Republican Senators take time out from their Sunday to attack Chuck Hagel

Senate Republicans lashed out at their former comrade Chuck Hagel today, blasting the man presumed to be President Obama’s choice to replace Leon Panetta as Defense Secretary.

Lindsey Graham called the the likely move “an in-your-face nomination by the president to all of us who are supportive of Israel.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was less vocal, saying that “his views with regard to Israel, for example, and Iran and all the other positions that he’s taken over the years will be very much a matter of discussion in the confirmation process.”

But if McConnell’s second banana John Cornyn is any indication, Senate Republican leaders will whip the rank-and-file to oppose Hagel.

“I will not support Chuck Hagel’s nomination to the Department of Defense,” Cornyn said in a statement this afternoon. “His record and past statements, particularly with respect to rogue nations like Iran, are extremely concerning to me.”

And what, exactly, is wrong with Hagel’s views on “rogue nations like Iran”? In Cornyn’s own words:

“His opposition to Iranian sanctions and support for direct, unconditional talks with its leaders is both at odds with current U.S. policy and a threat to global security. To make matters worse, he has called for direct negotiations with Hamas. As Iran becomes increasingly hostile and gains influence in the region, the worst possible message we could send to our friend Israel and the rest of our allies in the Middle East is Chuck Hagel.”

Ah, yes. Hagel, who has firsthand experience fighting in a war and isn’t an anti-war hero by any stretch of the imagination, wants to negotiate as a means of averting armed conflict. How treacherous! Chickenhawks like Cornyn — who cut his teeth in the jungles of law school — always seem to be the shrillest of the squawkers.

As for his controversial comments — which, Cornyn’s junior counterpart Ted Cruz also said “concerned” him?

“I support Israel, but my first interest is I take an oath of office to the Constitution of the United States, not to a president, not to a party, not to Israel. If I go run for Senate in Israel, I’ll do that.”

How Salafist of him.

Perhaps this is only contentious for Republicans because Hagel recognizes that giving Israel a carte blanche makes it more likely that we’ll be mired in unnecessary wars — catastrophes that Republican legislators tend to enjoy declaring but loathe fighting in, when given the chance.

Hagel has, however, made at least one unambiguously regrettable Archie Bunker like comment about Israel, when he referred to the existence of a “Jewish lobby.” It’s not just that it’s evocative of conspiracy theories about Jews. The comment displays an ignorance about identity politics. It’s already inaccurate to refer to AIPAC and groups like it as the “pro-Israel lobby” — not all Israelis revel support their country’s deplorable treatment of Palestinians. But it’s wholly inappropriate to characterize the right wing lobby that supports Israeli hawkishness as “Jewish” — as if the Prime Minister of Israel is some sort of revered religious figure; as if there aren’t Jews fiercely critical of Israel; as if the “pro-Israel lobby” isn’t fervently supported by rapture-obsessed evangelical Christians.

However, a statement that might matter more in the political scheme of things: Hagel called a Clinton Ambassadorial nominee “aggressively gay.” He has since apologized for it and promised to support LGBT military families. But the remark could be problematic, considering that Hagel, as a U.S. Senator, opposed gay marriage and the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. Can Democratic senators trust he will do right by their same sex military couple constituents? We shall see if President Obama isn’t swayed by GOP Senators’ Hagel huffing.

Samuel Knight

Samuel Knight is a freelance journalist living in DC and a former intern at the Washington Monthly.