At Forbes, Doug Bandow writes about the ongoing no-holds-barred campaign to prevent Chuck Hagel being confirmed as the next secretary of defense: The overriding objection to him is that he is the living refutation of everything the War Party stands for. He fought in battle, understands the human cost, offers skepticism rather than enthusiasm for new interventions, and would be no Pentagon rubber stamp. A liberal with no military experience and little confidence in military matters might be cowed or, better yet, coopted. Not Hagel.
Of course, it wouldn’t do even for the Neoconservatives to charge Hagel with being insufficiently enthusiastic for war. So they have come up with a number of other charges. For instance, he opposed some sanctions again Iran and even urged — shock, shock! — negotiations with Tehran. However, this makes eminent sense. If you liked war with Iraq, you would love war with Iran. Lighting a match to the Middle East, the likely consequence of an attack on Iran, should be a very last resort. After being lied into war with Iraq, Americans want to make sure the same does not happen again with regard to Iran.
Even more serious to Neocons is the claim that Hagel is anti-Israel. Never mind that he routinely voted for aid to Israel and backed Israel in other ways. And that Aaron David Miller, a former U.S. diplomat now at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, commented after interviewing Hagel in 2008: “Hagel is a strong supporter of Israel and a believer in shared values.” The latter didn’t — the mind boggles at the thought! — sign every letter presented to him by AIPAC, the spear point of the Israel Lobby in America. Indeed, Hagel had the temerity to call some of them “stupid.”
Moreover, he did not automatically absolve Israel from responsibility for the consequences of its actions. To the contrary, he joined with many Israelis in recognizing that after decades of military occupation of millions of Palestinians, Israel shared responsibility for the tragic results: “Both Israelis and Palestinians are trapped in a war not of their making.”
Worse, Hagel understood that shared people and values did not mean that the U.S. and Israel always shared the same interests. This truth is anathema to Neocons, who insist that Washington policy should be defined by the demands of the most extreme parties in Israel. However, Hagel believed that the duty of American officials is to promote America’s, not Israel’s, interests. As Hagel explained: “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. Not to a president. Not a party. Not to Israel. If I go run for Senate in Israel, I’ll do that.” This same sentiment should apply if a legislator is a Polish-American, a Southerner, a fraternity member, or a Mason.
Since Hagel’s positions fit well within mainstream support for Israel, some of his critics pulled out the Big Smear: he obviously is an anti-Semite. Normally one would expect the burden of proof to fall on those who made the charge, but his critics offer no personal statements or actions that actually are anti-Semitic. They prefer innuendo. One of the more vicious pieces came from Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute who intoned: “I do not know that he is one, nor am I convinced that he is not.” Among her evidence that he might be: “It could even be his questionable taste in friends around Washington, or the fact that the government of Iran has welcomed his nomination.”
Others complain that he pointed out the obvious (that there is an Israel Lobby). He once referred to the “Jewish Lobby” (which he acknowledged was a mistake, and he referred to “Israel Lobby” elsewhere in the same interview). And he did all those other terrible things, such as refuse to turn on his autopen for whatever letters AIPAC sent his way. Oh my!
Were the smear not so vicious it would be worth a laugh. Just as anyone who dissents from liberal orthodoxy risks being called a racist, so too anyone who dissents from Neoconservative orthodoxy now risks being called an anti-Semite. Indeed, the definition of anti-Semitism has changed. It once meant someone who hates Jews. Today anti-Semitism means someone hated by Neocons.
There’s a tragic danger of calling wolf once too often. There are anti-Semites. They should be shunned by polite society and denied political power. But Hagel is not one. By promiscuously using the charge to intimidate and bully for political purposes, the Neoconservatives are making it less likely they will be believed if a real anti-Semite arrives on the scene. Unfortunately, today no one can believe any charge of anti-Semitism coming from the usual suspects.