As to the “I’m a United States senator…” quote, Hagel was explaining to Miller why he didn’t sign every one of the raft of letters circulated on Capitol Hill by AIPAC. (Even AIPAC officials have made light of the letter‐signing ritual. Steve Rosen once cracked to journalist Jeffrey Goldberg that he could have the signatures of 70 U.S. senators on a cocktail napkin within 24 hours. Not Hagel’s apparently.)
With the anti‐Semitism charge out of the way, you have to wonder what’s really driving the opposition to Hagel. By all lights, Hagel does not seem excited about another U.S. war in the Middle East, be it with Syria or with Iran. This view is very much in keeping with the view of the American people, so if you’re Kristol or Stephens, you don’t want to fight a substantive battle on policy.
But the neocons are not only counting on no one paying too close attention, they’re also counting on Obama to fold up like a cheap lawn chair. There’s every indication that if Obama nominates Hagel, he’ll be confirmed. In the words of Sen. Carl Levin, “If he’s nominated, he’d be fine. We all know him up here. He’ll be fine.” So the neocons are counting on frightening Obama into pulling back the nomination.
The important thing for Obama and his people to keep in mind here is that the bark of the neocons is a lot worse than their bite. They tried to paint Obama as a mullah‐loving peacenik in the 2012 campaign,and failed miserably. We hear a lot from the neocons here in Washington, partly because the Republicans have been too foolish to marginalize them in the wake of Iraq, and partly because they are supported by lavish sinecures at think tanks and ideological magazines. As Kristol himself remarked in 2005, we were fast approaching a point where “there are going to be more neoconservative magazines than there are neoconservatives.”
If Obama stands up to them over Hagel, he’ll remind everybody in Washington what the rest of the country knows well enough: There’s no reason to care what Bill Kristol thinks.