This is the worst smear campaign Washington has seen since — well, since the smear campaign against Susan Rice. That was only a month ago. And, interestingly, it was also led by the same two smear merchants, John McCain and Lindsey Graham, who have turned the Senate’s constitutional duty of “advice and consent” into a despicable display of character assassination.
Why anybody pays any attention to what McCain and Graham say about anything anymore beats me, but what they’re trying to do to Chuck Hagel best represents what’s wrong with Washington today. No doubt about it: If Ronald Reagan, or George Bush, or Mitt Romney had nominated Hagel as secretary of defense, Republicans would be out dancing in the streets, shouting: “He’s a conservative! He’s a Republican! He’s one of us! He’s a decorated war hero!”
But because President Obama nominated Hagel to be defense secretary, Republicans, led by McCain and Graham, are determined to shoot him down. Only in order to deny Obama another win.
There are three charges leveled against Hagel: he’s anti-Israel; he’s soft on Iran; and he’s anti-gay. All three are bogus. Let’s start with Israel. No, Hagel does not agree with Bibi Netanyahu on everything. But guess what? Neither did George Bush. Neither does Barack Obama. But that doesn’t make him anti-Israel. As senator, in fact, he voted for billions of dollars in military aid to Israel.
Hagel’s enemies base his alleged anti-Israel bias on the fact that he once used the phrase “Jewish lobby.” That was a mistake. There is no “Jewish” lobby in Washington, but there is a very powerful “Israeli lobby.” Just like there’s a powerful “Pakistani lobby,” and “oil lobby,” and “environmental lobby.” Besides, it should be pointed out that, back when he was secretary of defense, Dick Cheney advised soldiers not to talk about the “Jewish lobby” — yet nobody raised much of a fuss. The phrase is still often found in the pages of Haaretz, one of Israel’s leading daily papers.
Hagel’s also slammed for having declared, back in 2006: “I’m not an Israeli senator. I’m a United States senator. I support Israel, but my first interest is I take an oath of office to the Constitution of the United States...” Blunt, perhaps. But any senator who said the opposite, about any other country, would likely be accused of treason.
On Iran, Hagel’s attacked for being weak because he’s against starting a third war in the Middle East and once voted against unilateral American sanctions on Iran. Agree or disagree, that hardly disqualifies him from serving as defense secretary. As such, he would not be making foreign policy for the United States. And are Americans really itching for war with Iran?
In my judgment, the most serious — and surprising — criticism of Chuck Hagel is his opposition to Bill Clinton’s 1998 nomination of my longtime friend, James Hormel, as U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg, only because Hormel happened to be openly gay. A bad idea, Hagel pontificated, because “ambassadorial posts are sensitive. They are representing America. They are representing our lifestyle, our values, our standards. And I think it is an inhibiting factor to be gay — openly, aggressively gay like Mr. Hormel — to do an effective job.”
Even though he reflected the beliefs of most Midwestern Republican senators at the time, that was a dumb, ugly thing to say. And Hagel knows it. He’s apologized. He’s vowed to uphold the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and praised the contribution of LGBT members of the military. In other words, like many politicians, including Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, Hagel’s come around on the issue of gay rights.
It was Clinton, remember, who put in place both Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and the Defense of Marriage Act, the two most anti-gay measures of our time.
Forget his shrill, small-minded critics. Look at who he is. A decorated war hero. The first enlisted man to rise to the very top of the Pentagon. And the first Vietnam Vet. A fiscally-conservative Republican. He’s the perfect man for the job. Chuck Hagel will make a great secretary of defense.
Bill Press is host of a nationally-syndicated radio show.