How Opposition Should Behave: After Chuck Hagel and John Bolton

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Hagel Sworn in.jpg
Chuck Hagel, left, is sworn into office by Michael L. Rhodes Wednesday morning as Hagel's wife, Lilibet, holds a Bible. (DOD photo by U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley)

The Hagel nomination fight is done. It's time to move on to challenges that matter and get beyond personality politics.

Some still seem to want to fight battles over who did what to whom, and I agree with Dana Milbank that a disconcerting strand of McCarthyism appeared in this fight and was fortunately beaten back. That said, I think after a battle it's important to show respect to those who were on the other side.

They have different priorities. They see the world differently -- and it's important to understand that and salute their own magnanimity after this sort of skirmish.

Bill Kristol put out the following statement yesterday. It's classy, and as good as it will get from the side who really did not want to see Hagel confirmed. Had the Hagel backers lost, I hope they (and I) would have found a track to be magnanimous and future-oriented.

Statement by William Kristol, Chairman, Emergency Committee for Israel, on the confirmation of Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense:

We fought the good fight, and are proud to have done so. We salute all those -- Democrats and Republicans, Christians and Jews -- who joined with us in the effort to secure a better Secretary of Defense. We are heartened that the overwhelming majority of senators from one of the two major parties voted against confirming Mr. Hagel.

We take some comfort in Mr. Hagel's confirmation conversions on the issues of Israel and Iran, and do believe that, as a result of this battle, Mr. Hagel will be less free to pursue dangerous policies at the Defense Department and less inclined to advocate them within the administration.

And since hope is an American characteristic and a Jewish virtue, we will also say that we hope Mr. Hagel will rise to the occasion and successfully discharge his weighty duties. In this task we wish him well. This battle against Chuck Hagel is over.

The fight for a principled, pro-Israel foreign policy goes on.

While I don't agree with the framing or principal points in Kristol's note, I respect the spirit of them. 

When John Bolton resigned, after his recess-appointed term as ambassador in the United Nations ended, I did my best to remind people of his considerable capabilities and his service to the nation, despite what many perceived to be deficits in his views on what American internationalism should be. This is what the contending sides in many of our policy battles need to demonstrate; it's a good and important lesson for America's youth watching the behavior of national leaders and even pundits.

It's interesting to me that while Bolton never received a Senate vote on his appointment to serve as UN ambassador, he did have a vote when he was confirmed as under secretary of state for arms control and international security affairs. He received 43 no votes against his confirmation, not unlike the 41 nays against Hagel.

Those who supported Bolton then didn't believe that those substantial nays crippled him, and he went on -- in their eyes -- to accomplish substantial things, like the Proliferation Security Initiative (which I liked) and an ongoing assault on international institutions and treaties that they feel crimp American sovereignty (where I have differences).

Hopefully, Secretary of Defense Hagel will continue to impress his advocates with his smart strategic sensibilities and leadership -- but will also draw even grudging respect from those who are his skeptics. 

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Steve Clemons is Washington editor at large for The Atlantic and editor of Atlantic Live. He writes frequently about politics and foreign affairs. More

Clemons is a senior fellow and the founder of the American Strategy Program at the New America Foundation, a centrist think tank in Washington, D.C., where he previously served as executive vice president. He writes and speaks frequently about the D.C. political scene, foreign policy, and national security issues, as well as domestic and global economic-policy challenges.

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