I try not to get caught up in Washington insider squabbles, because they usually seem meaningless to me and more often than not nothing happens anyway. But I am intrigued by the possibility that Obama might nominate former Senator Chuck Hagel for Defense Secretary. Hagel turned against the Iraq War before most of Washington did, he opposed the Afghan "surge," and he has spoken in favor of major cuts in Defense spending. All of which has neocons out for his blood, calling him a pacifist and an isolationist and all their other favorite slurs. Paleocon Daniel Larison wrote this about Hagel's case:
Michael Hirsh asks a question that is on no one’s mind:Hagel is not radical in any sense, any more than Obama is. But he does lean more against war and intervention than many other possible choices. Perhaps the most important thing about Hagel is that he has strongly opposed going to war with Iran, and if he is appointed that would suggest that Obama is not preparing for such a war.
All of which raises a question: Is Chuck Hagel a pacifist?
Taken at face value, this is a silly question. Not only would Hagel not claim to be a pacifist, but nothing in his record suggests that he is one. It’s a misrepresentation of Hagel’s record to suggest that he is a pacifist, and it’s frankly insulting to principled pacifists to suggest that he is one of them.
This is worth discussing a little more, because of what it tells us about the limits of our foreign policy debate and the overwhelming bias in favor of military action that prevails in that debate. Automatic supporters of any and every foreign war are considered to be “mainstream,” “serious,” and credible people. If the name of one these people had been reported as a likely Defense Secretary nominee, no one would have given it a second thought. Those that have any reservations or criticisms are categorized in the most extreme and dismissive terms. Have doubts about continuing a pointless and unnecessary war? You might be a pacifist. Unquestioningly endorse the most hawkish and militarized policies? You’re a bipartisan leader and probably a statesman at that.
Hagel criticized the increase in the number of troops in Afghanistan, just as he criticized the “surge” in Iraq, and events have proven that he was right on both counts. That doesn’t make him a pacifist. It means that he is a better judge of when a war is no longer worth fighting than he has been when it comes to deciding whether or not to support a war in the first place. Would a pacifist vote for the Iraq war authorization? Obviously not. Would a pacifist support a completely illegal war in Kosovo for the sake of NATO’s credibility? Again, no.