Former Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Nebraska, nominee to be U.S. Secretary of Defense.
The Senate confirmation hearing of Defense Secretary nominee Chuck Hagel demonstrated a central failing of today's U.S. political/media process: People routinely get punished -- and even blacklisted -- for challenging misguided conventional wisdom.
Even if you're a conservative former Republican senator from Nebraska who fought for your country in Vietnam, any deviation from Official Washington's orthodoxy opens you to ugly attack from loud voices in the news media and the political world. If you respond by trying to explain your heresy, you invite further abuse; if you retreat, you're decried as a tongue-tied wimp.
Of course, Graham and everyone in the room knew that there is a powerful Israel Lobby in Washington and that nearly all members of Congress quake over the possibility of being singled out as not sufficiently supportive of Israel. One of the quickest ways to be disqualified inside Official Washington is to get the label "anti-Israel." So, the American people are left to view this absurdity: Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, acting as if there is no Israel Lobby in Washington and as if no member of Congress has ever faced pressure from this non-existent lobby. Graham treated Hagel as if he must be mentally unstable for thinking otherwise.
Thus, when Israel's bullying Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses a joint session of the House and Senate, Republicans and Democrats compete to show how fast and how often they can jump to their feet in ovations, a humiliating display of obeisance that reflects badly on trained seals.
But you are not to notice this reality. The very observation is punishable by a process known as "controversialization," i.e., you can expect to be shoved to the margins of polite Washington society and -- if you ever do get a chance for some significant job in government or the news media -- you will be subjected to what Hagel got on Thursday.
A Stumbling Retreat
Usually, the only feasible response to such inquisitions is to repent and apologize for seeing what is plainly obvious. After all, if Hagel had reflected honestly about the open secret of the Israel Lobby, other senators would surely have joined in the verbal bashing and his chances for confirmation would have fallen dramatically.
Recognizing that fact, Hagel stumbled into retreat when Graham pressed for examples of members of Congress who had succumbed to pressure from the Israel Lobby. "Name one dumb thing we've been goaded into doing because of the pressure from the Israeli or Jewish lobby," Graham demanded. Hagel demurred, saying he could not.
Smelling political blood, Sen. Ted Cruz, a newly elected right-wing Republican from Texas, denounced Hagel for not challenging a caller during an interview with Al Jazeera in 2009, when the caller alleged that Israel had committed war crimes against the Palestinians.
Though many human rights organizations have documented Israel's abuse and killing of Palestinian civilians in the Occupied West Bank and Gaza -- as well as its violation of the Geneva Conventions by moving Israeli settlers onto Palestinian land -- the only politically acceptable position in Official Washington is to sneer at these realities.
Not surprisingly, Hagel retreated again when Cruz demanded to know, "Do you think the nation of Israel has committed war crimes?" Hagel replied, "No, I do not, Senator."
Hagel also was excoriated for deviating from one of Official Washington's favorite narratives, the myth of the "successful surge," how President George W. Bush and his neocon advisers "won" the war in Iraq by courageously dispatching 30,000 more U.S. troops in 2007.
The myth is that the escalation, virtually by itself, brought peace and victory in Iraq, even though many military analysts consider the "surge," which cost the lives of about 1,000 American soldiers and countless Iraqis, only one of many factors that accompanied the gradual decline in Iraqi violence.
And the "surge" did nothing to alter the longer arc of an eventual American defeat in Iraq, simply prolonging the forced U.S. departure until the end of 2011. The end result of the war -- besides the death and destruction -- is that Iraq is now run by an authoritarian Shiite government rather than an authoritarian Sunni government and has become an ally of Iran rather than a bulwark against Iran.
However, the "surge" myth is cherished by Washington's still influential neocons and other Iraq War hawks as their shield against criticism that they rushed the United States into a war of aggression in Iraq that cost the lives of some 4,500 U.S. soldiers and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and squandered about $1 trillion.