From the Washington Post, 11 Jan 2013, by Charles Krauthammer:
"This is my last election. After my election, I have more flexibility."
— Barack Obamato 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 Post’s editorial board pointed 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 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
(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 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 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 — like Europe’s postwar choice of social spending over
international relevance — but to recalibrate America’s proper role in the
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?
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 at a time when they were supplying and supporting attacks on U.S.
soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.
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 run it out of the White House even more tightly than he did
in the first term.
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
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.