Commentary Magazine


What Does Hagel’s Performance Say About His Supporters?

Jonathan Tobin has ably covered Chuck Hagel’s underwhelming performance here and here. Many of his supporters apparently were shocked at how poorly Hagel did under questioning; they should not have been. Senate Democrats may still band together to confirm Hagel, but the whole episode should be a wake-up call for the press not only regarding the former senator’s competence, but also about the motivations of many of his most vocal supporters.

During the Cold War, there were communists, anti-communists, and anti-anti-communists who were much less concerned about the reality of the Soviet Union than about stymying those who were opposed to Moscow. Likewise, in the aftermath of 9/11, there were terrorists, anti-terrorists and, within progressive circles, anti-anti-terrorists who were more consumed with Bush Derangement Syndrome than with Hamas, Hezbollah, and al-Qaeda. Their rhetoric was marked by sky-is-falling hyperbole regarding Gitmo, the Patriot Act, and Dick Cheney.

Much of Hagel’s support is rooted in the same trend. Many of those signing letters and penning op-eds supporting Hagel make no secret that their concern is less Hagel than an obsession about neoconservatives. Colin Powell, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Peter Beinart, and the good folks at Think Progress may cast aside Hagel’s Neanderthal approach to social issues and they may genuinely think that there is more room for diplomacy with Tehran. There are many competent Democrats and even some Republicans who might agree with them. But to rally around Chuck Hagel was to embrace an incompetence that does not belong in the Pentagon—or at the top of any executive agency—at such troubled times. No one should sacrifice U.S. national security because they have a political axe to grind.

How sad it is that so many progressives define themselves not on ideals and values, but only in opposition to other people.

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