I'm late to this but want to weigh in, about a tawdry aspect of DC politics that I hope has finally gone so far that it will impeach itself. I'm referring to the "bigot" accusations about former Senator Chuck Hagel (official photo at right).
One of the strongest arguments in favor of Susan Rice's (now-withdrawn) candidacy for Secretary of State was the hypocrisy of the ostensible arguments against her. The same Senators McCain and Graham who had no problem approving Condoleezza Rice as Secretary eight years ago, despite the mis-information she had conveyed about WMD in Iraq, were now righteously dead-set against Susan Rice because of the (vastly less consequential) mis-information she had conveyed about the Benghazi attack. If you've forgotten how amazing these contortions were, I direct you to, of course, Jon Stewart.
But that's over, and the Secretary-of-State presumptive, John Kerry, is well qualified for the job. Now the next delegitimization fight is coming into view. It concerns Hagel, a Republican from Nebraska, who appears to be Barack Obama's favorite as the next Secretary of Defense.
You can argue in favor of Chuck Hagel for this role: a bipartisan pick, combat-veteran cred, cautious realist-centrist record over the years. Or you can argue that someone else would be better: perhaps Democrats should promote their own Democratic national-security team; others have worked more closely with Obama; maybe Hagel's worldview has grown more dovish than Obama's, and so on. That's all fine.
What is poisonous, and should be resisted, is the effort to rule out Hagel through the bogus charge that he is anti-Israel or, worse, anti-Semitic. This campaign is charmingly being led by William Kristol (also here) and others at Kristol's Standard, with predictable backup from the WSJ op-ed page, the WaPo's right-wing blogger, and its often-neocon main editorial page. Incredibly, this is part of the Post's ed page case against Hagel: " 'The Defense Department, I think in many ways, has been bloated,' [Hagel has said]. 'So I think the Pentagon needs to be pared down.' " It's amazing that the paper offers the quote as if it discredited Hagel. In fact it is an argument in his favor, and it echoes what, for instance, former Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen has said about a military budget that is twice as high as it was ten years ago.
But the nastiest comments have been about Hagel's views on Israel. The WSJ delicately puts the point this way, under the headline "Chuck Hagel's Jewish Problem":
Prejudice--like cooking, wine-tasting and other consummations--has an olfactory element. When Chuck Hagel, the former GOP senator from Nebraska who is now a front-runner to be the next secretary of Defense, carries on about how "the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here," the odor is especially ripe.
And, just as subtly from Kristol today, "Hagel also has a record of consistent hostility to Israel over the last decade."
There's an olfactory element here all right. It's the stench of trying to remove someone whose policies you dislike with the damning accusation that underneath it all is outright bigotry. One of the big, supposedly damaging bits of evidence against Hagel is his having said to the author of a book on US-Israel relations:
"I'm not an Israeli senator. I'm a United States senator... 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."
Of course, that is what any United States senator should say -- whether the other country in question is Israel, Britain, Germany, Canada, Japan, or any other allied but different power. And any Israeli, British, German, etc official should and would put the interests of his or her country first.
Four years ago, a just-elected President Obama gave in to a similar campaign to remove Chas Freeman from consideration as head of the National Intelligence Council. He was wrong to do so. Obama has learned about his opposition since then, and is in a much stronger position. Whether or not Hagel is the person he really wants for the job, he should make clear that he's not being steered by these bully-boy tactics.
* For instance, Judis about Hagel: "I can't confidently say that he would make a good or great Secretary of Defense, but I can say with confidence that Hagel is a honorable man who served with distinction as a senator and that his foreign policy views, including his positions on Israel and its American lobby, are, if anything, a reason to support rather than oppose his nomination."
**From a Tweet today: "Totally disagree with this WashPost editorial criticizing Chuck Hagel for defense: ... Hagel would be excellent."
UPDATES: 1) As nearly all the items linked to above point out, Hagel was wrong to use the phrase "the Jewish lobby" in one instance, rather than "the Israeli lobby," which includes Jewish and non-Jewish members, notably large numbers of evangelical Christians. But Aaron David Miller, the person who quoted Hagel that way, rejects the "odor" interpretation. As Peter Beinart pointed out:
Aaron Miller, the well-respected former peace processor from a distinguished Cleveland Jewish family who quotes Hagel as saying that ["Jewish lobby"], also calls him "a strong supporter of Israel and a believer in shared values." Or that Miller himself writes that "political pressures have taken a serious toll by conditioning a key branch of the American government [Congress] to be reflexively pro-Israel." Maybe Miller has a Jewish problem too?
2) The Washington Post editorial opposes Hagel for being too much of an anti-defense leftie, especially about Iran, rather than explicitly for being anti-Israel. But its out-of-the-blue quality -- Hagel has not even been nominated -- and strained logic are why I mentioned it in this sequence.
UPDATE^Update A former Republican Senate staffer writes:
I agree about Hagel, without qualification.
I wonder about how good a Secretary of Defense he would make, on account of his recent experience so remote from the massive administrative burden and unique political environment of the Sec Def job. But unlike with Susan Rice, there is not a clearly superior candidate from what I can see.
The particular issue here is that SecDef has vastly more policy autonomy than almost any other Cabinet official. If Hagel's views really did diverge from Obama's on an important issue, it would be very difficult. But with that caveat, I really wish Obama would just go ahead and nominate his candidate for this and other jobs, and suspend his instinct to look for confirmations without controversy.
James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne.
In the name of emotional well-being, college students are increasingly demanding protection from words and ideas they don’t like. Here’s why that’s disastrous for education—and mental health.
Something strange is happening at America’s colleges and universities. A movement is arising, undirected and driven largely by students, to scrub campuses clean of words, ideas, and subjects that might cause discomfort or give offense. Last December, Jeannie Suk wrote in an online article for The New Yorker about law students asking her fellow professors at Harvard not to teach rape law—or, in one case, even use the word violate (as in “that violates the law”) lest it cause students distress. In February, Laura Kipnis, a professor at Northwestern University, wrote an essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education describing a new campus politics of sexual paranoia—and was then subjected to a long investigation after students who were offended by the article and by a tweet she’d sent filed Title IX complaints against her. In June, a professor protecting himself with a pseudonym wrote an essay for Vox describing how gingerly he now has to teach. “I’m a Liberal Professor, and My Liberal Students Terrify Me,” the headline said. A number of popular comedians, including Chris Rock, have stopped performing on college campuses (see Caitlin Flanagan’s article in this month’s issue). Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Maher have publicly condemned the oversensitivity of college students, saying too many of them can’t take a joke.
Thicker ink, fewer smudges, and more strained hands: an Object Lesson
Recently, Bic launched acampaign to “save handwriting.” Named “Fight for Your Write,” it includes a pledge to “encourage the act of handwriting” in the pledge-taker’s home and community, and emphasizes putting more of the company’s ballpoints into classrooms.
As a teacher, I couldn’t help but wonder how anyone could think there’s a shortage. I find ballpoint pens all over the place: on classroom floors, behind desks. Dozens of castaways collect in cups on every teacher’s desk. They’re so ubiquitous that the word “ballpoint” is rarely used; they’re just “pens.” But despite its popularity, the ballpoint pen is relatively new in the history of handwriting, and its influence on popular handwriting is more complicated than the Bic campaign would imply.
Wine snobs, string quartets, and the limits of intuition
Several months ago, this author sat at a classical music concert, trying to convince himself that wine is not bullshit.
That may seem like a strange thought to have while listening to Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 in A major. But Priceonomics had recently posted an article investigating The Price of Wine, part of which reviewed research that cast doubt on both consumers’ and wine experts’ ability to distinguish between quality wine and table wine or identify different wines and their flavors. It seemed a slippery slope to the conclusion that wine culture is nothing more than actors performing a snobbish play.
Listening to an accomplished musician while lacking any musical experience resulted in a feeling familiar to casual wine drinkers imbibing an expensive bottle: Feeling somewhat ambivalent and wondering whether you are convincing yourself that you enjoy it so as not to appear uncultured.
Dealing with misinformation, feeling powerless, and slowly getting better together
I thought the article would validate my husband’s experience. That’s why I emailed him the link to the decade-old New York magazine article about his alma mater, the American Boychoir School for vocal prodigies, where alumni from as late as the 1990s estimate that one in five boys were molested. Boys like Travis.
“It used to feel like an isolated incident that affected just me," Trav said.
It was the end of my workday on an October afternoon; I had just set my keys on the kitchen table. My coat was still buttoned.
“Now I know I spent nearly three years of my childhood at a boarding school not just with random pedophiles, but in a culture that allowed it.”
As his wife, how do I respond? That he survived? That he’s brave? That he’s a hero for letting me talk about it? That I will stand beside him with a personal mission and public vow that nobody will ever hurt him, physically or emotionally, again, the way they did during his 30 months as a choirboy from 1988 to 1990?.
The new drama series, which follows the Colombian kingpin’s rise to power, feels more like a well-researched documentary than the gripping saga it wants to be.
Netflix’s new series Narcos is possibly arriving at the wrong time: The doldrums of summer aren’t really the ideal moment for a narratively dense, documentary-like look at the rise and fall of the Colombian drug kingpin Pablo Escobar. Narrated in voiceover by DEA Agent Steve Murphy (Boyd Holbrook), the early hours of Narcos feel like a history lesson, though an visually sumptuous one.
As Netflix continues to expand its streaming empire, it’s making a concerted effort to appeal to worldwide audiences, and Narcos fits neatly into that plan, alongside last year’s expensive critical flop Marco Polo. Narcos was shot on location in Colombia and stars the acclaimed Brazilian actor Wagner Moura as Escobar. It takes full advantage of its setting, loaded with sweeping helicopter shots of the Colombian jungle where Escobar founded his cocaine empire, filling a power vacuum left by various political upheavals in late-’70s South America.
On the desperation behind the migrant tragedy in Austria
On Thursday, as Krishnadev Calamur has been tracking in The Atlantic’s new Notes section, Austrian authorities made a ghastly discovery: a truck abandoned in the emergency lane of a highway near the Hungarian border, packed with the decomposing bodies of 59 men, eight women, and four children. They are thoughtto be the corpses of migrants who suffocated to death, perhaps two days earlier, in the bowels of a vehicle whose back door was locked shut and refrigeration and ventilation systems weren’t functional. Stray identity documents suggest that at least some of the victims were Syrian—refugees from that country’s brutal civil war. The truck featured an image of a chicken and a slogan from the Slovakian poultry company that the lorry once belonged to: “I taste so good because they feed me so well.”
Nervous Democrats are looking for alternatives as Hillary Clinton falters. But is the VP the right person for the job?
“I think panic is the operative mode for the Democratic Party,” David Axelrod, who has been on the receiving end of panic mode many times over the years, told me this week. I had asked Obama’s political guru how bad the current panic was for Hillary Clinton—bad enough for the party to seek an alternative? Bad enough, perhaps, to create an opening for Joe Biden?
Axelrod didn’t think so. “I think it’s indisputable she’s had a rocky few months,” he said. “But if you look at her support among Democrats, and the resources she brings, she’s still very strong—I think she’s going to be the nominee.”
Not everyone is so sure. Public opinion has turned starkly negative on Clinton in recent months, as she has struggled to put the scandal over her use of email as secretary of state to rest. In a poll released this week, the word most commonly summoned when people were asked about her was “liar.”
Bruce Springsteen’s breakout album embodied the lost ‘70s—the tense, political, working-class rejection of an increasingly unequal society.
Forty years ago, on the eve of its official release, “Born to Run”—the song that propelled Bruce Springsteen into the rock-and-roll stratosphere—had already attracted a small cult following in the American rust belt.
At the time, Springsteen desperately needed a break. Despite vigorous promotion by Columbia Records, his first two albums, Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. and The Wild, The Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle, had been commercial flops. Though his band spent virtually every waking hour either in the recording studio or on tour, their road earnings were barely enough to live on.
Sensing the need for a smash, in late 1974 Mike Appel, Bruce’s manager, distributed a rough cut of “Born to Run” to select disc jockeys. Within weeks, it became an underground hit. Young people flooded record stores seeking copies of the new single, which didn’t yet exist, and radio stations that hadn’t been on Appel’s small distribution list bombarded him with requests for the new album, which also didn’t exist. In Philadelphia, demand for the title track was so strong that WFIL, the city’s top-40 AM station, aired it multiple times each day. In working-class Cleveland, the DJ Kid Leo played the song religiously at 5:55 p.m. each Friday afternoon on WMMS, to “officially launch the weekend.” Set against the E Street Band’s energetic blend of horns, keyboards, guitars, and percussion, “Born to Run” was a rollicking ballad of escape, packed full of cultural references that working-class listeners recognized immediately.
What the Iran “debate” has taught us about our ability to discuss world affairs
Over the past month I’ve run a series of messages from readers in North America, the Middle East, Europe, and elsewhere about the JCPOA Iran-nuclear deal that the Congress will soon formally consider. You can see the latest item here, and the whole collection here. That most recent installment, from Samuel J. Cohen in Israel, emphasized the contrast between the fury over the deal in the United States and Israel, and its taken-for-granted treatment everywhere else.
Here is another reaction worth considering. It is about the way the debate has evolved inside the United States. This comes from a young American who works for a well-known international organization and who himself has experience overseas. He writes:
The Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths. It is a religious group with carefully considered beliefs, among them that it is a key agent of the coming apocalypse. Here’s what that means for its strategy—and for how to stop it.
What is the Islamic State?
Where did it come from, and what are its intentions? The simplicity of these questions can be deceiving, and few Western leaders seem to know the answers. In December, The New York Times published confidential comments by Major General Michael K. Nagata, the Special Operations commander for the United States in the Middle East, admitting that he had hardly begun figuring out the Islamic State’s appeal. “We have not defeated the idea,” he said. “We do not even understand the idea.” In the past year, President Obama has referred to the Islamic State, variously, as “not Islamic” and as al-Qaeda’s “jayvee team,” statements that reflected confusion about the group, and may have contributed to significant strategic errors.