As we gear up for another round of Congressional theatrics with the confirmation hearings for Samantha Power and Susan Rice, Charles Davis takes a look back on Chuck Hagel’s first four months as Secretary of Defense for Al Jazeera and asks “what was all the fuss about?” Or perhaps more importantly – why did anyone on the left support him in the first place?:
On his first trip to the Middle East, Hagel did not link arms with democracy activists in Palestine and the Gulf, but formalised a$10bn arms deal to their anti-democratic rulers in Israel, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. While sold (and demonised) as an advocate of diplomacy, Hagel also gave Israel the public go-ahead to launch a first strike on Iran, telling reporters that the Islamic Republic “presents a threat in its nuclear programme and Israel will make the decisions that Israel must make to protect itself and defend itself”.
“The bottom line is that Iran is a threat, a real threat,” Hagel declared.
Planning military operations against Iran is also Hagel’s “top priority” as defence secretary, or at least that is what he told New York Democrat Chuck Schumer during the confirmation process. Instead of cutting and running from Afghanistan, something the right feared and the left hoped he would hasten should he be confirmed, Hagel is helping plan the long-term occupation of the country, including the installation of at least nine permanent US military bases and stationing of more than 100,000 private contractors. Meanwhile, cruise missiles are still being fired into Yemen at “suspected militants”, otherwise known as brown-skinned males who have hit puberty. Troops that came home from Iraq and were lucky enough to miss out on Afghanistan are now being deployed to fight an increasingly bloody war on drugs in the Americas.
In other words, the US empire is getting along just fine, for better or worse. Military spending may be cut in the future, but America will continue to spend almost as much on its armed forces as the rest of the world does combined. Standing armies tend to find ways to make themselves useful and politicians would rather slash Social Security anyway. The identity of the Pentagon’s top bureaucrat, it turns out, does not change much of anything. It makes even less of a difference than the party that controls the presidency.
“Hagel wants to end the war in Afghanistan” and “prevent war with Iran”, declared a blast email from the liberal list-builders at MoveOn.org. The former senator has a strong record of “taking on the military-industrial complex“, claimed VoteVets.org, another liberal group named after its website.
The right, meanwhile, was warning that Hagel would help his boss finally bring down Israel, the US military and probably Betty Crocker too. A writer in National Review declared Hagel an anti-Semite for not signing every pro-Israel letter that crossed his desk, breaking US Senate tradition.
Jennifer Rubin, a neoconservative columnist at the Washington Post, wrote that “the best argument against Chuck Hagel” was a speech he gave a few years back calling for a solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict and other banalities, arguing his views – think a little before you embargo and bomb Iran; Israel is capable of error – are “contrary to the president’s policies”, which even if true would warrant the question: Yes, but whose views would he be implementing as policy, his or the president’s?
Much ado about nothing
What made the debate over Hagel particularly strange was the notion that it really mattered; that it would somehow alter the chain of command and do more than impact the small-talk in Washington for a week or two. Both liberal and conservative pundits acted as if there was a different Obama than the one we have seen since 2009, one who secretly sides more with the poor foreigners he is bombing than perhaps even the men and women in uniform he is ordering to bomb them. His pick of Hagel was a potential game-changer. The real, second-term Barack was beginning to show himself, the smart pundit told the cable news anchor. This stuff matters!
The president’s decision to pick was nothing less than “marvellous” wrote the Nation’s Eric Alterman in a column, “Hooray for Hagel“, because it would expose the diminishing influence of the invade-everywhere right that opposed him. Josh Marshall, editor of Talking Points Memo and sometime-guest at the White House, claimed that “it signals a real closing of the door on the Bush era”. This savvy move, savvy observers noted, would remind Washington insiders that neoconservatism is unpopular the way every election since 2006 has not. Those were the careerist left’s talking points, anyway.
The left has continually made the mistake of falling for corporate-sponsored imperialists who are just not that into them, a myopic focus on short-term “pragmatism” and a never-ending campaign mode blinding many to the long-term reality that they are played for suckers by folks who would rather slash Social Security than the nuclear weapons budget. Perhaps if those who prefer peace and prosperity to war and structural unemployment quit looking for allies among their enemies – those who bail out Wall Street while bombing brown people on their own personal kill list – they might even start to be taken seriously outside of their own drum and social media circles. In the future, a liberal Democrat might even have reason to offer his base something more than a pro-war Republican. But there needs to be a reason.