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Return of the neocons: This time, they’re attacking Hagel

REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
Former Sen. Chuck Hagel taking the podium after President Barack Obama announced his nomination to be his new secretary of defense on Tuesday.

The nomination of former Sen. Chuck Hagel is under attack on several grounds, including being insufficiently pro-Israel. But the shockingly candid full neoconservative version of the attack I heard last night on TV was much more fundamental: Hagel should not be the leader of the Pentagon because he prefers to stay out of wars and may not believe that the United States should run the world.

After a brief heyday during the George W. Bush administration, the foreign policy orientation dubbed “neoconservatism” has largely slipped into the background. The neocons were the geniuses behind the Iraq war and the larger idea that U.S. military power could, should and would turn the Mideast into a happier, more peaceful sea of pro-Western democracy. After it turned out that U.S. troops didn’t have a cakewalk in Iraq, weren’t greeted with candy and flowers, and that the war was sold on cooked intelligence, neoconservatism piped down for a few years.

But the neocons have stepped forward as critics of the Hagel nomination. Watching a pro- and anti-Hagel debate last night on the (always civil and substantive) PBS “Newshour,” I was taken aback that Reuel Marc Gerecht, the neocon on that panel, expressed himself in ways that seemed to reinforce the worst stereotypes of neocon thinking.

Gerecht, formerly of the CIA and the American Enterprise Institute, was a director of the original neocon organization the Project for a New American Century. Among the criticisms he made of Hagel were:

“I think they doubt the beneficence of American hegemony [this remark referred to both Hagel and John Brennan for CIA director, and perhaps President Obama as well]…

“He’s very skeptical that the United States, when it exercises its force abroad, is doing the right thing.”

Hagel suffers from the “Vietnam syndrome” which makes him “scared of the use of force abroad.”

Perhaps I’m too easily shocked. At some level, we are all raised with an unspoken belief in “the beneficence of American hegemony,” that Washington seeks to control the world for the world’s own good, but you seldom hear it stated so plainly.

Personally, I had mixed feelings about Hagel, and he did vote to authorize the Iraq war. But if he understands that the rest of the world is not necessarily always craving U.S. hegemony, and would be reluctant to get us into too many new wars over the next four years, I’m warming up to him.

Here’s the video of the “Newhour” segment (the panel that includes Gerecht starts about six minutes in):

Watch Lawmakers Promise Tough Questions for Defense, CIA Nominees on PBS. See more from PBS NewsHour.

Comments (13)

  1. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 01/08/2013 - 11:07 am.

    So what’s new?

    Just another sign of the extinction of the species Republicanus Moderatus.

  2. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 01/08/2013 - 11:19 am.

    Deja vu

    Like many of their socially-regressive “conservative” allies, neocons are somewhat divorced from the real world. There’s more than a little hubris in the assumption that everyone would be better off if only they were under our control. It helps to remember that our own society doesn’t actually provide very well for all its members, and many of the same so-called conservatives would throw those who are not of six-figure income (to the left of the decimal point) under the proverbial bus as lazy moochers.

    While I didn’t witness this in person, I’ve read that an actual question asked on Fox News Sunday took place when Roberts cited a quote from Hagel in which he [Hagel] said, “I will do everything I can to avoid needless, senseless war,” and then [Roberts] asks, “Is that a reasonable position?”

    Is the avoidance of “needless, senseless war” a reasonable position?

    The complacent, malevolent lunacy of that follow-up question, in a society with relatively sane political discourse, would disqualify it out of hand. In the current American political climate, it will be regarded as a perfectly reasonable response by far too many. “Is peace really preferable to perpetual war?” is a question sensible only to those who believe they have nothing to lose in a war: they’ll never have to actually take part in combat, nor will any of their friends, family or loved ones. Someone else (those who can’t afford tax lawyers) will pay for the war. Etc., ad nauseum.

    It’s also a fine example of George Orwell’s “1984” laid out for our inspection a couple generations after it was written.

  3. Submitted by Robert Gauthier on 01/08/2013 - 11:29 am.

    The trouble with today’s conservatives…

    Is they love their abstract ideology about how the world should be rather than what it is.

    • Submitted by Jim McFadden on 01/08/2013 - 03:35 pm.

      Really..??Isn’t that much


      Isn’t that much more the perennial Liberal Philosophy as expressed in RFK and Ted Kennedy’s famous quote (which, btw, they actually plagerized from Geo. Bernard Shaw ( Well not even the Kennedys actually, but their Speechwriter Ted Sorenson)) :

      “You see things; and you say, ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never were; and I say, ‘Why not?’”

      Take a step away from the KoolAid my friend…

      Drink not the nectar of either Party…

      Learn instead to think for YOURSELF !!


      • Submitted by Robert Helland on 01/08/2013 - 09:39 pm.

        Says a man who uses “the Kool-Aid attack”…

        Thinking for myself: I’d say that the US drone warfare policy is the single greatest threat to the peace and stability of our futures. If people cannot see the logical corollaries of such a policy and such technology, they need to reconsider what it means when one country engages in entirely asymmetric warfare in another.

        Would we allow this:

        Imagine a swarm of Chinese unmanned drones, some specializing in air-to-air defense, some in ground-to-air defense, some as surgical strikes and some as large payload carriers. A flock of death.

        What precedents are being set? (How many children has this policy killed compared to the number killed in Newtown, CT, for example?)

        While I know Hagel to have waffled on that issue… I also understand there is a lot of pressure. I think that President Obama actually holds a similar belief despite his escalation of drone attacks. In his first term, it was someone else’s policy and it does provide a short-term effect. That’s the nature of change. I believe he wants to de-escalate the drone program in his second term, but he is still cleaning up other people’s messes.

        I am not a democrat. that is just the trajectory I get from our president and for me this nomination reinforces that perception. The idea that we must stand “unshakably” with Israel (another nation rapidly advancing asymmetric and non-human capabilities AND applying them) as I’ve heard Republican lawmakers quoted. Spare me the religious zealotry and labels if that’s what you got. There is nothing unshakable about this country and that’s what I love about it.

        Shake, rattle and roll, Jim.


      • Submitted by Diane Nelson on 01/09/2013 - 12:21 pm.

        The irony

        here is that had you followed your own advice to think for yourself, you wouldn’t have even clicked open this article to read Erik’s take.

        And it sounds like if anyone’s consumed too much, i would suggest that it is you who ought to drink less of whatever it is that causing your volitile expression of opinion.

        Your lack of discourse in commentary is similar to the very problem we’re having in Washington.

  4. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 01/08/2013 - 11:30 am.

    Hegemony?At the


    At the high-watermark (or low, if you prefer) of the building of the New American Century in it’s Iraq adventure, the tide was turned by bribing insurgents to not attack us (Sunni Awakening). We are now in the process of doing the same in Afghanistan.

    Now, if that is a sign of incipient American hegemony, I’ve got a bridge to the New American Century that I can sell you.

    From the Project for a New American Century website:

    …..American leadership is good both for America and for the world; and that such leadership requires military strength, diplomatic energy and commitment to moral principle….

    The Bush/Cheney administration certainly tried all of those, with more or less irony. What did it get?

    Sad but true, the Kardashian family (Kimye!!) has more of the characteristics of global hegemony than the American government does.

  5. Submitted by Jim McFadden on 01/08/2013 - 01:55 pm.

    The Black & White of Eric Black

    EB is a disgrace to ‘Journalism’ and would be better suited to being a Soap Salesman (at least that job actually comes with a ‘SoapBox’).

    It isn’t difficult to imagine why Eric Black is a FORMER reporter for the Star Tribune.

    This article makes enticing use of labels designed to enflame the readers of any ilk. Why use labels at all..?? Are the Readers so stupid that simply writing the ‘facts’ is insufficient for them to form an opinion… their OWN opinion..??

    I am neither a Conservative nor a Liberal ! I detest being labeled in my thinking and believe that allowing one to be such leads to ever greater polarization of the Country’s Citizenry and Electorate, stifling true, open debate – certainly a BAD thing for America. Do ANY of you remember RESPECTING the other fellow’s point of view no matter how ‘wrong’ you may think it to be..??

    I AM against the nomination of Chuck Hagel for this post, and for one very basic reason; not because he’s a Liberal or a Democrat, not because I disagree with his views.

    But rather because I STRONGLY disagree with the perpetuation of ‘Career Politicians’ of ANY side !

    Chuck Hagel has fed himself at the Public Trough, off & on, since 1971 !! And in the intermeaning years worked as a Lobbyist for Firestone Tire & Rubber (aka Big Business) in addition to making Millions as a 1% Fat Cat at Vanguard Cellular and was a Major Stockholder in the McCarthy Group – manufacturer of more than 80% of the Country’s voting machines. Wasn’t all the controversy in the past few National Elections partly due to failures of these machines..??

    Eric Black likely also failed to research his subject well enough to even comment.

    For instance, in his tenure in the Senate, Hagel voted FOR the Patriot Act, voted FOR the 2001 & 2003 Bush Tax Cuts, voted FOR the 2002 Iraq Resolution, voted FOR the Senate Joint Resolution 23 authorizing the use of Military Force in Afganistan, voted AGAINST the Medicare Drug Prescription, Improvement and Modernization Act and voted AGAINST the McCain-Feingold Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002.

    This doesn’t sound to me like a Liberal’s ideal Poster Child whatsoever.

    But, again, all this aside, I am against furthering the advancement of Career Politicians of ANY Party.

    Once the Electorate comes to understand that this is the ONLY way to break the deadlock on Capital Hill and insure that these Politicians are working for US instead of THEMSELVES, the Country will once again be FOR THE PEOPLE AND BY THE PEOPLE !!

  6. Submitted by Wm. Sweeney on 01/08/2013 - 01:58 pm.

    Opposed to Iraq War??

    Hegel certainly had his doubts about the Iraq War but really didn’t oppose that war – he voted in favor of giving the President the authority to commit troops. He did so in a cautionary manner – emphasizing the problems of dealing with a society with which the US was unfamiliar and which had no history of democratic institutions.

    What he opposed was the incompetency of the Bush Administration in failing to develop and implement a plan to minimize insurgency after the occupation of Baghdad. Over and over again Hagel – and others – emphasized the need to include Bath party members in the civic administration of the country and understand the dynamics of that society. He does not consider the Iraq War a true ‘victory’. And for that he is considered an ‘unloyal’ Republican??

  7. Submitted by Ann Richards on 01/08/2013 - 07:39 pm.

    Did we read the same article?

    Jim, I reread the article and the only word that I could find that you may object to is ‘neo-con’ a term used and understood by all major news journals, papers, and programs. What labels are you talking about?

    On the other hand, your response was a disgrace to responses and would be better suited to Yahoo.
    Why inflame us and treat us as though we are stupid with comments like the following:
    ‘fed at the public trough’ ‘fat cat’ ‘suited to being a soap salesman’

    You failed to research Eric Black’s career in Journalism and why he is no longer at the Trib. to even comment on it..

    I am not aware of anyone trying to make Hagel the Liberals Poster Child.

  8. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 01/09/2013 - 06:50 am.

    I’ve read a lot of stuff that says that the protest against him is not really about Israel, but because he might credibly cut defense spending. But since cutting defense spending is somewhat popular people are objecting to him over Israel.

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