A friend and admirer of Senator Hagel called the other day to ask whether we’d ever met the nominee to be secretary of defense. We expressed our regrets that we hadn’t. Our friend wanted us to know that Mr. Hagel does not dislike the Jews. We said we were delighted to hear it, but we also tried to convey that the Sun doesn’t care one way or another whether Mr. Hagel likes the Jews. His private views are not what we care about. What we care about is the policy line to which Mr. Hagel would hew were he to get a chance to run the defense department and advise the President.
We’ve written before about this question of private prejudice. Harry Truman didn’t like the Jews. He didn’t like African Americans or the Chinese or Japanese either. We know this from his private correspondence as a young man. Phew! It contains the coarsest kind of bigotry. Yet Truman became one of the great civil rights presidents and one of the greatest friends of Israel. Once lifted to high office in the Senate, where he served as both a senator and as vice president, and then in the presidency, Truman came to see things in a different light and to surmount his biases.
So our concerns in respect of Senator Hagel aren’t about his views on the Jews. And we appreciate the fact that he served as an enlisted man in Vietnam, an experience we tend to credit (although neither is it dispositive). But we’ve been covering his antics for years, and where we’ve come out is that he’s just over his head in terms of policy. So he’s emerged as a shill for Israel’s most implacable foes. It doesn’t take a genius to comprehend what the mullahs in Iran are going to make of this nomination.
It’s not that Israel is our only test. We’ve been writing editorials in support of Congressman Ron Paul’s Liberty Campaign. We didn’t make an endorsement. But we’ve been defending him, even though he has a record that has convinced many that he has a personal animus in respect of Israel. We see a big difference between, say, Dr. Paul and Mr. Hagel. Dr. Paul has, over more than the 35 years that we’ve covered him, exhibited a commitment to certain libertarian, constitutional principles, most of which we share and all of which we respect.
By what deep principles is Senator Hagel guided in his long years of hanging back from anything that could be construed as helpful to the Jewish state or unhelpful to her enemies? He’s made no life’s work of sound money. He’s made no life’s work of constitutional fundamentals. We can’t think of a single over-riding principle in his career, save for an abiding sneer at Israel, in which he seems to take a certain mischievous glee. Maybe we’re missing something that will emerge during the confirmation process, but based on the record so far, we’d be surprised.