Chuck Hagel Celebrated as War Hero, 'True Friend' of Israel and 'All-Around Good Guy'

The New York Times has taken the offensive on all fronts in support of Chuck Hagel, "maverick" former Republican senator and President Obama's nominee for Secretary of Defense, recounting his Vietnam War heroics in a way that previous Republican presidential candidates John McCain and Bob Dole could only envy, while accusing his GOP opponents of "bullying" him with accusations of anti-Semitism.

International edition columnist Roger Cohen generously took it upon himself Tuesday to decide who a "true friend" of Israel was, and both Chuck Hagel and Barack Obama made the cut (unlike people who, you know, actually support Israel all the time).

President Obama’s decision to nominate Chuck Hagel, a maverick Republican with enough experience of war to loathe it, as his next secretary of defense is the right choice for many reasons, chief among them that it will provoke a serious debate on what constitutes real friendship toward Israel.

That debate, which will unfold during Senate confirmation hearings, is much needed because Jewish leadership in the United States is often unrepresentative of the many American Jews who have moved on from the view that the only legitimate support of Israel is unquestioning support of Israel, and the only mark of friendship is uncritical embrace of a friend....Hagel, like Obama, is a quiet strong friend of Israel. The movement against him is a relic of a binary with-Israel or against-Israel vision that does not have the true interests of Israel or the United States at heart.

Former Washington Post journalist Myra McPherson's Times op-ed Wednesday led with Hagel the war hero (he saved his brother's life, an incident McPherson oddly described as "a Frank Capra story with a Vietnam War twist"). Then she went for the cheap populist sentiment, claiming that as "a grunt who has seen war from the trenches," Hagel would not plunge America recklessly into war the way Donald Rumsfeld did.

Mr. Hagel would be the first enlisted combat veteran to be defense secretary, a grunt who has seen war from the trenches. Others who have plunged America into war -- like the former defense secretaries Robert S. McNamara and Donald H. Rumsfeld, both former officers -- had never fought in combat.


Mr. Hagel learned to get along as an easy charmer and prodigious but affable self-promoter. He is well-liked by journalists. Colleagues think him an all-around good guy who sees all sides, speaks his mind and is not afraid to make enemies, as he has of Mitch McConnell, now the Republican Senate minority leader. In 1998, as a freshman, Mr. Hagel unsuccessfully challenged Mr. McConnell, of Kentucky, for leadership of a Republican senatorial campaign committee.

McPherson's suspiciously vague and contradictory claim that Hagel is well-liked by his former colleagues (yet also makes enemies?) was contradicted by Politico's senior Washington correspondent Jonathan Allen: "Policy aside, Hagel’s bedeviled by his own abrasive personality. In a chamber known for back-patting and elbow-rubbing, the former Nebraska senator mostly rubbed people the wrong way. Now, on his path to the Pentagon, he has to hope that irritation doesn’t come back to bite him."

Columnist Nicholas Kristof fiercely defended Hagel against charges of anti-Semitism Thursday and also took the war hero angle.

Critics are pounding President Obama’s choice for defense secretary, Chuck Hagel, as soft on Iran, anti-military and even anti-Semitic. This is a grotesque caricature of a man who would make a terrific defense secretary.

It’s true that Hagel harbors a healthy skepticism about deploying American troops. That’s because he also harbors shrapnel in his chest from Vietnam and appreciates the human costs when Pentagon officials move pins on maps.


How refreshing to imagine decisions about war made by brave doves rather than by chicken hawks.

After that cliched"chicken hawk" smear, Kristof hypocritically bashed name-calling when it's directed against Hagel.

The nastiest and most shameful innuendo about Hagel is that he is anti-Semitic. A Wall Street Journal column suggested as much, and Elliott Abrams, a former George W. Bush administration official, asserted that Hagel “appears to be ... an anti-Semite.” I’m standing up for Hagel right now partly because I find this so offensive.

The “evidence” is that Hagel once referred to the term “Jewish lobby” rather than “Israel lobby,” and that he has generally been more willing to criticize Israeli policies than many of America’s feckless politicians.

Kristof linked to a National Public Radio clip for that "evidence," but left out more from the same interview: "There's an incident where he's trying to close down the USO site in Haifa, Israel, where a lot of American ships were visiting. And he says to the Jewish organization that is trying to keep it open: Let the Jews pay for it. There's a pattern here and it's a very troubling pattern."

Kristof was undeterred in his fierce defense of Hagel.

It’s bullying and name-calling to denounce people as anti-Semitic because they won’t embrace the policies of a far-right Israeli government that regularly shoots itself in the foot. In a world in which anti-Semitism actually does persist, this is devaluing the term so that it becomes simply a glib right-wing insult. Maybe that’s why Jewish Voice for Peace, a liberal American Jewish organization, has announced that its supporters have sent 10,000 e-mails to President Obama in support of Hagel’s nomination.