Why Being 'Out of the Mainstream' Doesn't Disqualify Chuck Hagel

The Washington establishment has blundered badly in foreign policy over the last decade. Do we really want any more of its groupthink?

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Richard Bloom

Writing at CNN.com, former George W. Bush Press Secretary Ari Fleischer, a paid consultant for the Republican Jewish Coalition, explains why he opposes Chuck Hagel's nomination as defense secretary:

Hagel isn't independent. He's alone. His position on Middle Eastern matters is so outside the mainstream of both parties that almost no one agrees with him. In 2000, Hagel was one of only four senators who refused to sign a Senate letter in support of Israel.The following year Hagel was one of only 11 senators who refused to sign a letter urging President George W. Bush to continue his policy of not meeting with Yasser Arafat until the Palestinian leader took steps to end the violence against Israel. Contrary to America's longstanding bipartisan position, Hagel has called for direct talks with terrorist organizations Hamas and Hezbollah.

In 2007, Hagel voted against labeling the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, the group responsible for the death of many American servicemen in Iraq, a terrorist organization. And in 2008, he was one of two senators on the banking committee to oppose a bill putting sanctions on Iran.

Huh. So going back to 2000, Chuck Hagel opposed all those steps that the United States ended up taking anyway. And what did "the mainstream" accomplish while Hagel was outside of it? What wonderful things occurred as a result of all the measures Hagel opposed even as they passed? Well, thanks to President Bush's refusal to talk with Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian people finally understood that terrorism would get them nowhere and started pursuing a lasting peace as never before. Meanwhile, Hamas and Hezbollah, similarly chastened by America's refusal to talk directly, dissolved their respective organizations and never again bothered our allies, preferring to dedicate themselves to charity work. The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, having been labeled a terrorist organization, was annihilated by SEAL Team Six. And the 2008 sanctions bill caused Iran to rescind its declaration that America is the great Satan, meanwhile giving up any desire to enrich uranium and helping America to build a peaceful Iraq.

Wait, what's that you say? None of those things happened? And dating back to 2000, "the mainstream" in the D.C. establishment has led us into multiple disastrous wars, solved none of the problems it attempted to address, unnecessarily blundered into catastrophically expensive interventions, and significantly increased the antagonism felt toward America by people the world over?

Well, huh.

Hagel isn't anyone's idea of a radical outsider, but perhaps his modest capacity for independent thought and slight distance from "the mainstream" recommends rather than disqualifies him.

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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