Jordan Michael Smith reports: Though secretary of defense nominee Chuck Hagel’s confirmation hearings were bruising, thanks to aggressive questioning from Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham, it could have been worse. His staunchest critic was absent.
More than anyone else, it is Elliott Abrams who has questioned the former Nebraska senator’s qualifications and character. Abrams twice called Hagel an outright anti-Semite, a smear other neoconservatives hinted at but couldn’t bring themselves to utter. So outrageous was Abrams’ slur that the head of the Council on Foreign Relations, where Abrams is a senior fellow, publicly criticized it.
Neoconservatives deploy baseless accusations of anti-Semitism as frequently as they indulge in nepotism, of course. But that Abrams has, once more, pushed himself to the center of a foreign policy debate is remarkable: The man is, after all, a convicted criminal. And yet, not only was Abrams exempt from serving prison time for his misconduct — he was later pardoned by President George H.W. Bush, in the days after his loss to Bill Clinton — but he has since been fully accepted back into the highest echelons of the Republican foreign-policy community. Abrams’ bizarre reincarnation as a pseudo-statesman shows that even committing crimes counts as insufficient to merit excommunication from government service.
Abrams seems cooked from a neoconservative recipe. Born to a Jewish New York home, he was once a reliable Democrat. He opposed the Vietnam War and criticized police handling of student protesters in the 1960s. But he rejected the counterculture and began writing for Commentary and the Public Interest, magazines themselves alienated from the New Left and on a trajectory from left to right. He joined the staff of hawkish Washington Sen. Henry “Scoop” Jackson, a key influence on so many neocons, from Abrams to Paul Wolfowitz to Richard Perle, and later went to work in New York Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s office.
1980 was a big year for Abrams. He married the daughter of Norman Podhoretz, the longtime Commentary editor before his son succeeded him. And he joined Democrats for Reagan, having been disgusted by Jimmy Carter’s foreign policy and personally offended by being shut out of Carter’s government. “Carter never had a human rights philosophy except that the U.S. was generally a bad place going around the world doing bad things,” he complained to a reporter. Abrams was tapped for the innocuous-sounding post of assistant secretary of state for international organization — but there was nothing innocuous about Abrams. [Continue reading…]