Neocons, Hagel, and a tired proxy fight

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Neocons, Hagel, and a tired proxy fight
Neocons, Hagel, and a tired proxy fight
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We’ll learn soon enough what kind of opposition Chuck Hagel’s nomination to be the next Secretary of Defense will face, but in the meantime, as Jim Rutenberg noted over the weekend, it’s starting to sound a lot like 2006.

In the bitter debate that led up to the American invasion of Iraq in 2003, Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska said that some of his fellow Republicans, in their zest for war, lacked the perspective of veterans like him, who have “sat in jungles or foxholes and watched their friends get their heads blown off.”

Those Republicans in turn called him an “appeaser” whose cautious geopolitical approach dangerously telegraphed weakness in the post-Sept. 11 world.

The campaign now being waged against Mr. Hagel’s nomination as secretary of defense is in some ways a relitigation of that decade-old dispute. It is also a dramatic return to the public stage by the neoconservatives whose worldview remains a powerful undercurrent in the Republican Party and in the national debate about the United States’ relationship with Israel and the Middle East.

To be sure, Hagel has plenty of credible detractors on the left, who’ve focused on the former senator’s conservative voting record and positions on social issues.

That said, it’s hard to miss the larger proxy fight on the right. Rutenberg’s piece quoted Bill Kristol complaining that Hagel “would always err on the side of not intervening” in overseas military actions, Elliott Abrams accusing Hagel of anti-Semitism, and Richard Perle complaining that Hagel is among those who “so abhor the use of force that they actually weaken the diplomacy that enables you to achieve results without using force.”

And on the other side, we see Colin Powell championing Hagel’s nomination, and Richard Armitage telling the Times, “This is the neocons’ worst nightmare because you’ve got a combat soldier, successful businessman and senator who actually thinks there may be other ways to resolve some questions other than force.”

The intra-party fight over neoconservatism never really went away – Hagel’s nomination is simply bringing it back to the fore.

Rutenberg added:

To Mr. Hagel’s allies, his presence at the Pentagon would be a very personal repudiation of the interventionist approach to foreign policy championed by the so-called Vulcans in the administration of President George W. Bush, who believed in pre-emptive strikes against potential threats and the promotion of democracy, by military means if necessary. […]

In the years since the war’s messy end, the most hawkish promoters have maintained enormous sway within the Republican Party, holding leading advisory posts in both the McCain and Romney presidential campaigns as their counterparts in the “realist” wing of the party…. Their prominence in the fight over Mr. Hagel’s nomination is testament to their continued outsize voice in the public debate, helped by outlets like The Weekly Standard, research groups like the American Enterprise Institute and wealthy Republican financiers like the casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, whose nearly $100 million in political donations last year were driven largely by his interest in Israel. The Republican Jewish Coalition, on whose board of directors Mr. Adelson sits, was among the first to criticize the Hagel nomination

The spectacle is a reminder that the right has never fully come to terms with the neocons’ spectacular failures. Kristol & Co. were proven wrong, but for the Republican mainstream, this inconvenient detail is better left ignored. Neocons’ credibility has been left in the same condition as the integrity of their strange worldview – in tatters – but it never occurred to the Republican establishment to stop taking these guys seriously.

And so, the proxy fight continues. It doesn’t matter that President Obama has nominated a conservative Republican for a leading role in his cabinet; what matters is that this conservative Republican has no use for a discredited vision of foreign policy and the (mis)use of military power, which means he must be attacked by the very voices who most deserve to be ignored.

Or put another way, the decorated combat veteran who’s reluctant to launch new invasions is being lectured on war-avoidance by the same “chicken hawks” who left their credibility in Iraq – and most of the GOP doesn’t find this odd.

I’m reminded of an on-air conversation Rachel had with Chris Hayes last April about the neocons’ failures: “No one [on the right] has ever had to face up to what happened, this sort of magnitude of the error is just completely erased by history. It’s like those old Stalinist books where they just get rid of the people that were disappeared.”

At the time, Chris was talking about folks like Dan Senor taking a leading role in the Romney campaign, despite his role in “the worst period of American foreign policy in 100 years, quite plausibly.” But the problem obviously continues.

Bill Kristol, Neoconservatives and Chuck Hagel

Neocons, Hagel, and a tired proxy fight

Updated