Former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel has an unlikely backer for a nomination as President Obama's next Secretary of Defense: leftist documentary maker Michael Moore.
"People say we're not fighting for oil. Of course we are. They talk about America's national interest. What the hell do you think they're talking about? We're not there for figs."
Moore goes on to state, "if he's willing to say that about Iraq, who knows what he'll bust out with next!"
Moore's dubious endorsement is not likely to help Hagel clear confirmation by the House and Senate. On Sunday, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham threw cold water on plans to name Hagel as Defense Secretary, calling it an "in-your-face nomination by the president to all of us who are supportive of Israel," and "an incredibly controversial choice." Weeks ago, Graham similarly claimed that Hagel is "well to the left of the president" and called his positions "really out of the mainstream." Other Republicans have criticized Hagel for being insufficiently supportive of Israel as well. Conservative commentator William Kristol accused Hagel of "anti-Israel, pro-appeasement-of-Iran bona fides." Early last month, a top Republican aide anonymously claimed that Hagel was an "anti-Semite."
GOP leadership is playing a more cautious, but still reflexively anti-Hagel, game with the press. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) commented Sunday on ABC's This Week that Hagel "certainly has been outspoken on foreign policy and defense over the years," and said that while Hagel would get a "fair" hearing by Congress, Republicans have yet to determine whether "his views make sense for that particular job." In particular, McConnell seemed to think that Hagel's views on Israel and the "Iranian threat" were important to gauging his nomination.
What has Hagel done to earn such ire on the part of former colleagues? It's a little unclear. While he has been criticized by members of pro-Israel groups for publicly lamenting the influence of the "Jewish lobby" and for his allegedly soft-on-Iran temperament, Hagel has a strong pro-Israel record. Hagel, however, was an early Republican critic of the Iraq war (saying in August 2005 that "we're not winning" and that it was time to "start figuring out how we get out of there" before "further destabilization" occurred) and urged Presidents Bush and Obama to engage in unconditional talks with Iran. In 2008, he angered some colleagues including Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) by siding with then-candidate Obama on foreign policy, claiming that engagement is not appeasement and that by airing his views he risked being "branded as an appeaser."
For McCain's part, he quickly set aside any hint of GOP disunity, noting Hagel was a "distinguished veteran and a very dear and close friend of mine." The libertarian Cato Institute praised Obama's pick, calling him an "excellent" choice that "should be welcomed by anyone frustrated by years of war and foreign meddling, and out-of-control spending at the Pentagon." The conservative Center for Individual Freedom's Ashton Ellis commented that conservatives opposing Hagel "might want to consider what scuttling his nomination would produce in the way of an alternative," noting conservative Secretary of State candidate Susan Rice was succeeded by liberal senator John Kerry (D-Mass.). For a lot of conservatives – particularly of the GOP's Ron Paul wing – it seems like settling down and allowing Hagel to coast through would be a chance to redefine the GOP's foreign policy to appeal to a wider electorate at best and a minor bruise to the Republican ego at worst.
And yet the anti-Hagel voices continue to mount. Fellow PolicyMic pundit and editor Michael Luciano two weeks ago called this campaign an "outrageous smear attack;” those attacks now appear to be intensifying. Luciano felt that the resistance inspired by Hagel's nomination is a "very dangerous prevailing orthodoxy … that the interest of the U.S. and Israel are one and the same," with unconditional support for Israel a precondition for holding public office. I agree, but see another mechanism at work here: the Republican Party has become a party primarily distinguished by opposition to President Obama. Fresh off a major defeat – the fiscal cliff fiasco – the Republican Party is baying for blood, and willing to viciously oppose any member of its own camp willing to cross grounds to work with the president. That Hagel is a Republican just makes it all the more important for them to clamp down on imagined or real turncoats.
Of course, endorsements like Moore's cannot possibly help but hurt Hagel's chances – especially when it reveals the substantive truth: that Hagel has been consistently more correct and honest on foreign policy than the Republican Party, and that their opposition to his nomination is not about what's good for America or Israel. It's about their egos. It's about them not being able to accept defeat on a disastrous decade of irresponsible warmongering in the Middle East. It's about hurting the president.