The Senate has confirmed former Nebraska Senator Hagel as our new Secretary of Defense. This is tantamount to endorsing that infamously naïve “peace in our time” claim by England’s Prime Minister Chamberlain – right after he agreed that Hitler could keep recently conquered Czechoslovakia as a peace offering. …And right before Hitler ran over Poland on the way to occupying France and bombing London.
Things have not changed all that much in the last six decades. Pacifism and isolationism are still attractive and suicidal. We still have dangerous, intractable enemies; and they are now cheering.
Hagel is soft on the jihad, deluded about Iran’s nuclear threat, hostile to our only reliable ally in the region, Israel. He cannot be counted on to advocate a strong defense posture in these perilous times. Hagel is a Republican, but he’s an outlier Republican with roots in the isolationist tradition of the late 1930’s.
Our new SecDef is a classic Midwestern isolationist, cut from the same cloth as the clique of Republican senators who opposed going to war against the Nazis – La Follett, Nye and Vandenburg. There was an ugly, ill-concealed strain of anti-Semitism in that movement that included aviator Charles Lindbergh… Ominously, the same attitude was echoed in many of Hagel’s past anti-Israel comments.
To their credit, almost all Senate Republicans voted against Hagel’s confirmation. But the democrats were unanimous in supporting the nominee. This manifestly is not the Democratic Party of Harry Truman, who was the first world leader to recognize the state of Israel, or of John F Kennedy, who wrote the book, “Why England Slept”; and took on the Eisenhower administration for not taking the Soviet missile buildup seriously enough.
President Obama now has a soul mate in charge of the DOD. What this president needed was a pit bull, someone to challenge him as an inside advocate for a muscular defense. But with the departure of General David Petraeus from the military and, now, evicted from the CIA, there is no one like that left in this administration who has regular access to the President.
If you haven’t already done so, I invite you to start reading Victor Davis Hanson, the military and classical historian, Hoover scholar and astute observer of the current situation. Hanson is an old fashioned democrat with a much-needed perspective. In a recent essay, “War is like Rust”, Hanson reminds us of the costs of isolationism-
“…the reasons for our new isolationism, analogous to early 1914 or 1939, do not matter; all that matters is the reality that lots of bad actors now believe that the United States cannot or will not impede their agendas — and that no one else will in our absence. Americans are rightly tired of the Afghan and Iraq wars. Yet we left no monitoring force in Iraq and are winding down precipitately in Afghanistan, and thus have no guarantees that our decade-long struggle for postwar consensual government will survive in either place.
“Much of North Africa is beginning to resemble Somalia. Our tag-along strategy in Libya resulted in sheer chaos, with an American ambassador and three others killed in Benghazi. The Muslim Brotherhood, headed by anti-Semite Mohamed Morsi, has turned Egypt into a failed state. Islamists killed dozens of Western hostages in Algeria. The French are unilaterally trying to prevent an Islamist takeover of Mali. Meanwhile, 60,000 died in Syria, with thousands more fatalities to come.
“The common theme? Middle East authoritarians and Islamists expect that the United States will probably lecture a lot about peace and do very little about war.”
“Does America now believe that our weaker allies, polite outreach, occasional obeisance and apology, euphemism, good intentions — or simple neglect — will defuse tensions that seem to be leading to conflict the world over?
‘Perhaps, but there is no evidence in either human nature or our recorded past to believe such a rosy prognosis.”
I wish I could take all the Senators who voted to confirm Hagel on time machine trip. I imagine the hush as they file out of the time capsule, only to be taken to an underground briefing room. Within minutes, several Senators, sensing what is about to come, are asking to go back to 2013 for a “do-over”.
“Sorry, Senators, that’s just not possible.” As the briefing unfolds, the Senators are stunned to learn that, “Once again, our school children are doing fallout drills. And now that the jihad has 520 atomic bombs, and Israel has been…well, there was another holocaust… well, the Cold War with Soviet Russia looks like a walk in the park.”
The Senate Majority leader asks, “When can we go to our hotel rooms?”
“I’m sorry, Sir, but as you all are being tried for war crimes, your accommodations will be a little more confined.”