“Why, I in this weak piping time of peace
Have no delight to pass away the time,
Unless to spy my shadow in the sun
And descant on mine own deformity.”
William Shakespeare: Richard III
by James M. Wall
A major archaeological discovery was announced in Leicester, England this week.
Experts have confirmed that skeletal remains found during the excavation of a Leicester parking lot are those of Britain’s King Richard III, the last of the Plantagenet kings.
Richard (at right portrayed by Kevin Spacey) was killed in 1485 by Tudor enemies during the Battle of Bosworth Field.
British officials authenticated the remains through the thoroughly modern method of DNA “fingerprinting” connecting King Richard to a 21st century male descendant of Richard’s sister, Anne.
The serendipitous timing of this archeological discovery has prompted Michael Hirsh, writing in The National Journal, to engage in a nifty bit of colligation, a 17th century word rarely used today, but one most appropriate this week, since colligation refers to “the abstract tying together of things not previously seen as connected”.
Hirsh does not refer to colligation (I take full blame), but he does embody the term when he connects what he “ranks as one of the most titillating archaeological discoveries ever” to the current US Senate Armed Services Committee hearings on the confirmation of Chuck Hagel to be defense secretary.
Pointing out “that history is a fluid thing, and it’s invariably the winning side that writes it,” he continues:
Sure, now we can say these are King Richard’s bones, curved spine and all, but we still know little else about him. The victorious Tudors killed King Richard in 1485—apparently with an ax through the head at the Battle of Bosworth Field—and then induced a first-rate spinmeister, William Shakespeare, to paint him as one of history’s worst villains. What we don’t know is whether that is true.
The fluidity of history brings Hirsh to the current Washington stage on which Chuck Hagel does battle with his Republican inquisitors:
Which history are we to believe coming out of last week’s brutal Chuck Hagel hearing, and which will dominate in the next four years?
Because this is what the current conflict over America’s next defense secretary—and the future direction of the administration’s foreign policy—is really about: two different readings of history.
It is what Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., an erstwhile Hagel friend who turned into a caustic critic, was referring to when he said that “fundamental” differences remained between him and President Obama’s nominee to run the Pentagon.
On one side are fierce Hagel critics such as McCain and Bill Kristol (left), Washington’s neocon-in-chief, who refuse to back down from their belief that the Iraq invasion of nearly a decade ago was just, and who continue to support the aggressive projection of U.S. military power abroad, especially in Syria.
On the other side are Obama, Hagel, and others who warned—quite presciently—of the pitfalls of that policy, and who are running away from military intervention abroad at full speed, even as they ratchet up the “small footprint” use of drones.
And now the neocon hawks fear that, like Shakespeare’s Richard III, there will be no place for them at all in Obama’s “weak, piping time of peace.” It is truly the winter of their discontent.
On Thursday of this week, the scheduled Hagel confirmation vote was cancelled after the Republican committee members demanded that Committee Chairman Carl Levin delay the final confirmation vote to give them more time to “study” Hagel’s record.
Still not satisfied after their earlier committee attacks which focused almost exclusively on Israel (will you be faithful to our special relationship until death do you part?) and Iran (Israel’s current arch enemy), the senators wanted another go at Hagel.
With their obsession with Israel and Iran, the Republican senators gave the public a reminder of the power of the Israel Lobby in Washington. They proved to be more dedicated to the state of Israel than to the country which they are supposed to serve.
Their questions expose them.
Brandon Friedman, a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, has the numbers to show the exposure. He writes in Time’s blog:
In nearly eight hours of interrogation and testimony, Israel and its interests were referred to by the Senate Armed Services Committee a total of 106 times. On the other hand, there were a mere 24 references made to Afghanistan and the Americans fighting there—most by Democratic Senator Carl Levin, chairman of the committee.
Nuclear-armed Pakistan—where the U.S. frequently targets militants with drone-launched Hellfire missiles—barely merited mention at all.
It’s difficult to interpret this message any other way: the Senate Armed Services Committee—particularly its Republican membership—is more concerned with the apparent American defense secretary’s relationship with Israel than with the future of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the fate of U.S. troops engaged in both locations.
Expanding further to the Israel-focus of the hearing questions, Walter Pincus has his own question in the Washington Post:
What has all this got to do with Hagel being Defense secretary? As others have pointed out, few senators raised the more serious issues that would immediately confront Hagel should he be confirmed, as he probably will be.
Defense Secretary Leon E. Panettta, appearing on “Meet the Press” on Sunday, put it concisely: “What disappointed me is that they talked a lot about past quotes, but what about what a secretary of Defense is confronting today? What about the war in Afghanistan? What about the war on terrorism? What about the budget sequestering and what an impact it’s going to have on readiness? What about Middle East turmoil? What about cyber attacks?”
I would add one that will come up the first time Hagel as secretary faces the military in a town-hall meeting: What does he expect to be done about military pay, benefits, retirement and health care?
In his Richard III piece, Michael Hirsh warns the GOP hawks that they are making a mistake by continuing to attack Hagel with their failed, flawed GOP war strategy:
Hagel’s policy views are invariably well-thought-out, and he himself qualifies as quite a profile in courage when it comes to the anti-Iraq war side of history. Obama’s famous dismissal of the Iraq invasion as a “dumb” war, and Hagel’s distinguished record of defiance toward his own party to oppose the war, amount to a living refutation of McCain’s and Kristol’s entire worldview.
A decade ago, McCain and Kristol were leading hawks who claimed that Saddam Hussein had connections with al-Qaida and that weapons of mass destruction would certainly be found, and that George W. Bush could do it all and still preside over a strong economy.
While Kristol was agitating for war and saying things like, “I think we’ll be vindicated when we discover the weapons of mass destruction and when we liberate the people of Iraq” (March 5, 2003), Hagel was warning accurately that there was no evidence of Saddam’s links to al-Qaida, that his possession of WMD were in doubt, and that America was in danger of strategic overreach and enraging the Arab world.
The war the Republican minority on the Armed Services Committee has waged against Hagel/Obama, is one they lost when they entered the hearing room. Hirsh further warns the senators that things “are likely to get much worse for the hawks in the second Obama term”.
First, despite Kristol’s fulminations, Hagel is highly likely to be confirmed. Second, government sources tell me that one reason that John Brennan took the CIA job is that he wants to ease the agency out of the drone business.
Hagel, based on his own worldview and his deep concerns about the moral use of U.S. power and the bad precedents that can be set by its misuse, is likely to also want to ratchet back or at least to exercise more caution about the drone attacks.
A growing number of critics, including former President Carter (right), say the drone program has badly undermined America’s moral position, and it supplies a dangerous precedent to other nations that are developing their own drone programs, in particular China and Russia, and could cite Washington’s policy to justify, say, political assassinations.
Henry Siegman, former AIPAC staffer, writing in the Huffington Post, displays his battle-scarred wisdom with this response to Hagel progressive critics who complained that the future defense secretary had “backed down” on his previous stands.
He did not “back down”; he played the political game and refused to take the bait his former Republican senate colleagues threw at him.
Here is Siegman’s take on how best to maneuver through the political swamp:
Of the many controversial statements made by Senator Chuck Hagel over the years, none seemed to enrage Senator Lindsey Graham more than his remark that the Israel lobby intimidates U.S. Congressmen into advocating “stupid” policies. He challenged Hagel to name one such senator and to identify one such stupid policy.
The challenge created an unusual opportunity for Hagel, for there could be no better and conclusive evidence of the Israel Lobby’s power of intimidation of U.S. senators on the subject of Israel than these hearings themselves, and most particularly Senator Graham’s own behavior.
Unfortunately, Hagel could not take advantage of that opportunity. Had he done so, his nomination by President Obama to head the Department of Defense would undoubtedly have been dead in the water, for his former Democratic colleagues are no less guilty of yielding to that intimidation than Hagel’s former Republican colleagues.
The Armed Services and Intelligence committees hearings will soon be over. Meanwhile the GOP’s “winter of discontent” has just begun.