Viewers of former Senator Chuck Hagel's (R-Neb.) confirmation hearing for secretary of defense might be forgiven if they thought Hagel has been nominated to serve as Israel's defense minister. As of this writing, the hearing is halfway finished, and already it's one of the most nauseating spectacles that Washington has produced in many months, which is saying something. The questions Hagel was asked by the Senate Armed Services Committee embody the worst aspects of American foreign policy, and reflect the shamefully narrow spectrum of ideas when it comes to thinking about the role of the United States in the world, especially with respect to Israel and the Middle East.
On one side were the Republican committee members who collectively engaged in a line of questioning that was inconceivable months ago — before the neoconservative noise machine went all-out to smear Hagel as the greatest threat to Israel's national security since the Roman Empire. Their questions were by and large designed to paint Hagel as soft on terrorism and a lukewarm supporter of Israel, at best.
Hagel, of course, has come under fire for saying that the "Jewish lobby" intimidates many lawmakers into supporting Israel's foreign policy even when it's detrimental to U.S. interests. Hagel has said he regrets the remark, and said that he should have used the term "pro-Israel lobby" instead. He also said at the time, "I'm not an Israeli senator. I'm a United States senator."
Hagel has also taken flak for his opposition to the 2007 surge in Iraq — a policy that John McCain (R-Ariz.) wholeheartedly supported. During the hearing, a cantankerous McCain berated Hagel for opposing the surge because, McCain said, it had worked. Weirdly, McCain chastised Hagel for opposing the surge while simultaneously noting that it had resulted in the deaths of "thousands of young Americans."
Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) was Hagel's snarkiest critic, railing against Hagel for his remarks on Israel, demanding Hagel name one of the lawmakers that had been intimated by the pro-Israel lobby. Not surprisingly, Hagel demurred, declining to name any. Of course, lobbying groups such the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee funnel millions of dollars to candidates and spend countless hours lobbying members of both parties, who know that anything short of unwavering support for Israel could result in a flood of donations to a candidate's opponent.
On the other side were the Democrats, who are supposed to be the party of a more tempered approach to foreign policy. Whereas the Republicans' position in this hearing was essentially that Hagel is insufficiently hawkish, and doesn't blindly support Israel no matter what, Democratic senators countered by assuring all involved that Hagel is indeed sufficiently pro-war and will indeed blindly support Israel no matter what.
Kay Hagan's (D-N.C.) and Kirsten Gillibrand's (D-N.Y.) questions were especially embarrassing. Before asking Hagel about his commitment to Israel, both bragged about their own Israel cred. None of the senators bothered to ask if there might be a chance — ever — that the interests of the U.S. and Israel might diverge on occasion. The reason is because Beltway bipartisan orthodoxy already has the answer: no.