by Juli Weiner, Vanity Fair
As promised: the Chuck Hagel dessert to the John Brennan Brussels sprouts.
Today, alongside incoming C.I.A.-director nominee Brennan, President Obama will introduce (re-introduce, really) the nation to Chuck Hagel, former Republican senator from Nebraska, Iraq War skeptic of the better-late-than-never variety, and Vietnam war hero. As you can see from the aforementioned political signifiers--"Republican," "Obama nominee," "Iraq War skeptic," "war hero"--there is reason enough for everyone from both parties to threaten to oppose the nomination.
Democrats do not care for Hagel's views on social issues, in particular, "a comment he made in the late 1990s, opposing a Clinton administration ambassadorial nominee for being 'openly, aggressively gay,'" The New York Times reports.
And, per The Los Angeles Times, nobody really likes the "comments he made in a 2006 interview with author and former State Department Mideast peace negotiator Aaron David Miller. 'The Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here," Hagel said, but 'I'm a United States senator. I'm not an Israeli senator.'" Slate's Fred Kaplan has a balanced, dispassionate reading of what Hagel may have meant:
No one could deny that AIPAC has an overpowering influence on many lawmakers. Hagel's sin, in the eyes of some, was to call it the "Jewish lobby" instead of the "Israel lobby." If this is a sin, AIPAC and its allies have brought it on themselves. For decades, they have thundered that criticism of Israel is thinly disguised anti-Semitism. Yet they cry "anti-Semitism" again when someone inverts the equation (which is what the phrase in question amounts to: If anti-Israel equals anti-Jewish, then pro-Israel equals pro-Jewish). As for saying that he's a senator from Nebraska, not Israel: Had he or any other senator said this about any other country ("I'm not a senator from France ... England ... Canada" or wherever), no one would have batted an eye. To accuse him of anti-Semitism on these grounds is to reveal a staggeringly deep paranoia--or a sensitivity far too acute to be allowed any role in American politics.
Moving on to intra-party opposition: Republicans do not care for Hagel's disinterest in engaging the terrifying nation of Iran in an un-winnable, interminable war. Also: Hagel opposed George W. Bush's troop surge in Iraq, dared question the logic of imprisoning maybe-terrorists in a military prison in Cuba for all time, and publicly said that he would prefer the Afghanistan War to end at some point.
These are all G.O.P. venal sins, sure, but there is no surer way to a botched nomination process than upsetting John McCain personally. Recall that the ancient Arizona landmark/tourist trap joined forces with top flunky Lindsey Graham and junior-varsity flunky Kelly Ayotte to ensure that United Nations ambassador Susan Rice would have such a miserable time getting confirmed as Secretary of State that she would wish she never decided to serve her country in the first place. In this respect, Hagel is in trouble. Per The New York Times:
In July 2008, during the presidential campaign, Mr. Hagel accompanied Mr. Obama, who was then in the Senate, on a six-day trip to Afghanistan, Iraq, Jordan and Kuwait. When Senator John McCain, the Republican presidential nominee that year, asserted that Mr. Obama's motive for the trip was political, Mr. Hagel strongly defended Mr. Obama, saying in a television interview that Mr. McCain was "on thin ground" in trying to impugn Mr. Obama's patriotism.
And lo! On CNN last night, Graham called the pick "controversial" and derided Hagel's views as "out of the mainstream." So out of the mainstream, in fact, that news outlets are now referring to Hagel as "a maverick," which is another complicating issue in the mission to sufficiently please John McCain.
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