep and passionate attachment to a foreign country. The attacks on Hagel triggered a long-overdue reaction from a remarkably wide circle -- including many staunch defenders of Israel -- who were clearly disgusted by the smear tactics and aren't willing to quail before them anymore.

Furthemore, as Peter Beinart noted yesterday, Hagel's appointment might also dilute the perceived need for policy wonks to seem hawkish and bellicose even when skepticism about the use of force is called for. While no dove, Hagel has been intelligently critical of sending young men and women into harm's way without a clear strategy and compelling national interest. His appointment might open up foreign policy debate to a much wider range of views, instead of the narrow-minded bellicosity that has prevailed since 9/11 (if not before).

It's too soon to tell how far-reaching this shift might be. No doubt Hagel's opponents will try to make him express his undying fidelity to Israel during his hearings, in an effort to restore the previous political orthodoxy. But it's a losing cause, especially when Israel itself is about to elect the most right-wing government in its history and when Americans of many political stripes are beginning to understand that the "special relationship" may in fact have become a form of assisted suicide. For the record, I hope that's not the case. Avoiding it will require the United States to be able to speak more honestly on this entire subject, and I hope the Hagel affair opens the door to a far more open, fact-based, and smear-free debate on the entire subject of U.S. foreign and defense policy, including our perenially hamstrung approach to the greater Middle East.
If the Nixon-Kissinger foreign policy apparatus internally disliked Jews and, as some have claimed, were indifferent to Soviet human rights abuses against the Jews back in the day, they were nevertheless fierce defenders of the Jewish state, and put American foreign policy on the line to protect Israel's national security interests as the key to stability in the region. That's no longer the case among the so-called "realists" of today, as anyone who knows Professor Walt's repulsive anti-Israel bigotry will recall (see Eliot Cohen for a refresher, just in case, "Yes, It's Anti-Semitic").

The Hagel nomination is the epic battle ground for the competing visions of U.S. foreign and national security policy for the next four years and beyond. These are bad people, Hagel and his co-nominees at State and the CIA. Not just incompetent, but bad actors all around. See: "'They are all stupid people. Some friends said I shouldn't write this because it is a subjective judgment and sounds mean-spirited. But honest, it's true...'."