The Right Opinion

The Meaning of Hagel

By Charles Krauthammer · Jan. 11, 2013

“This is my last election. After my election, I have more flexibility.” – Barack Obama to Dmitry Medvedev, March 26, 2012

WASHINGTON – 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 Washington Post editorial board points 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.

So what's going on? Message sending. Obama won re-election. He no longer has to trim, to appear more moderate than his true instincts. He has the “flexibility” to be authentically Obama.

Hence the Hagel choice: Under the guise of centrist bipartisanship, it allows the president to leave the constrained first-term Obama behind and follow his natural Hagel-like foreign policy inclinations. On three pressing issues in particular:

(1) Military Spending

Current Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said in August 2011 that the scheduled automatic $600 billion defense cuts (“sequestration”) would result in “hollowing out the force,” which would be “devastating.” And strongly hinted that he might resign rather than enact them.

Asked about Panetta's remarks, Hagel called the Pentagon “bloated,” and needing “to be pared down.” Just the man you'd want to carry out a U.S. disarmament that will shrink America to what Obama thinks is its proper size on the world stage, i.e. smaller. The overweening superpower that Obama promiscuously chided in his global we-have-sinned tour is poised for reduction, not only to fund the bulging welfare state but to recalibrate America's proper role in the world.

(2) Israel

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?

(3) Iran

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.

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. 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.

© 2013, The Washington Post Writers Group

9 Comments

Viola in FL said:

In the Bible, Israel had a Persian Prince enemy named Haman. Today they have enemies called Hamas and Hezbollah. The Nazis leaders were Hitler and Himmler, Rudolph Hess was the name of the Nazi who was in charge of Auschwitz. Is there something with H names? This Hagel guy might be really bad news.

Friday, January 11, 2013 at 1:30 AM

John in AZ replied:

Unless Hess escaped British jail in 1941, then he wasn't the camp commander at Auschwitz. H is also the name of He-Man, will he be gunning for Israel?

Friday, January 11, 2013 at 8:46 AM

Barbara Nomi in Honolulu, Hi. said:

I understand he is an Orthodox Jew?? A conformist he is not, Hagel is an embarassement,,...humiliating and total mortification to us Jews. Obama is leading this country into financial embarrassment and humiliation. I fear for my beloved country. HAGEL AND OBAMA AND ALL HIS COCONSPIRATORS MUST BE STOPPED..

Friday, January 11, 2013 at 2:02 AM

Shane in Royersford PA said:

What has happened to our country? We have killed God and ridiculed the Bible so that the government is our God deciding what is right or wrong or good or bad..we are at the mercy of other men's opinions and desires...This is not One Nation Under God.
This is exactly what our fore fathers feared..this is exactly why we need our weapons..this is what they are needed for.

Friday, January 11, 2013 at 7:39 AM

Shane in Royersford PA said:

Our Liberties are encroached upon a little at a time until they are nothing but a vague guid line and ultimately misunderstood.Yes we have enemies at our gates..but what about the enemies within our gates? We have become weak in every.sense of the word..this country is under attack from within..

Friday, January 11, 2013 at 7:44 AM

wjm in Colorado said:

Maybe Hagel will enable the Iranians to get the bomb, and then I hope they use it on Washington DC when all the treasonous vermin are present, that would be a great silver lining to the cloud of treason now hanging over our heads.

Friday, January 11, 2013 at 9:57 AM

PH in DE replied:

Unfortunately, a large number of totally innocent people in the neighboring states, who know many of those people in DC need to be impeached, arrested, convicted and set to hard labor, or dare I say death penalty for their treasonous crimes against the people and the Constitution of the US, would be caught in the fallout.
Where are those who will stand up and follow their oaths to support and defend the Constitution against enemies foreign and domestic? We have plenty of enemies domestic in the White House, in the Cabinet, in the "czars" in positions of power in the Senate and the House, in the judiciary and even in the Supreme Court. What can the citizens do when there is no one willing to take down these traitors--especially when they can orchestrate the theft of our elections to keep themselves in power?

Friday, January 11, 2013 at 3:00 PM

Orf in Pittsburgh replied:

Where are the leaders of America who can compare with the Founding Fathers, the ones who created the greatest nation on earth? I do not see them anywhere. There is much talk and very little action. The 2nd Amendment is there to defend ourselves against the enemies within, and there are many of them.

Saturday, January 12, 2013 at 2:15 PM

shirley Viall in Washington said:

Thank you Charles Krauthammer. Thank God that the Senate is charged with confirmation. Besides defeating such a noxious choice of Obama, perhaps the long shadow of the House and Senate can begin to reign in a man who equates being the President with full dictatorship. Indeed there is a war going on, not just in Afghanistan, but within the governing bodies of our United States government. Hopefully it will come to be bipartisn in its endeavors for the sake of our country and the world.

Saturday, January 12, 2013 at 3:58 PM