If President Obama's second term includes decision-making as bold and intelligent as his nomination of Chuck Hagel to be secretary of defense, his presidency might finally fulfill the promise of audacity and change that rallied so many to his campaign five years ago. In fact, the more ridiculous the claims being made by Hagel's critics become, the more the real reasons they don't want him -- and the wisdom of the choice -- come into stark relief.
The latest canard is about Hagel's supposed "temperament." The charge was made this past Sunday by Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, appearing on ABC's "This Week with George Stephanopoulos." "I think another thing, George, that's going to come up is just his overall temperament," said Corker, "and is he suited to run a department or a big agency or a big entity like the Pentagon?" Given that this was a new one, Stephanopoulos asked, slightly incredulously, "Do you have questions about his temperament?" Corker replied, "I think there are numbers of staffers who are coming forth now just talking about the way he has dealt with them."
Now, I'm not saying Chuck Hagel is perfect or that I agree with every position he's ever taken, but leadership isn't about conforming to a checklist. Hagel is being nominated for a particular job, and for that job, he has a strong record. And this is exactly why his critics are grasping for straws -- because they don't want to discuss that record, nor what this debate is really about: the Iraq War.
Yes, then-Senator Hagel voted for the resolution to authorize the war. But even before the vote, he expressed more reservations than most of his colleagues. "You can take the country into a war pretty fast," he said in 2002, "but you can't get us out as quickly, and the public needs to know what the risks are." In his 2008 book, "America: Our Next Chapter," he writes that he voted to authorize military force only as a last option, but the Bush administration had not tried to "exhaust all diplomatic efforts," and that "it all comes down to the fact that we were asked to vote on a resolution based on half truths, untruths, and wishful thinking."
And if you doubt whether Hagel's views go against the conventional wisdom, at least in Washington, just witness the hysterical, desperate pushback to his nomination. This isn't about temperament, or abortion or gay rights. It's about the path U.S. foreign policy took at the beginning of the last decade, directed by the neocons. As The New York Times' Jim Rutenberg put it, "The campaign now being waged against Mr. Hagel's nomination as secretary of defense is in some ways a relitigation of that decade-old dispute."
He's right -- to an extent. Where I think he's off is that this isn't a relitigation -- because the disaster that was, and is, the Iraq War, was never actually litigated in the first place. We've never really had that debate. Those who conceived it (badly) and executed it (even more badly) were never held accountable. And they are now the ones trying to torpedo the very idea that someone who is thoughtful and careful about sending our soldiers to die might actually have a role in that decision.
But the lowest point his critics have gone to is to insinuate, or even claim outright, that Hagel is an anti-Semite. That slanderous charge is being led by Elliott Abrams. He's now a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, but you might remember him as the man convicted in 1991 of two counts of withholding information from Congress (he was pardoned by outgoing President George H.W. Bush). He claims that Hagel "seems to have some kind of problem with Jews," and, in the Weekly Standard, offers as evidence "the testimony of the Jewish community that knew him best is most useful: Nebraskans. And the record seems unchallenged: Nebraskan Jewish activists and officials have said he was hostile, and none -- including Obama supporters and Democratic party activists -- have come forward to counter that allegation."
Actually, it has been challenged -- by, among others, activist Gary Javitch, who, according to the Forward is "considered by locals to be an expert on the local Jewish political scene." Though Javitch is no fan of Hagel, when asked by the Forward if he thought Hagel was biased against Jews, he said "no." He also said that "to make such an accusation you need to be very careful," and that Hagel "never demonstrated anything like that in all the meetings I had with him."
Of course, the reason the opposition to Hagel is so desperate and so focused on side-issues or made-up charges is because they don't want a debate that would shine a spotlight on their spectacular and disastrous failure in Iraq. "This is the neocons' worst nightmare," says Richard Armitage, who was deputy secretary of state under Colin Powell, "because you've got a combat soldier, successful businessman and senator who actually thinks there may be other ways to resolve some questions other than force."
A nightmare for some, but a welcome change for the country.
(Arianna Huffington is president and editor-in-chief of Huffington Post Media Group. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.)