The much-awaited Senate Armed Services Committee hearing – and vote – on Chuck Hagels’ nomination as Secretary of Defense finally arrived, and once again the neo-McCarthyites stole the show. Unfortunately for them, their numerous curtain calls failed to yield bouquets of flowers. Instead, their reenactment of the Jerry Springer Show exposed them for what they are: losers, in every sense of the word.
Sen. James Inhofe (R-Bizarro World) started off the festivities with a reiteration of his charge that the nominee has been "endorsed" – nay, "celebrated" – by Iran, and then repeated almost verbatim his meandering, half-coherent attack on Hagel’s views and integrity at the first hearing.
Senator John McCain gave vent to his obsession with the Iraq "surge," and spent his time telling the committee just why he is right on a subject very close to his heart, the alleged “success” of the Iraq war – a thesis long since disproved by Iraq’s collapse into chaos. The rest of the Republicans followed suit, repeating their own obsessions. These ranged from mind-numbing denunciations of the much-maligned "Global Zero" report to the alleged heresy of Hagel’s Senate vote against a resolution that would have condemned a section of the Iranian military as a "terrorist organization" – and given the Bush administration a convenient back door to war with Tehran. Lindsey Graham’s old-maidish "he sends a chill up my spine" rhetoric was hardly unexpected, and basically a reprise of his earlier comments: he looked resigned to defeat.
The rhetoric didn’t get hot and heavy until we got down to the "star" of the show, Sen. Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, whose performance marked a new low – even for him. Perhaps looking to his election year endorsement by Ron Paul and affiliated organizations, he started out by protesting that he is "a lot less hawkish than some other members of this committee," a weird assertion in view of his vicious attacks on Hagel for his less-than-hawkish views. I am skeptical, he averred, of the US being "the world’s policeman," and he even had the nerve to invoke George Washington’s warning against "entangling alliances" before wondering aloud if Hagel is sufficiently devoted to the most entangling alliance of them all – our "special relationship" with Israel.
While self-contradiction is a tic shared by most politicians, rarely do we get to see an example where contradictions ram into each other sentence by sentence, like a traffic accident involving multiple cars. But Sen. Cruz is unique, and not only in that respect.
Yes, he’s a real character, one that evokes the ghost of Senator Joe McCarthy in more ways than one. Not only does he look like Tail-gunner Joe, he has that "I have in my hands a list" air about him that prefigures the role he is likely to play on that committee, and in the Senate at large, as the darling of the loony-tunes right. Taking his cue from Sen. Inhofe, he repeated the charge that Hagel has been "endorsed" by the Iranian government, averring that Hagel’s nomination will make conflict with Iran "more likely" by "encouraging those who would do harm to this country." Cruz is a man of peace, you see – if you can get past the bombastic bellicosity of his rhetoric.
There were a few raised eyebrows at this point – Hagel is a man with two Purple Hearts, who volunteered for service in Vietnam and was severely wounded really a closet traitor who owes fealty to Iran? – but Cruz was just getting warmed up.
Cruz was all about the money: that is, he wanted to know if and when Hagel had received monetary compensation from "foreign governments, corporations, or individuals," "directly or indirectly." Although Senate rules require nominees for high positions to reveal all compensation over $5000 over a two year period. Cruz had unilaterally decided on behalf of the committee that this needed to be extended to five years because "we don’t know if [Hagel] has received" such compensation "from extreme or radical groups."
Which "radical or extreme groups"? Cruz didn’t say: his accusation was pure innuendo. It was actually an allusion to an article by ethnic cleansing advocate Ben Shapiro, who, blogging for the conspiracy web site Breitbart.com, claimed Hagel is in the pay of a previously unknown group known as "Friends of Hamas." But the Senator didn’t have the courage to cite the Shapiro hoax – and a hoax it is, because no such organization exists – and so he simply left it vague, just as the original McCarthy habitually did, leaving the stench of innuendo hanging in the air.
By this time, eyebrows were being raised even higher, but Cruz ploughed on, oblivious to the fact that his crude effort to discredit Hagel had merely succeeded in discrediting himself. He made reference to Hagel’s 80-plus speeches, both formal and informal, over the past five years, and complained that the nominee hadn’t made the complete text of each and every last one of them available so he and his aides could comb them for "evidence" of treason, bribery, and worse. "There was something in there that he doesn’t want to make public," said Cruz. "It may be that he received extraordinary payments from defense contractors. We don’t know what it was. Because he simply said no."
The climactic moment of this avalanche of slime was when Cruz turned to the committee, and declared: "I don’t know if he has received funds from foreign sources, from extreme sources – directly or indirectly. Just today we discovered speeches that he had not disclosed." "We don’t know" how much money came from "foreign" sources and was "deposited in his personal bank account in the last five years," he said, going on to cite one of the companies Hagel has been associated with, Corsair Capital, and the amount of compensation received: $200,000.
To anyone listening to this peroration, it was clear what Cruz was saying: that he suspected Hagel had been bought and paid for by mysterious "foreign" corporations, who had something to do with "extreme or radical groups." In short, he was basically saying Hagel had sold out his country for a bit more than thirty pieces of silver – all the time hiding behind the assertion that "we just don’t know."
At this point, committee chairman Carl Levin had apparently had enough. He informed Cruz, in a rather curt tone, that Hagel had been asked whether he had received compensation from any foreign or overseas source, and had answered no: indeed, the questionnaire all nominees are asked to fill out asks this questions in several different ways, and to all of these inquiries Hagel had answered in the negative. "Unless the Senator has some evidence to the contrary," said Levin, he was going to overrule this objection and move the nomination along.
Not knowing when to shut up – and that seems to be the defining characteristic of the freshman Senator from Texas – Cruz came back at him with examples where a nominee had gone beyond the disclosure requirements, notably Hillary Clinton, who agreed to identify foreign donations to her husband’s foundation, but again Levin reminded Cruz that Hagel had answered in the negative on the questionnaires he submitted – and unless Cruz had some evidence that the nominee was intentionally misleading the committee, it was time to move on. Clearly Cruz believes Hagel is lying – yet he didn’t have the balls to come out and say so. Hiding inside of every demagogue is a coward afraid to come out.
It remained for Senator Bill Nelson to finally put this particular demagogue in his place by turning to Cruz and saying: "You have gone over the line, Senator Cruz." While the committee has always been known for "a certain degree of comity and civility," Cruz’s comments implying that Hagel is in the pay of a "foreign" entity—"questioning his patriotism" – have "gone too far." Senator McCain, perhaps remembering that he’s supposed to be a man of honor, rushed to assure the committee that he believes Hagel integrity is unquestioned, while Cruz cringed in the corner. It was time – long past time – for some pushback from the Democrats on the committee, and Claire McCaskill didn’t disappoint. Turning to Senator Inhofe, she warned: "Be careful, Sen. Inhofe – because what if you are ‘endorsed’ by some horrible group or person?" It is an indication of how far over the edge the Hagel-haters on the committee had gone that this actually had to be pointed out.
There was no walk-out, as the neocons had been gleefully predicting: no indication of a filibuster, as they had also been hoping for. In the end it was just the same old smear-and-fear tactics we have grown so inured to, and that are sure to go a long way in making the GOP a permanent minority party. Most telling, I thought, were the remarks of Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Klan Country), who bemoaned the fact that Hagel is supposedly not "in the mainstream." The former Republican Senator from Nebraska, Wicker complained, is "a lifelong contrarian who has made a career out of defying the bipartisan consensus" on Israel and on foreign policy issues in general. Wicker echoed Lindsey Graham, who had earlier come out with a Barney Frank-esque quip that Hagel isn’t in the "right lane" or the "left lane," instead "he’s in the Chuck Hagel lane."
This underscores the utter cluelessness of Wicker and his Republican comrades when it comes to national security issues. They don’t understand that citing the Washington Post editorial board’s contention that Hagel’s positions are "out of the mainstream" merely exposes their misunderstanding of just where the country is at these days.
The American people are sick and tired of the untrammeled militarism that has characterized our foreign policy for the past decade or so. They are also sick and tired of the chickenhawks and laptop bombardiers who have exhausted the nation’s resources, demoralized our military, and brought us to the brink of national bankruptcy. That’s one of the reasons they rejected the GOP in a landslide election, and it’s why polls show a plurality of support for Hagel’s confirmation, including 28 percent of Republicans. This, after an unprecedented smear campaign, including television ads, in which the Israeli lobby threw everything at the nominee but the kitchen sink.
Outside the mainstream? Forget it, Senator Wicker – you’re the one swimming on the edge of the fringes, these days. It’s a new world out there. Welcome to the new mainstream.
No doubt the anti-Hagel hate campaign – and the phony "revelations" – will continue. After all, political consultants have to make a living, and the neocon smear machine has plenty of funding – yes, foreign funding – to grease its wheels. So those wheels will continue to turn, but this perpetual motion contraption is quickly churning itself into irrelevance. No one but the neocons’ dwindling hard-right fan base is even listening anymore – and, with this defeat, their power is on the wane.
What this shameful episode demonstrates is that the Israel lobby is a very real presence on Capitol Hill – but its influence on American foreign policy is no longer decisive. No, the neocons aren’t going to crawl away, licking their wounds, and disappearing into the night, but their power is greatly lessened. Sen. Inhofe and his allies are holding out for more delays, but Senate Majority leader Harry Reid has said he will not honor their holds, and the nomination process is going to play out in spite of their frantic attempts to find something – anything – that will convince "pro-Israel" Democrats to vote no.
Finally, it has to be said that this whole ploy of accusing Hagel of being some kind of "foreign" agent is typical neocon projection – they always accuse others of what they themselves are guilty of. Everyone knows, however, that the real foreign agents are the anti-Hagel crowd, spearheaded by neocon godfather Bill Kristol and his mysteriously-financed "Emergency Committee for Israel."
Hagel is no Ron Paul: I don’t agree with his views in several important instances, but those disagreements pale beside the one vitally important aspect of this affair: a prominent public figure who has taken on the Israel lobby has somehow managed to make it through most of the confirmation process and is almost certain to become Secretary of Defense. That is a great victory for those of us who consider ourselves members of the "Emergency Committee for America," and I can only say, in the words of the immortal Jackie Gleason: How sweet it is!
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
In case you haven’t noticed, we’ve begun our latest fundraising drive, and the response so far has been pretty typical – slow, at first, but then it heats up. Or does it? I never know what to think, and I’m just as anxious this time around as I have ever been before. We didn’t want to devote a great portion of the front page to begging our readers for money – not when the news is so vitally important, and there’s so much going on. So we reduced our fundraising pitch to a small sliver at the top – which is a great relief to me, since I conceive and write the copy for these exhortations, but I am still quite skeptical. Will it work? Don’t readers have to be hit over the head before they’ll make a donation?
That’s why I’m asking you to help me out here, because it really would be a bad time to crowd out the news with a half page of fundraising copy. We really are at a turning point, and it’s more important than ever to keep our anti-interventionist campaign going full blast at the present moment. The War Party may have suffered a few setbacks recently, but that just makes them more desperate – and much more dangerous. Don’t count the neocons out quite yet.
They have the will and – more importantly – the funds to keep their war propaganda going in high gear, and I can hear them revving up their engines as they get ready for a fresh assault. We need to meet that challenge – but we can’t do it without your help.
We’ve been fighting the War Party for 17 years, and we’re just starting to see a little progress. The problem is, these people have virtually unlimited funding – and we have our little band of supporters, who have stuck by us through thick and thin. We depend on you, our readers, for the essential support we need to keep our relatively little operation running – and keep punching far above our weight. Now we’re once again turning to you, asking you to reach into your pocket and make a tax-deductible donation to the world’s premier antiwar web site.
We’re being outspent by the War Party ten-thousand to one, but we have the American people on our side – if only we can alert them to the danger they face from the militarists, who want to drag us into yet another war in the Middle East on behalf of a foreign country. We can’t possibly match the War Party’s financial resources, but then again we don’t have to: we just need enough funding to let us keep doing what we’ve been doing, only better. That isn’t so much to ask.
So please: make your tax-deductible donation today – if only to reach the day when we can put the Ted Cruz types, the Lindsey Grahams, and the Sen. Inhofes where they belong: in the dustbin of history.
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Here is the link for buying the second edition of my 1993 book, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, with an Introduction by Prof. George W. Carey, a Forward by Patrick J. Buchanan, and critical essays by Scott Richert and David Gordon (ISI Books, 2008).
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