Sen. Chuck Hagel during a 2008 visit to Iraq. (Photo credit: Lance Cpl. Casey Jones)
The year 2012 has been a rough one for Washington's arrogant neocons. Their political influence has waned since they threw in their lot with presidential loser Mitt Romney and then witnessed the ignominious resignation of their ally David Petraeus as CIA chief. But they are now mounting a fierce counter-attack to reestablish their relevance by demonizing former Sen. Chuck Hagel.
Hagel has become the neocons' new target of opportunity after emerging as a likely choice to become Defense Secretary. He is a bete noire to the neocons because he is viewed as disturbingly independent of Israel's preferences for what U.S. foreign and military policy must be.
Hagel has indicated, too, a preference for real negotiations with Iran regarding its nuclear program rather than simply a steady escalation of sanctions and hostilities leading inexorably to war, as Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and many neocons seem to prefer.
Another one of Hagel's alleged sins is that he believes the vast Pentagon budget "needs to be pared down." The Washington Post editorial page, which has long been the neocons' media flagship in the nation's capital, denounced that position as irresponsible and out of the mainstream.
"Mr. Hagel's stated positions on critical issues, ranging from defense spending to Iran, fall well to the left of those pursued by Mr. Obama during his first term -- and place him near the fringe of the Senate that would be asked to confirm him," the Post sniffed in a Dec. 19 editorial.
But it is clear that Hagel's primary disqualification is that he has, at times, refused to sign on to hawkish neocon positions circulated by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, AIPAC, such as piling on more anti-Iran sanctions and demanding that Europe designate Hezbollah, Israel's chief foe in Lebanon, as a terrorist organization.
Thus, the neocons' campaign to intimidate Obama into pulling back Hagel's expected nomination has become a test of whether the neocons can still exert enough muscle to block disfavored American citizens from holding public office. Such hardball tactics succeeded during Obama's first term.
The War on Chas Freeman
Indeed, the neocons' current offensive against Hagel is reminiscent of their successful drive in 2009 to blackball former U.S. Ambassador Chas W. Freeman from getting a job as chairman of the National Intelligence Council. Freeman, a former ambassador to Saudi Arabia, was decried as a "realist" who was too friendly with Arab countries.
"Realist ideology pays no attention to moral differences between states," Jon Chait wrote in an op-ed for the Washington Post entitled "Obama's Intelligence Blunder." Chait, a senior editor at the neocon New Republic, added: "As far as realists are concerned, there's no way to think about the way governments act except as the pursuit of self-interest."
But Freeman's real crime was again a lack of sufficient ardor toward Israel and his recognition that an Israel Lobby actually exists in Washington.
"Realists tend not to abide the American alliance with Israel, which rests on shared values with a fellow imperfect democracy rather than on a cold analysis of America's interests," Chait wrote...
"Taken to extremes, realism's blindness to morality can lead it wildly astray. Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer, both staunch realists, wrote 'The Israel Lobby,' a hyperbolic attack on Zionist political influence. ...
"Freeman praised 'The Israel Lobby' while indulging in its characteristic paranoia. 'No one else in the United States has dared to publish this article,' he told a Saudi news service in 2006, 'given the political penalties that the lobby imposes on those who criticize it.'"
The right-wing Washington Times published its own smear job against Freeman, written by former Reagan administration Pentagon official Frank Gaffney, another neocon.
"The announcement ... that the Obama administration would turn over the job of preparing National Intelligence Estimates to a man whom Saudi Arabia, China, Iran and Hamas surely consider an agent of influence calls to mind an old axiom about Charles 'Chas' Freeman's new line of work -- "Garbage in, garbage out,'" Gaffney wrote.
Faced with this furious reaction to the appointment of Freeman, the novice President Barack Obama quickly retreated. Freeman was forced to step down, and the neocons celebrated their reassertion of political clout even in Obama's Washington. They also could still count as key allies much of Bush's old national security team retained by Obama, from Gen. David Petraeus to Defense Secretary Robert Gates.