So why Hagel? Well, if you read the oeuvre of Hagel’s defenders, you’ll see that Hagel must be appointed in order to spite many of his critics, whom they deeply dislike. Hagel’s defenders are welcome to their dislikes. But dislike of hawks, neocons, or friends of Israel isn’t really a good reason to select Chuck Hagel. And there’s something comical about many of the defenses of Hagel. His defenders rise up in high dudgeon to condemn Hagel’s critics as smear merchants for criticizing Hagel as anti-Israel and soft on Iran—and then, if they’re among the honest Hagel defenders, they praise Hagel for being anti-Israel and soft on Iran.
The fact is, criticism of Hagel has been substantive—focused on his out of the mainstream votes and his distasteful quotations, as well as his general lack of distinction. And the critics have also focused on the fact that the position being discussed is that of secretary of defense. No one would care if the president wanted to send Hagel off to openly and aggressively make the case for Obama’s foreign policy as ambassador to Luxembourg. But the secretary of defense has real responsibilities. Even his nomination has real consequences. In fact, nominating a person who is clearly soft on Iran would send the exactly the wrong message to Tehran. Which is why President Obama should be prevailed on not nominating Hagel in the first place, and why members of Congress of both parties who have been engaged in the attempt to deter Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons should be particularly alarmed at a Hagel nomination.