“This is my last election. After my election, I have more flexibility.”
— Barack Obama to Dmitry Medvedev, March 26, 2012
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 were at the fringe of the entire Senate.
So what’s going on? Message sending. Obama won reelection. 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:
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 he 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 would 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.
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?