01/08/2013 04:20 pm ET Updated Mar 10, 2013

From Obstruction to Character Assassination: The Changing GOP Tactics

Republicans in Congress are changing their tactics in their relentless attacks on the Obama administration. Rather than relying solely on legislative obstruction, they have now added character assassination in an attempt to block cabinet nominees.

Case number one: Susan Rice: The GOP focused on Ambassador Rice as somehow responsible for the Benghazi attacks and the aftermath because she spoke for the administration on the Sunday talk shows and stuck by the approved talking points. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton took full responsibility for the tragedy, but the GOP continued to focus on the more fragile Rice rather than the formidable Clinton. And when, after the election, it became clear that Ms. Rice might be nominated to succeed Ms. Clinton, the attacks sharpened even though neither diplomatic security nor Libya was in Ms. Rice portfolio. Nor did the official accountability investigation assign her any blame.

When Ms. Rice withdrew from consideration for the Secretary of State post, the GOP neo-conservative (neocon) foreign policy establishment were emboldened and were soon looking for other nominations to bloody or block. The rumored nomination of former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel unleashed the character assassins again.

The initial attempts to derail the nomination of Sen. Hagel to the Secretary of Defense post failed when the president announced the nomination. Then the attempt to deny confirmation began in earnest. One GOP Senator decried that Hagel's views were outside the" mainstream." He meant the neocon mainstream. Specifically, Hagel was deemed insufficiently supportive of Israel, insufficiently enthusiastic of going to war with Iran and insufficiently sympathetic to GOP calls to increase the defense budget. To which I say, "I hope so."

The anti-Israeli charge is absurd. It is based on Hagel saying out loud what everyone on Capitol Hill l knows and has uttered in whispers -- that Israel, through the American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) wields enormous and, to some, excess power in Washington. It is a safe bet that every new Congressman in Washington has already received a packet of position papers from AIPAC and a request for a visit. And "Dear Colleague" letters and petitions will not be far behind. Hagel supported Israel on every substantive vote, but he refused to be drawn into the game of associating himself with such letters and petitions.

And some objected to his referring to the "Jewish Lobby" instead of the "Israeli Lobby." But if AIPAC is lobbying for Israel, it must register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. AIPAC contends that it is only speaking on behalf of Americans, largely Jewish Americans. So "Jewish Lobby " is more accurate, if less comfortable. Apparently some also took offense when Hagel said that he was the Senator from Nebraska, not Israel. Would we wish him to respond otherwise?

Hagel is rightly cautious on Iran. He voted against unilateral sanctions on Iran contending, rightly, that they were ineffective and only isolated the U.S. His doubts about unilateralism offend the neocons who got us into Iraq. He saw war up close in Vietnam where he was awarded two purple Hearts. He supported the invasion of Iraq but turned against the war when he saw the disaster caused by the lack of planning for the occupation. As a member of the president's foreign intelligence advisory board, he is known for asking penetrating questions and not accepting shallow answers. He will not let us go to war as cavalierly as was done in Iraq. The Joint Chiefs as well as the American and Israeli people seem to agree with Hagel.

The real problem the GOP neocons have with Hagel is that he does not buy their world view, the view that led us into Iraq and put that war and Afghanistan on a credit card. He appears to believe that defense pending can be rationally cut and that a defense budget adjusted for inflation that is only seven percent LOWER than Ronald Reagan's budget at the height of the Cold War may have some fat in it. And he is an unhappy reminder that once there were moderate Republicans.

But in the larger picture the goal of the GOP is the same as during Obama's first term: to dismiss the election results and to do whatever they can to weaken the president, no matter what harm befalls the nation. And the Rice and Hagel tactics will be used against other nominees such as Treasury and the EPA -- and, ultimately, any Supreme Court nominee. That is yet another reason why it is so important to secure the confirmation of Chuck Hagel.