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

They oppose Chuck Hagel because he prefers to stay out of wars and may not believe the U.S. should run the world.

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

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:

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“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.